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The Dog Days Continue

Posted By Matt Preston On Jan 21 2012 @ 11:09 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

It has long been said that 2012 is the year of premonitions. Nostradamus, the Mayans, and now Presto.

Last time out, it was discussed that [1] the one thing working against the Boston Bruins and their stellar play this season was whether they were peaking too early in the season and if complacency would set in? The day after that post was published, the Bruins came out and were dominated in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, which started a two week, eight-game stretch of lazy play for the defending champs that continued on Saturday with a 3-2, overtime loss to the New York Rangers at the TD Garden.

Personally, I think I would have rather predicted the end of the world.

Despite their recent struggles, the Bruins entered their contest on Saturday battling for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, coming in just one point behind the top seeded Rangers, despite having one more win than New York. Boston was also hoping they had turned a corner and returned to form following a come-from-behind victory over the New Jersey Devils Thursday night, which saw the Bruins score four unanswered goals in the third for the 4-1 victory.

With the streets of Boston being pounded by snow outside the TD Garden, the Bruins were doing like wise on the inside as they came out firing in the opening minutes against New York, controlling possession and peppering the Rangers defense and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers held strong, however, as they repelled the Bruins attack from the onset, not letting the Bruins get inside for quality shots on Lundqvist, as they let just eight shots get through to their netminder in the opening 20.

The Bruins’ play began to slip late in the period and into the second, misplaying pucks and not connecting on passes, leading the momentum to shift in favor of New York, whose talent up front took over and capitalized for the game’s first tally just 1:31 into the second as Ryan Callahan, fresh out of the penalty box, collected the puck at center ice, came in on a 2-on-1 and beat Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask for the 1-0 Rangers lead.

The Bruins battled back, tying the game less than two minutes later, and the teams then traded scores again later in the second, but all day long the Bruins were never truly able to establish their presence thanks to the stingy Rangers defense, who had the better of their hosts all game long.

Despite streaky play in the first two periods, just as they have done in most of their games this year, the Bruins picked up their play in the third period and were finally able to start to break through the Rangers defense. Their effort was all for naught, however, as Lundqvist, who came into the day with a 16-5-2 record and 1.49 goals against average versus the Bruins in his career, held the Bruins scoreless over the final 20 minutes, deflecting many quality chances. Then in overtime it was the Rangers who took over play.

A charging major, game misconduct against Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference for his questionable hit on the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh at 1:50 of the extra period put the Bruins on the penalty kill for the remainder of the contest. The Bruins PK, ranked sixth in the NHL at 86.1%, had done well keeping the recently stagnant Rangers power play off the board in regulation, but they were not as lucky in overtime. Amidst a scrum in front of Rask with just seconds left on the clock after a failed clearing attempt by the Bruins, Rangers leading goal scorer Marian Gaborik was able to come up with the puck and roof a backhand past a sprawling Rask and Dennis Seidenberg for the 3-2 win.

Following the loss to the Rangers, the Bruins are now 4-4 in their last eight games. Such a short .500 stretch over the course of an NHL season is nothing to overly fret, even if you have to go back 17 games and into November in order to account for the Bruins previous four loses prior to that Stanley Cup rematch with the Canucks. Is it simply the dog days of the marathon NHL season?

During this recent skid, the Bruins have shown flashes of the brilliance they have displayed for much of the season. Most nights, however, the team has simply failed to string together 60 minutes of play, the crux of their early season struggles when they opened the year 3-7.

Complacency can be death, but has also been a trademark of head coach Claude Julien’s stint in Boston. The coach was well know throughout his first four years in Boston for holding strong, letting his team play out of its ruts, rather than making rash changes. Julien has been better this year at rattling his team when necessary, as seen by his recent comments about Nathan Horton, which is something the Black-and-Gold faithful should look for more of from the coach should his teams continue to drag as they have through the middle months of the season.

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[1] Last time out, it was discussed that: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2012/01/06/embarrassment-of-riches/

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