If you looked just at the statistics of the game against the Chicago Blackhawks, you would have assumed that the Boston Bruins won in the game Thursday night. Unfortunately such was not the case. Despite outplaying Chicago, the Bruins just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net.
Statistically the Bruins were outshooting, outhitting and beating the Blackhawks in the faceoff circle. Despite all this, the came up short, in the 3-2 game. After the second period, due to a lot of stop and go play as things were whistled, the statistics showed that Patrice Bergeron had won more faceoffs singlehandedly than the entire Blackhawks team combined, as Bergeron had won an astounded 17 of the 20 he faced while the Blackhawks were 15 of the 47 they had seen. The Bruins even managed to kill of a 5-on-3 penalty, which should have given them a lot of momentum.
So just what went wrong? Execution.
When asked post-game about the team’s start and ending up down two goals, head coach Claude Julien was blunt and too the point.
“I don’t think it’s the start, honestly. I think it was the execution,” he told reporters. “I think the effort was there from start to finish, but as you could see in that first period, the execution was poor. We mentioned it in the room—a three on one you don’t get a shot; you almost got an open net there, you tip it over the net.”
The players were also honest with some of the missed opportunities and the fact that despite an impressive effort overall they once again seemed to truly come alive at the tail end of the second, which carried them into the third period. In fact, it looked like the Bruins were go into the second intermission down three goals, when, with just 1:23 remaining in the second, Reilly Smith was able to get one past Scott Darling to at least prevent a shutout on home ice.
Chances were there for the Bruins throughout the evening.
“I thought that for the most part we played a solid game. We could have capitalized on some of the chances and if we would, it might have been a different game,” responded team captain Zdeno Chara, who played his first game since October 23rd. “But again, we can’t be sitting here talking about luck or some bounces. We have to earn those goals.”
Effort was there on paper, but watching the teams play, it was clear that Boston was struggling to finish plays. They were giving the Blackhawks too much space and in some case multiple opportnities. The Blackhawk’s third goal, for instance, was scored by Patrick Kane, on what was his third shot at the net in succession. Kane rarely needs time and space to score, so when he has both, it isn’t a matter of if, but when the puck with hit the twine. And it wasn’t just the Kane goal where the Bruins faltered.
“You look at those goals [by the Blackhawks], they were turnovers that were our fault, being sloppy with the puck,” Milan Lucic said. “It just seems like every time we make a mistake these days it ends up in the back of the net.”
And Lucic’s effort was there, and it was his strong play and determination to get the puck to Torey Krug that resulted in the Bruins closing the gap to just a single goal with still 7:43 remaining in regulation. Unfortunately, it may have been too little, too late as it took them almost two periods to get their first goal on the evening. Less than ten minutes of the game did not seem like enough time to tie the game, let alone win it. And unfortunately it wasn’t.
“Maybe we were giving them a little bit more space than we did later in the game,” Chara said. “It doesn’t mean we were afraid of them, we were just kid of respecting the game plan, but in a way we have to be also aware that we can’t be always turning the switch every time we are behind a goal or two and then start to play a little bit more desperate. We’ve just got to be playing like that for the whole game.”
And perhaps this is the most important thing about the Bruins approach to the game this year. Too often they appear to be waiting for something to cause them to flip that switch. It could be getting down a couple of goals or the start of the third period. Regardless of what it is, the reality is that to be effective they need to hit the ice on full tilt—everyone’s switch needs to have already been flipped.
“We always seem to wait for the third period or when we’re down a couple goals to play desperate,” said Krug. “I think it’s one thing if we can stay on top of it and kind of come out with that jump and that jam and that little edge that we kind played with in the third period, then I thin we’ll see ourselves have more leads in hockey games and play a better overall 60 minutes.”
All of this talk about playing on their toes from the first puck drop will be tested as the Bruins take on the Ottawa Senators in a Saturday matinee at the Garden before heading out on a road trip. The Senators have just lost their coach, so they have had a shake up, and they have lost the last three of four games, so they are looking to get back to winning.