BOSTON, MA - There's a staple phrase often heard from this Bruins team time and again: "we found a way to win."
But right now, for the Black & Gold, they're searching answers, and ultimately, haven't been able to find a consistent enough effort on the ice to warrant the above words, with the latest downturn coming in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.
Though they pick up a point in the process, the B's are a team that has lost four of their past five games, with the lone win coming in the shootout over Anaheim.
"I like to think we’re a better team than what we showed tonight," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien told media following the loss.
Boston had been looking for a much stronger start, and got that on Tuesday night, at one point outshooting the Stars 15-1 in the first. But the teams headed to the second knotted at 1-1.
"First 10 minutes were good, and then we got back to some of our old habits," said Julien. "And eventually, when you play that way, you find ways to lose hockey games and that’s what we’re doing right now; we’re finding ways to lose."
"It’s not just young guys, it’s good players, it’s everybody right now."
Following the Bruins' 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night, in what Julien labeled their "worst" loss of the season, he felt that, just as winning can be contagious, "poor play is becoming contagious on our players that had been playing well."
Eventually, the tide will turn in the B's favor, as they just wrapped up Game No. 14 of the young 82-game season.
"I think every team goes through these all year because of the number of games that you have, so basically it’s one of those things that we’re going through right now and the only thing that you can take is I know we’ve worked out way out of it," said Julien. "And sometimes when you get tired enough of losing, you react, and that’s what you hope the guys are going to do here very soon."
Teams may go through lulls, but the B's don't find any solace in knowing that they'll eventually work their way of the tough stretch. Their expectations are too high for that.
"We have to keep moving on and we have to find that spark somehow," said Torey Krug, who netted the B's first goal of the night, to tie the game at 1-1 just 38 seconds after Jamie Benn had gotten the Stars on the board.
He's now second on the team with five goals. It was a five-man unit goal, generated off a strong forecheck with help from the line of Carl Soderberg, Reilly Smith and Chris Kelly, playing together in their first regular season game after a solid end to the preseason.
That wasn't top of mind for Krug, though.
"Trying to search and find what’s going to help us win hockey. We have to do a better job of a full 60-minute effort, not just spurts here and there."
"I thought we played really good the first ten, the whole team, and after that we were putting ourselves in trouble and doing several poor plays out there," said Loui Eriksson, who made his return to the lineup from his concussion that kept him out for five games. He played 20:17 of ice time with three shots on goal and said he felt good on the ice, so "that's positive."
It's definitely a positive moving forward for the Bruins, but even the winger, who hadn't been in the lineup for the rough stretch prior to Tuesday night, placed onus on not helping the cause.
"It’s something we’ve been talking about; we have to be better as a group, work harder and play smarter, and we didn’t do that."
After a scoreless second period, the Bruins took a 2-1 lead near the midpoint of the third on Milan Lucic's team-leading seventh goal of the season. Lucic camped out in front of Kari Lehtonen, along with Jarome Iginla, and a shot from Dougie Hamilton banked off of him and in.
The B's looked poised to hold the lead and start their five-game homestand off with two points, but a penalty shot goal from Vernon Fiddler made it 2-2 with just 3:34 left to play in regulation.
A turnover at the blueline amidst a line change turned into a breakaway for Fiddler, with Dennis Seidenberg chasing him down and being called on the hook in close, resulting in the penalty shot.
"We’re making costly turnovers in areas which we usually don’t – that’s made us a successful team over the past few years – you know, both bluelines and our breakout and everything. It just seems like everything is out of sync right now," said Lucic.
"And right now we’ve got to do whatever we can to try to get ourselves out of this jam out of this funk. And frustration is not going to help us get through it. We’ve got to dig deep and start doing things the right way if we want to start playing better."
To earn the point in the shootout accounted for something, but the B's knew let the extra point slip away. Even with a tough break off the penalty shot late in the game, those in the spoked-B felt they haven't been controlling the play. When they do that, their aggressive forecheck consistently wears down the opposition, like we saw on both Bruins goals.
"It came down to a shootout because we played at the level of the other team. Not to take anything away from them, but I like to think we’re a better team than what we showed tonight," said Julien.
"We play better when we make teams think about what we’re doing," remarked Krug. "When we’re concentrated on ourselves, we’re working hard, we dictate the play. So we have to continue to just keep doing what we do best and not worry about the other team."
Get Back to Basics, Find the "Swagger"
In a locker room full of veterans and leaders who keep this team close-knit and strong on and off the ice, the lull is nothing they haven't encountered before.
"It’s never going to be perfect from the first game to the last," said Lucic. "But as a player and as a professional you have to worry about the things that you can control, and that’s work ethic, and your effort, and your commitment, and focus."
"Fortunately, in the past we’ve gotten strong by being able to get through funks like this. But just because we’ve gotten through it before, doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen again. We have to find a way to find a way to do it – and like I said we’ve got to do it together, we’ve got to do it as a team, we’ve got to do it line by line, D pairing by D pairing, and everyone."
"You can’t let frustration kick in - it only makes things worse, and it’s like you’re in quick sand right now, right? If you try working too hard, you keep digging yourself a bigger hole. It’s just like we said, getting back to the basics and hopefully that can help you get through it."
So, what exactly does the cliche "getting back to the basics" mean for the Bruins moving forward, as they hope to correct their woes beginning with the Florida Panthers on Thursday night?
"The biggest thing is the lines - we turned a lot of pucks over at the bluelines tonight and in the neutral zone, and if we can get away from that and make sure we get pucks in deep, that's when we play our best," said Brad Marchand, who seemed to be clicking better, back on a line with Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron.
"We can't turn pucks over, especially late in the game like that. We just have to make sure we make strong plays."
Push the pace, stay on your toes, forecheck hard. Keep it simple.
"It’s trying to be too fancy with the puck, trying to sauce it over people’s sticks instead of just making a hard play, or getting the puck in deep, forechecking," said Smith, who already has the Bruins' way engrained in him.
The B's ended up throwing 36 shots on goal. Bergeron had seven of those shots and three came from Marchand - including two on bids in close - with those "spurts" of pressure that Krug referenced.
"When times are tough, times are tough. You don’t play well and then when you do get something going your way, it doesn’t go in," said the Bruins' bench boss. "A little bit of confidence and a little bit of swagger is what we need right now, but we have to work our way out of this thing."
"One of the biggest things that they stress is just staying positive," Smith said, of how the veterans in the room help lead the way amidst a tough stretch.
"If you start being negative and getting down on your teammates and yourself, you just kind of put yourself into a bigger slump, so these lulls will happen in the season; it’s just how you get out of them."
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