There’s no denying last season was magical for the Bruins.
The B’s lost by three goals or more only twice during their 82-game regular season, and it took until February for the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks to finally knock off the B's by a 5-2 score and hand Boston its first three-goal loss.
The only other blowout defeat was a 6-1 loss to the Sabres in the second-to-last game of the season — a meaningless game for a Bruins team that had already clinched the No. 1 seed in the East.
This particular edition of the B’s is already way ahead of last year’s pace just three games into the season, and not remotely in a good way. One game is an aberration, two games show a pattern and if it happens a third time to a hockey team, well, then there’s an unsightly trend developing.
The Bruins opened their season with a disinterested 4-1 loss to the Capitals and hit a disturbing home-ice low with a 6-1 defeat to the Ducks at TD Garden on Thursday night.
All talk about last season should stop following Thursday night’s heartless, limp display. The Bruins simply packed it up and gave in once again when hit with a little adversity.
Claude Julien’s B's never, ever looked that bad on their home ice last season, and that should set off some early warning bells. They were dominated over the final two periods, in the faceoff circle (losing by a 36-23 edge) and at nearly every turn despite having more total shots thanks to their dominant first period.
“There are a lot of things we can improve, and there’s no way we can win games playing the way we did tonight,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I don’t think our fans deserve this.
“It’s no time to panic. We didn’t play the way we were supposed to play. It’s not just the chances. I just think it’s everything, pretty much.”
That sums it up, when it’s everything that needs to be worked on.
Perhaps it is time for a little panic, given how utterly dreadful Boston has played in two of the first three games during a cushy five-game homestand to open the season.
The B’s actually looked like themselves during the first period and probably should have retreated to the dressing with a three-goal bulge. The familiar, relentless brand of hockey — a consistent harbinger of Boston’s game — was present in Boston’s first period, and that was a sign to opponents that they were in for a difficult night of work no matter the circumstance.
It took an honest night’s work to get through Boston’s forecheck, packed-in defense and waves of offense over the full span of games last season, but last year is in the history books now.
Led by an energized fourth line that keeps on impressing, the B’s outshot the Ducks by a 19-11 margin and a snuck a 1-0 lead into the dressing room.
Then things went all wrong.
The Bruins skaters somehow left their work ethic, teamwork and manhood back in the locker room, and got dressed down by the Ducks after handing out a pair of power-play goals in the second period to the NHL’s version of social security and Medicare, Teemu Selanne.
When it all was all said and done, the Bruins did the unthinkable and surrendered six unanswered goals while putting up less and less resistance as the game moved forward.
“We never lost a game like this all of last year. This just isn’t like us,” said Marc Savard, who was clearly searching for answers. “It’s like when they got up a couple of goals, then it was like we never pushed back. That’s not our team.
“Everybody knows our team. We get down and we keep fighting, and it seemed like as a group we didn’t have it — besides our fourth line [that] was pretty consistent.”
Corey Perry potted the backbreaker in the second period when he ran through the heart of Boston’s defense — and directly in front of Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick on nightmare evenings for both young defensemen — in an offensive zone rush. Perry made it look easy, waiting for Tim Thomas to flop on the ice before firing a top-shelf wrister.
If it’s that easy all season for the opposition, then the Big, Bad B’s are in big, bad trouble.
Evgeny Artyukhin and Bobby Ryan each scored in the third period, and Perry kicked a little more sand in Boston’s face by notching a short-handed score during the final minute of listless play.
But make no mistake: Thursday night’s game was lost in the second period, when Hunwick and Marco Sturm were whistled off in succession and created a 5-on-3 opportunity. Selanne and the Ducks jumped into the DeLorean time machine headed back to 1996, and Telanne did what he does best, finishing a pair of golden power-play opportunities.
The first score was a shot from the high slot that the Finnish forward will convert 99 out of 100 times, and the second was a beautiful rebound in front during a scramble for the puck. Once again, much of the turmoil in front of the net was caused by the big body of Perry, who was camped in front of Thomas during Anaheim’s power-play formation.
There was steam visible all the way from the ninth-floor press box in the third period, and the origin was tracked back to the home bench, where it was clearly coming from both of Julien’s ears. Julien wasn’t happy with a loss that featured little fight from the home team, and he seemed to be licking his chops at the chance to turn up the heat in practice this weekend.
“I think right now there are a lot of guys not giving the effort that we need to get out of them,” Julien said. “Sometimes that just means doing the dirty work. Our team has risen the past few years because of the work ethic.
