Bruins break out of slump against Leafs
Of the multiple positives that emerged from the Bruins’ 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs last night at TD Garden, the ones that didn’t appear on the scoresheet are the qualities that coaches especially prefer.
On each of the Bruins’ four even-strength goals (the other two came on the power play), the Bruins hurtled into the offensive zone. Speed at one end of the ice is often the result of good habits at the other end.
In practice on Wednesday, a little more than 12 hours after an embarrassing 4-1 loss to Carolina, the coaching staff emphasized hard skating, crisp breakouts, and an insistence on every forward to come back hard for the puck.
Last night, because the Bruins executed in the defensive zone, they got some of their best scoring chances of the season.
“We were able to make those good, crisp, clean, short passes, especially in the defensive zone when we were breaking out,’’ said Milan Lucic. “That’s what gave us so much success last year. We were a good team breaking out. As much as it is the defensemen moving the puck to us, it’s our job to get open for them. I think we did a better job giving them outlets.’’
It can be a challenging system. Claude Julien demands his forwards to skate harder than those on other teams. But that come-back-hard system, when executed correctly, is the foundation for many good things. It’s easier for defensemen to initiate breakouts. Because the forwards are starting deep in the defensive zone, they have more ice with which to rev up their wheels. Opponents’ gaps become slacker.
Last night was a textbook example.
At 17:49 of the first period, after Nathan Horton and Zdeno Chara had scored power-play goals, the Bruins made it a 3-1 game. Lucic had speed going over the offensive blue line because he came back hard to take a pass from Andrew Ference. Lucic’s dish to Chris Kelly ended with the center backhanding the puck over Jonas Gustavsson.
After a scoreless second, the Bruins grabbed a 4-1 lead at 2:08 of the third. Again, the new No. 2 line of Kelly, Lucic, and Tyler Seguin was involved. Kelly started the play deep in the defensive zone with a chip off the right wall to Seguin. In turn, Seguin hurtled up the right side, while Lucic provided middle drive. Seguin blew past Dion Phaneuf, taking the Toronto captain’s stick with him, then spotted Lucic for a bang-bang tap-in. It was the left wing’s first goal of the season.
“When we’re supporting each other coming up the ice as a five-man unit, that’s when we get our most opportunities,’’ Lucic said. “That was evident tonight.’’
Patrice Bergeron gave the Bruins a 5-1 lead at 10:08. He had too much speed going over the offensive blue line for the Leafs to defend. With a quick snap, Bergeron (game-high nine shots) went high glove on Gustavsson. Seguin capped the six-goal rally by taking a pass from Lucic and going high glove on the Toronto goalie one last time.
“More of a north-south type of game,’’ Julien said. “Quick ups, going in with some speed, and you saw guys driving harder to the net than I’ve seen this year.’’
Aside from an early David Steckel goal - the center’s shot skimmed off Kelly’s stick and beat Tim Thomas - and a third-period Mikhail Grabovski strike, the Bruins had few complaints in handing the Leafs their first loss of 2011-12.
They limited Phil Kessel to one shot. The line changes (Horton with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, David Krejci back, between Benoit Pouliot and Rich Peverley) resulted in chemistry. The power play hit paydirt twice on its first two chances. Chara, scoreless in six previous games, put up a goal and two assists. Ference tied a career high with three helpers, two on the power play.
Even a Thomas mistake turned into a game-changing save.
Midway through the second, when the Bruins held a 3-1 lead, Grabovski had finished serving a penalty for holding the stick. As Grabovski stepped out of the box, an errant Krejci pass landed on the forward’s stick. Thomas had failed to slam his stick on the ice to indicate to his teammates that a penalty was expiring.
With no teammates in sight, Thomas had only himself to blame. So at 8:43 of the second, when he flashed his left pad to smother Grabovski’s breakaway bid, Thomas made up for his error.
“I kind of helped cause the breakaway,’’ said Thomas (26 saves). “So I had extra motivation to stop that breakaway. I just really wanted to stop that one because I’d kind of made a mistake beforehand.’’
For one night, it was a job well done. But the Bruins have seen this before. After a near-perfect 4-1 win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 8, the Bruins stumbled in their next two games against Colorado and Carolina. Following a 3-2 shootout win on the road against Chicago, the Bruins embarrassed themselves at home against the Hurricanes.
Last night will mean little if they don’t turn in good habits and crisp execution once more tomorrow against San Jose.
“Lot of good things that came out of tonight’s game,’’ Julien said. “It’s being able to translate that into consistency.’’