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Stuck in Second Gear

Posted By Matt Preston On Mar 24 2013 @ 1:36 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

The Boston Bruins’ dominant run over the Toronto Maple Leafs came to an end at eight-straight wins Saturday night when they fell at the Air Canada Centre, 3-2, further continuing the Black-and-Gold’s malaise through the month of March.

The host team got on the board less than five minutes into the contest. Clarke MacArthur fed a pass that snaked through Bruins Brad Marchand and Dennis Seidenberg to spring Nazem Kadri, who walked in alone and beat goaltender Anton Khudobin for his 14th of the season, and Toronto was off and running. While the numbers may look like the Bruins put forth a good effort against Toronto, as Boston had a better time of possession and outshot their foe by more than a 2-to-1 margin (33-13), the game’s outcome was never much in doubt for much of the contest.

Boston spotted the Leafs a 3-0 lead as the normally reliable Khudobin, 4-1 with a 1.81 goals against average in his five March starts heading into the contest, struggled. Starting back-to-back games for the first time this season, Khudobin allowed three goals on just 11 shots before being relieved by Tuukka Rask minutes into the third period. Just 64 seconds after Frazer McLaren extended Toronto’s lead, Boston finally got on the board as a Seidenberg wrist shot from the top of the circles found its way through a Patrice Bergeron screen to break-up goaltender James Reimer’s shutout and make the score 3-1.

The Bruins managed to put a scare into all those who thought the game was long since over as they began to show the effort worthy of a club with the fifth best record in the National Hockey League in the waning minutes in the third. Thoroughly dominating the final four minutes of play, Boston cut the deficit to one as an Andrew Ference slap shot went off a Toronto defender and past Reimer with Rask pulled. Their effort, however, was just too late to wear the Maple Leafs down.

And it all came down to effort. Following the loss, Boston head coach Claude Julien was noted as saying, “There wasn’t enough fight in our team tonight for us to deserve to win. We need to continue to battle.”

Julien’s statements were echoed by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who was quoted as saying, “There was a lack of energy and jump in our game. We need more desperation.”

Saturday night is a microcosm of B’s of late. There should not be much doubt they are a good team, generally the better team on the ice, but there just is not enough fight in the Black-and-Gold. They have it in them to over power teams and wear them down with a relentless attack, as was seen in the closing minutes in Toronto, but that is a game plan which will not succeed for a team with an air of laziness about them like Boston has displayed this month.

With the success of the Ottawa Senators this season, the Bruins will not be able to use injuries as any sort of excuse when it comes to their struggles, even if they have had their rash of late. The losses of Chris Kelly, David Krejci, Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk for various times throughout this month do not excuse the disappearance of performance from top players and the team’s inability to close out games.

Often touted as the team’s top wing tandem, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton have combined to post all of one goal, which belongs to Horton, in the team’s 13 games this month, while neither has managed to record a power play goal all season. Lucic, a former 30-goal scorer, has all of four tallies this season and has not put a puck in the net since February 24. While much of the team’s early season offensive woes were blamed on a sub-par third line, now that the team’s overall success is lacking, it is time for the top guns and their effort to come under fire.

Still technically ranked as the second best defense in the league, giving up all of 2.10 goals per game, the Bruins defensive effort is as culpable for the team’s struggles as is the failure of their top offensive threats, particularly their efforts late in games. The Bruins did not lose a game in 2011-2012 in which they lead going into the third period, yet they have managed to pull off that feat in four of their six losses this month. As reported by ESPN’s Joe MacDonald last week, not a single Bruins defensemen had a minus rating in the third period of the team’s first 18 games. Over the course of their next 10, not a single one had a plus rating.

“We just didn’t really want it bad enough and that’s why we lost,” said Seidenberg on Saturday.

Regardless of a needed trade for this team to boost its talent, the current Bruins on the roster are still good enough to top nearly anything the NHL can throw at them. That is, of course, assuming they step up their game on both ends of the ice. The Bruins had the luxury of the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover to blame for their failure to play up to snuff at the end of last season, but playing without any sort of fire just will not do in 2013. Nor will any excuse of the condensed schedule, particularly for a team with as young a core as the Bruins and the fact they had more players than any other NHL team warming-up overseas during the lockout.

Moving forward, Boston will have a shot at redemption this coming week with games against three divisional opponents – which include the backend of their home-and-home with Toronto and an always-contentious battle with the Montreal Canadiens – and the Philadelphia Flyers, who always bring a feisty fight to the Bruins door. While the Bruins lack of effort is somewhat unsettling with less than a month remaining in the regular season, they have that extra gear they can go to. And with time winding down, these next four games should give Boston more than enough reason to step on the clutch, throw it into gear and put their foot on the gas for a stretch run.

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