Julien: Can't Keep Playing Catch-Up Hockey
BOSTON, MA - When the Bruins lead after two periods, they own a 20-2-0 record this season.
Their stretch of three losses in their past four games, not surprisingly, have all come from being down heading to the third period.
Their most recent defeat came on Tuesday night at TD Garden, falling 4-3 to Toronto Maple Leafs.
We've seen opportunistic play from the opponent get the better of the Black & Gold at points throughout the season, and outshooting the Leafs 41-26, the Bruins couldn't tip the "lucky break" scale in their favor.
Trailing 3-2 heading to the third didn't help. When the Leafs made it 4-2 just 1:00 into the final frame, thanks to a James van Riemsdyk fire, it was yet another deficit for the team to climb out of again.
"I think it’s hard to win in this league when you’ve got to play from behind all the time," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now. We’re not great at playing catch-up hockey. We’re a team that’s pretty good playing with the lead, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that."
The Bruins' last win came on Saturday in San Jose, when they broke a stalemate midway through the third period, to make it 1-0 and hold that lead.
But the last time they held a strong lead in a game came back on January 4, in a 4-1 win over Winnipeg at TD Garden, in with they led 3-1 heading into the third.
In Anaheim and Los Angeles, Boston was down 3-1 as the clock ticked down on the final 20 minutes. They fought back in both, but couldn't get the win.
On Tuesday night, Gregory Campbell made it a one-goal game midway through the third, and the Bruins kept pushing until the final buzzer. But the mental breakdowns that plagued them on the road in California crept back into their game after they put up what they labeled a consistent, 60-minute effort in San Jose.
On the Leafs' first goal, there was room left around the net for Tyler Bozak to fly in and put home a rebound. Toronto's second goal that evened it up on the power play came after a hooking penalty that was taken, instead of dumping the puck in for a line change.
"Those are all things that are self-inflicted, and until we clean up that part of our game, it’s going to be a struggle," said Julien. "We’re going to be playing coming from behind, like we did again tonight."
"It was the same thing in California, down 3-0 both games that we lost. It’s hard enough to win in this league; you can’t put yourself in that position."
While Toronto went 2-for-2 on their first two man-advantage attempts, with the second one giving them a 3-2 lead off a backdoor play Tuukka Rask didn't have much of a chance on, the Bruins went 0-for-3.
"I thought both power plays tonight had good looks…we had a tough power play there too, but the ones before that were very positive and those unfortunately didn’t go in for us, but it’s important to get our chances up, our habit up and our entries get in and just get those shots consistently," said Jarome Iginla.
"But it is tough, it is tough when you’re in a one-goal game and you don’t find that important power-play goal and it’s the same on the PK. Everybody out there – you feel it you feel that you want to come through and you know how important those are, especially in the tight games."
The last Bruins' power-play goal came on December 31 from Patrice Bergeron, in a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders. Boston has allowed six goals on the penalty kill in their past four games, with all resulting in losses. Like teams go through tough stretches throughout the season, the special teams have hit a lull.
"Too many breakdowns," said Bergeron. "But also I think we are forcing plays that we shouldn’t and sometimes we’re not in sync, we’re not forcing where all guys go as a whole and together and obviously when there’s only one guy going, that opens up too many lanes and they’re going to eat you alive if you do that."
Though, Julien isn't necessarily just focused on the special teams, but their entire game.
"Our team as a whole, you could see that we weren’t in sync from breakouts, we rimmed a lot of pucks versus making clean passes. As a whole, we’ve got to clean up our game that way," said the bench boss.
"I think, if anything, there’s a lot of guys that didn’t play well enough tonight. We had a lot of guys that were trying to do a little too much to compensate for that. We’ve just got to clean up our game as a team, and when everybody does their job, we’re a pretty good team. But right now, that’s not happening."
The fight in the Bruins is still there. They'll never just give up, and not push until the very end, no matter what the deficit may be.
"We’re not always good, but I never question the character of this hockey club," said Julien. "That’s never been a question for me, anyways. They’ve always been resilient, and they will continue to be resilient. Like I said, it’s just going through that situation that I think our team has got to pick its game up and be better."
"There’s no question that everybody is committed in this room and cares," said Campbell, who was particularly hard on himself. The pride he takes in a strong defensive game and the team's once-dominant penalty kill is immense.
"We have a great group and successful group, but I think that that success comes from those small details that really make a difference. It’s one step at a time when you’re going through a time like this. I’ve been here for four years now and the penalty kill has always been really solid. It’s just an area that we have to rectify, and we’ll do that."
The focus now for Boston is finding a way to get back on a roll, and start stringing together strong efforts, whether from power play to power play, penalty kill to penalty kill, or game to game.
"The disappointing part is that consistency is huge now," said Campbell. "The elite teams in the league are elite because they’re able to compete at that level night in and night out."
"We’re not going to win every game, we’re not going to get points every game, but again, I resort back to the consistency factor where we have to have that compete level high every night to really be successful."
The Bruins have to head right back on the road to Dallas and Chicago, and will be working towards that consistency yet again.
"It’s important for us to respond in a way that we show some urgency and some desperation," said Campbell. "Because every game, every point, matters at this point and time. So there’s really a lot of areas that we should have been better in."