“Right now we’re making it way too easy on teams. I’m not going to start picking on individuals tonight because we had too many that were not going. I will deal with the dirty laundry inside that dressing room.”
With Julien cleaning up the dirty laundry in time for Saturday night’s game against the Islanders, here are three things we learned in Thursday night’s jaw-droppingly bad loss:
THERE WASN’T ENOUGH FIGHT IN THESE BRUINS
The B’s were on the winning side of a lopsided score during last weekend’s 7-2 revenge game against the Hurricanes, but Julien showed a level of respect at the way the Canes kept on fighting despite finding themselves down big in the second and third period.
The Carolina skaters did everything possible to get back into a game in which they were being outgunned, and they showed plenty of tangible anger and frustration during the final two periods when things clearly weren’t going their way. It sparked several brawls despite the game’s outcome already being well in hand.
There was none of that from the Bruins on Thursday night.
No physical reaction from big hitters such as Milan Lucic or Zdeno Chara and no offensive spark from last year’s heralded line of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder. No fisticuffs from Shawn Thornton, who otherwise had a tremendous night with shots on goal and plenty of very noticeable power play time. The Bruins never made the Ducks earn their win by pushing back — or even better, punching back — in the final 40 minutes of the game, and instead Anaheim whistled a jaunty tune while finishing off a reeling and submissive Bruins team.
It’s been a long time since things have been that easy for a road team on the Garden ice, and word will travel fast that the Bruins have lost some of their home edge if things don’t change rapidly.
“Losing is always disappointing, but when you lose that way it’s even worse. No emotion out there. We played a terrible game,” Steve Begin said. “It seemed like we were on top of the game and we came out flat in the second period and that was it for us. That’s all you can say.
“You can go on and on and say a lot of things, but everybody has to show up. It’s not two, three or four guys — everybody has to show up.
HUNWICK AND STUART HAD DIFFICULT NIGHTS
The Anaheim coaching staff plays a lot of line matchup games with the opposition, and it appeared Thursday night that Ducks coach Randy Carlyle was picking on the third defense pairing of Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart.
It seemed as if each time the young defensemen were caught out on the ice, Carlyle would throw the first line over the boards and attack the B's blueliners in their own end. Hunwick took the first interference penalty at the end of a longer shift that led to the two quick Selanne power-play strikes, and then the young defenseman spent the rest of the night under a swarmed of Anaheim forecheckers behind his own net.
Both defensemen also were guilty of failing to step up while Perry carried the puck coast-to-coast through the Boston defensive zone, and Hunwick finished a minus-2 when the ice chips settled. Hunwick’s night was capped off when the big-bodied Artyukhin powered through the defenseman on his way to the Boston net and fired a successful third-period shot on net despite Hunwick's best efforts to derail him. Indicative of his night, Hunwick got a piece of the 6-foot-4, 254-pounder's shot with his stick but it wasn’t nearly enough. The smaller D-man was simply bowled over by the oversized winger.
Julien talked about both players having “tough nights,” and Hunwick wasn’t avoiding the wince-inducing questions after the game.
“There are certainly plays that I’d obviously like to have back," Hunwick said. “You can feel good for the majority of the game, and then one shift can really change your entire night.”
IT’S BOOM OR BUST ON THE POWER PLAY, AND THURSDAY NIGHT WAS A BIG BUST
The B’s power play took an 0-fer in the opening night loss to the Capitals and then bounced back with a 4-for-8 showing against the Hurricanes that powered their blowout win last weekend.
Thursday’s loss to the Ducks was another exercise in futility for the man-advantage as Boston went 0-for-6 and simply couldn’t finish when handed opportunities during the first two periods. While the Ducks cashed in their Selanne power-play chips in the second period, the B’s simply never got it going and watched Anaheim knowing full well they don’t have a sniper with Selanne-like capability to finish off plays.
The Bruins simply need to follow the hockey dogma of hard work and tenacity if the power play is going to click this season, and there wasn’t much of either in two of Boston’s first three games this season.
That needs to change, and the Bruins badly need to find some consistency on power play opportunities — particularly when the lasting image from Thursday night was the Boston power-play skaters chasing a short-handed Scott Niedermayer all over the ice. The B’s were losing in a red-faced game of keepaway while trying to take the puck from the speedy Anaheim defenseman.
“We had some chances to at least carry and create momentum with our power plays, and the total opposite happened,” Chara said. “[The Ducks] were controlling our power play. They outskated us and outworked us.”