Things were getting downright historical for the Bruins Thursday night while matching up against the Montreal Canadiens, and not at all in a good way.
Racing against time to avoid earning the title of most offensively inadequate team in 80 years of Black and Gold hockey, the Bruins simply couldn’t score a goal no matter what was attempted.
The kitchen sink was chucked. The vulcanized rubber peppered the Montreal net with sufficient follow-up effort. Dogs and cats were living in matrimonial harmony while the hibernating Bears found new ways to come up short. The B’s team simply couldn’t locate the back of the net even with hockey’s version of GPS.
For a third straight game -- after dropping consecutive shutout losses on the road for only the sixth time in franchise history – a shutout was looming with all manner of unpleasant questions to follow.
The gloom momentarily worsened when the B’s finally appeared to score in the second period only to have the goal called back. Replays showed that Marco Sturm slightly lifted the goal off its moorings at the exact moment a Patrice Bergeron rebound swat passed through the goal line. It was ruled that the puck actually entered the goal underneath the goal post.
Finally, mercifully, Bergeron scored in the final minute – with the goalie pulled and Zdeno Chara on the ice as a sixth skater blocking out the sun in front of the net – to tie the game and force an overtime that Boston eventually lost to the Habs in a 2-1 shootout.
Blake Wheeler, Bergeron and Mark Recchi were hold scoreless in the shootout session while Montreal’s Mike Cammalleri beat Tim Thomas with a scorched wrister under the crossbar.
But the shootout result was beside the point for a Bruins team on the brink of an offensive breakdown.
The regulation goal and the sweat-equity point earned against an equally desperate Canadiens bunch were clear positives for a hockey team in search of attaboys, but the players know the score.
Pucks are being fired at the net and B’s players are putting in the effort, but they’re simply not good enough – or confident enough – to pile up the points as easily as last year. It’s going to take a frenetic, concentrated effort with equal parts, grit, determination and work ethic to score goals, and that’s the way it will be for a team that’s ranked 27th in the NHL with a 2.13 goals per game output.
“It’s like a broken record saying the same thing over and over, night in and night out,” said Wheeler. “You get to be tired of it. You look around and we have a lot of guys that can score goals, and all of a sudden we are going on nine periods with no goals. We’ve got to take that to heart. We’ve got to take that personally.
“It’s a great step in the right direction, but Saturday [against division-leading Buffalo] is an opportunity to get this thing right because right now it’s not good enough.”
It required over three hours of on-ice regulation time (190 minutes and six seconds to be exact) for the B’s to finally notch a goal after careening perilously close to three shutout losses in a row for the first since the Eddie Shore “Old Time Hockey” days of 1929.
The Bruins fired 43 shots at Carey Price, and there were rebounds galore amid some pretty gnarly traffic around the Canadiens cage with muckers like Recchi and Bergeron creating a net-front presence. Both Bergeron and Sturm fired seven shots on net and seemed to be single-handedly attempting to resuscitate a flat-lining offense, but that’s exactly what Boston is going to need to escape these dark times.
Those with some skill on this offensively-challenged team must step to the fore and create more scoring chances, and that charge – minus the puck wizardry of Marc Savard, minus the brute force and strength of Milan Lucic, minus the persistent rare dual threat of speed and shot from Phil Kessel and minus the gritty determination of Chuck Kobasew – falls to Bergeron, Sturm, Michael Ryder and Wheeler more than anybody else.
There’s only so much that can be asked from the Trent Whitfields and Steve Begins of the world beyond an honest night’s effort and occasional, incidental offense.
There are some solutions at the ready and one of them led to Boston’s breakthrough with only 51.8 seconds left in the third period. With Tim Thomas pulled (can the Bruins score any other way aside from 6-on-5 with the extra attacker these days?), Bergeron won a key draw – he captured 13 out of 22 face-offs on the night – and Recchi worked the puck back to Derek Morris at the left point.
Claude Julien made the key decision to plop Chara in front of the Bruins net and the 6-foot-9 behemoth on skates clogged up the entire mouth of the net while engaging a pair of Montreal defenders. The big screen on Price worked wonders as the Habs goaltender allowed a loose rebound by the left post, and Bergeron had a clear look at the net with Chara tying up everyone else.
“Z was taking up three guys in front, so I was just on the side of the net to get that easy rebound,” said Bergeron. “I’ll take it.”
Bergeron simply faked and scored for the game-tying marker and his team-leading fifth goal of the season – a tally that also served as a little puck justice after his earlier score was called back due to the net jostling.
Julien mentioned prior to the season that Chara could be used as a giant distraction in front of the net during certain power play formations – or in certain situations – and now would seem to be that time, with the man advantage still mired in a funk that only George Clinton would be proud of. The B’s power play was 0-for-3 with four shots on goal again Thursday night and has been a major contributor to Boston’s overall offensive woes.
