UNIONDALE, NY - Saturday night on Long Island didn't not go the way the Bruins had planned.
The focus was a strong start, and finding a way to win, no matter what the B's faced from a New York Islanders team on their second leg of a back-to-back.
The result was a 3-1 loss, with the lone goal coming from Dougie Hamilton on the power play, and a locker room full of frustrated Bruins searching for answers.
Head Coach Claude Julien, none too pleased with the effort, pointed to the inconsistency in his team, which dropped to 8-5-0 on the season.
"I don’t know what you want to call it but I call it 'not good enough,'" Julien told reporters postgame from the Nassau Coliseum. "There’s no way in the world you should come in here and play the way you play. We’re not competing hard enough."
"We’re just not good enough right now and you see the difference in the team that beat you tonight; the energy and the effort that was put in compared to us."
It's not from a lack of awareness on the Bruins' part. After winning four straight, they have lost three of their past four games. It's no secret that the B's place high expectations on their performances, so for the past week, we've talked through the "mental" aspect of the game.
"Sometimes you think you’re working hard but you’re not," said Julien. "So we have to certainly rectify that and try to get our team back on track. Talent alone is not going to win you hockey games. The effort and the compete level is what brings the talent out and right now we haven’t done that."
The game was scoreless after the first period. The Bruins weren't perfect off the bat, but they generated chances, especially down low, and Chad Johnson, playing in his second start wearing the spoked-B, stopped all nine shots he faced.
As the game went on, though, a lack of sustained pressure and too much play in their own end ultimately plagued Boston, with turnovers and odd-man rushes given up to a team that builds off of their speed.
There were plenty of chances at both ends, with the Islanders also giving up their share of odd-man situations. The B's generated scrambles in close on Isles' backup Kevin Poulin, but couldn't seem to connect with the back of the net.
"Maybe the worst," said Julien, on where this loss ranks, 13 games in, on a still young NHL season. "I think the last time we’ve been really happy with our game was the one in Tampa; that’s the one I can say I thought we really played well and since then there’s been some ups and downs. So certainly tonight was probably one of our worst."
In that 5-0 shutout, the Bruins picked up their first all-around performance of the season, chasing Ben Bishop and getting a goal from every line. Their four-line effort, layered defensive coverage, and tough forechecking remanned consistent throughout the entire game, and now, they're trying to get back to that "Bruins style" hockey.
"There’s one word, I think it’s ‘inconsistency’," said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. "We always look at each other to have consistent play but right now we don’t have it. We play two games well, two games bad. One game well, one game bad. So we just have to find an even level of play and just work on that."
"It’s mental. We just have to come out skating and making good decisions and quick decisions and we didn’t have that today."
John Tavares gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead 6:16 into the second, when he batted a rebound in behind Johnson. Andrew MacDonald made it 2-0 with a one-timed drive from the point that found its way through.
Hamilton made it a one-goal game, scoring his third of the season on the game's first power play, when he powered the puck towards the front of the net from the bottom of the right circle. The play was set up by movement from Reilly Smith and Ryan Spooner, who earned his second assist in as many games after being called up by Boston.
But the Isles' response tally just 39 seconds later from Thomas Vanek off a 2-on-1 rush ended up sealing it. Johnson finished with 28 saves on 31 shots in his second start.
"We caught right into what they wanted to do, it’s kind of a back and forth style," said Johnson. "It’s just disappointing; we wanted to come in and obviously compete a little bit harder and it just wasn’t there tonight so it’s disappointing."
"They just do such a good job of turning pucks over and having all their guys jumping up into the play and they force a lot of odd-man rushes by doing that and I think, again, we just sort of played into their game and just didn’t stick to what we wanted to do and they took advantage of that."
With Johnny Boychuk out day-to-day (and back in Boston), Hamilton was paired with Zdeno Chara (Matt Bartkowski skated with Seidenberg). The pair faced the Isles top line of Tavares, Vanek and Kyle Okposo, who accounted for two goals on the night, including Vanek's off the odd-man rush.
"I think especially with the line I was playing against, we knew they were cheating offensively and waiting for 2-on-1's and stuff like that and unfortunately, we gave them some," said Hamilton. "I think also they put a lot of pucks on net and they had a lot of speed so they were good like that and I thought we both had a lot of chances so unfortunately ours didn’t go in."
"We didn’t really have too many clean breakouts and neutral zone plays," the blueliner added. "I thought we did okay but not great and I think that’s the D and the forwards; I think we both have to be better moving the puck and getting open. It’s something we talked about throughout the game and it didn’t really work."
For Julien, that support hasn't necessarily been there, all over the ice.
"We’ve all played the game long enough to know that if you see there’s a defenseman [down in the play there], you cover up for him. So it’s one mistake on top of another and it just kind of snowballs from there," said the bench boss. "So it just seems that you can blame more than one person for some of those goals and that’s just the way it has been lately."
"I think obviously it’s frustrating for everyone," the soft-spoken Hamilton told reporters, while talking at length, trying to pinpoint the reasoning. "The coaches are telling us what to do and we’re not doing it so I don’t think there’s any excuses."
"I think we just have to keep working and kind of the cliché thing of just doing the little things. I think it also gets frustrating when you can’t get a goal and you get chances and stuff and maybe that causes you to cheat and that’s what they want."
Julien points to skating, focus and being sharp as areas that the B's have to execute moving forward.
"That started before tonight by the way; so that’s been addressed," said Julien. "Just goes to show you, a lot of it is about confidence, it’s about momentum; when you’re playing well and you feel good about yourself, you make those things happen."
"Right now I think there’s more of a panic instead of composure and you panic when you don’t work and compete hard, right? So that’s a little bit of what’s going on right now. I don’t think we should be making excuses for ourselves right now and it’s important that we find our stride again if we want to be successful."
For years, this team has been known for their "composed intensity" - it's what highlights their "no-quit" attitude and has propelled them deep into the postseason.
Julien always keys in on Thanksgiving as the benchmark for his team to be in a playoff spot. The good news is, that's still a month away, and the B's have an opportunity to quickly turn their game around and find a rhythm.
"We know we have a good team on paper, we just have to translate that to the ice, and until everybody starts playing the way they can it’s going to be a struggle," said Julien. "You find your game by working hard and competing hard and worry about that part of the game instead of anything else."
"If you’re overthinking, it’s going to be hard for you. There are some guys right now that haven’t done well since probably the start of the season and they’re certainly not as confident and certainly don’t have their focus where it should be."
"Winning can be contagious and right now the poor play is becoming contagious on our players that had been playing well, so we have to turn that tide around."
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