Forwards have dull edges
The Bruins aren’t in a good place right now, and that’s not limited to their tenuous grip on eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They’re just not good. They are stale, ineffective, predictable, and often lackadaisical, all of which was on display last night in their weak-cup-of-tea 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
In the final seconds, those who remained in the Garden stands, no more than 7,000 total, clearly were there for one purpose — to boo their Bruins into the night. They booed at the end of the second period. They booed midway through the third. You know it’s bad, folks, when one of the most ardent and tolerant fan bases in all of pro sports lets it be known that they can’t stands no more.
Remember, this is a crowd that has been waiting since the spring of 1972 for something really good to happen. Boston hockey fans know patience. Based on their vote of disapproval last night, their willingness to ride things out has all but ridden out of town.
“It was stale, for sure,’’ said veteran center Marc Savard, who identified himself as among the many who were woefully ineffective. “And it’s been stale for a while.’’
Similar to the last two periods Saturday night, when the Bruins tried desperately to boot away a 3-0 lead over the Capitals and were outshot, 26-2, in the final period, the Bruins played along an emotional flat line. They were noticeably better at moving the puck out of their zone, which normally would mean good things.
But once beyond their defensive blue line, they played with little purpose or pop. True, they finished with 45 shots on Ducks backstop Jonas Hiller, and overall they took 89 shots for the night (again, a measure of a quicker, more proficient back end). Rarely, though, were their shots difficult to stop, and too often their better attempts, in terms of where they took those shots, were off net (20) or easily blocked (23).
Now, there is no mystery to how the Bruins play, and that is part of the problem. Is it most of the problem? Hard to say. At this point, even out-of-town Zamboni drivers, pizza vendors, and Ice Girls know that coach Claude Julien rarely, if ever, deviates from rolling four lines and divvying up ice time in predictable portions (far too much time to third- and fourth-liners, in the opinion of your faithful puck chronicler). Everyone knows the boilerplate Boston method. There are no surprises.
When Julien’s charges play that method with purpose, both mentally and physically, we’ve all seen that it can be highly effective, to the point where it almost can win two rounds in the playoffs.
However, when the emotion flags, as it has much of this month, especially the last five games (1-3-1), then it’s easy to find the coach culpable, unimaginative, and lost for answers. That’s precisely how Julien was left to look last night during the game and it’s how he sounded after the game, too. He talked mostly about his club’s failure to establish a strong forecheck. Absolutely correct. But why? Because his forwards figured they only had to shoot to score. They forget to skate, press the puck to the back wall, bang bodies. The amnesia went viral, then turned fatal.
“That’s crept into our game,’’ said Julien, noting his club’s lack of emotion. “And we have to get rid of that.’’
The most vivid case came late in the second period, when a Ryan Getzlaf tripping penalty set up Boston’s second and last power play of the night. Over the two minutes, the Ducks scored a shorthander (Corey Perry) and outshot the Bruins, 3-0. That’s right. The Bruins turned a power play into an Anaheim goal and never landed a shot. At least it was enough to convince Julien to rearrange his lines for the final period. But it was same ol’, same ol’ in the third — lots of shots (18), but zero effectiveness.
“You can say we had 40-something shots,’’ said Savard. “But a lot of them were one shot and out . . . the bottom line is that you’ve got to come to the rink and want results. I’m probably top of the list right now [not getting results], and that’s not helping the team at all.’’
Only some 10 weeks into the season, the Bruins have gone soft and stale; they are in freefall. They would have been here earlier if not for the stellar netminding of Tim Thomas, but last night their bacon-saving backstop had little chance of preventing any of the Ducks goals.
If there is a way out of this, beyond Thomas simply stealing points, it won’t come from Julien changing his approach or rearranging his Xs and Os. They are in cement. The only way out would appear to be a very tight, committed, physical effort, one that would have the forwards pounding the walls, winning one-on-one battles, and displaying the grit it takes to carry pucks to the net or get to the top of the crease, holding position and taking the kind of beating it takes to pot rebounds and make tips.
That’s not the team Julien has right now. From here it looks like his predictable system, one that guarantees ice time with the assurance of civil service step raises, has crafted a lot that has gone complacent, soft, and forgotten that real success takes real work.
If they no longer want to put it out there for this coach, then a bad place is only going to get worse.