Obviously the Bruins would miss Chara’s booming slap shot from the point, but truthfully that hasn’t led to any goals this season and only a handful of scoring opportunities for the forwards around the net. Morris has an equally powerful slap shot from the point, and Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick and Andrew Ference – not to mention Bergeron – have proven to be capable power play point contributors in the past.
Desperate times without Savard as the power play captain – the Bruins are 1-for-23 on the PP since Savard went down with a broken foot – dictate change, and it’s time to plop Boston’s Norris Trophy winner in front of the net as a new look.
“It’s something that we always have in the back of our minds,” said Julien. “The thing is that we have to get some shots through. If he is there and shots aren’t getting through, then that’s not much better either.
“It’s not something you won’t see, but it’s not something that we’ve decided to do.”
Perhaps it’s time for the reigning Jack Adams Award winning coach to reconsider.
Anything that can be done needs to be done to assist a power play that’s dead least in the NHL with a woeful 10.9 percent success rate this season, and currently in an 0-for-20 stretch that’s lasted for a run of six consecutive games.
You’ve heard of the movie Operation Dumbo Drop? Well, the time has come for Operation Chara Drop. It might be just enough to keep the misfiring B’s in the Eastern Conference game until reinforcements arrive in December.
THE BRUINS CAN’T AFFORD TO DROP MUCH MORE
The Black and Gold were fortunate to finally break through offensively, but the sliding can’t keep continuing for another three weeks or more until Savard and Lucic return. The Bruins are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference with 14 points and sit close to those magic top eight teams.
Currently Boston sits ahead of only the Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes in the standings and things get even more challenging with the Northeast Division-leading Sabres coming for a visit this weekend and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins slated for a Tuesday night visit to TD Garden. The Bruins are playing sound defensive hockey and getting good goaltending from their duo of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. They just need to score more goals, and they won’t come easy against their next two opponents.
Goals should again be hard to come by as Buffalo has allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season (24) and features goaltender Ryan Miller at the very top of his netminding game.
“Buffalo is definitely playing really well this year and we have to have the same mind frame,” said Ryder. “Go out and throw as much as we can at the net and try and create offense while not taking away from any aspects of the game.
“We threw a lot of pucks on net and we were around it for pretty much the whole game – and we only got one. The next time we might get three or four.”
THE BRUINS LEARNED THEIR KESSEL LESSON
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli had a bright young hockey asset taken from him last summer when Toronto leveraged the threat of a contract offer sheet into a trade for Phil Kessel just prior to the season’s start.
Give the B’s GM full marks for not letting that happen again as he locked up another talented youngster in Tuukka Rask to a two-year contract extension that will take the Finnish netminder through the 2011-2012 season. Reports have the salary pinned at $2.5 million overall with a cap hit in the $1.25 million neighborhood.
The 22-year-old was set to become a restricted free agent following the current season, but – along with Milan Lucic – Chiarelli made the determination to keep his prized youngster away from potentially damaging offer sheets.
“I guess you’ve got to change with the times,” said Chiarelli about getting more proactive toward locking up players mid-season, particularly younger players with expiring rookie contracts. “To a certain degree I went through it this summer with Phil [Kessel] and Toronto and I have to consider that. I have to put that into the equation now.”
Rask is 2-1-1 in four games with a 2.41 goals against average and a .915 save percentage, and has already flashed the kind of cool, calm collected style between the pipes that’s made him one of the best goaltending prospects in the world.
The Bruins still have restricted free agents Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to contend with following this season as well as an organizationally important negotiation with unrestricted free agent Marc Savard. Tying up Rask allows Chiarelli to concentrate on other matters at hand with his goaltending completely covered for the next three seasons.
THERE WILL BE NO KREJCI TIME FOR UP TO A WEEK
The picture cleared a little bit more for swine-flu ridden center David Krejci, who will miss at least two games while recovering from a bout with the H1N1 virus diagnosed on Thursday. Krejci will be away from the ice for at least the next 3-5 days in quarantine, and might miss a third game when the Bruins take on the Penguins next Tuesday night at TD Garden. The playmaking center – who has struggled with a goal and four assists in his first 14 games – can’t rejoin his teammates until he’s been symptom-free and fever-free for at least 24 hours.
Krejci is the fifth documented case of swine flu in the NHL this season as he joins the Islanders Doug Weight and Edmonton’s Ladislav Smid – who the Bruins played last week in Boston – among others.
“He had a raspy throat and it kind of sunk it into his chest and that’s when they brought him to get it diagnosed,” said Chiarelli. “[He’ll be] 3-5 days in quarantine, so he’ll spend that time at home in quarantine.
“We’ve got surgeon masks for those that may have been infected, or who we suspect may have been infected. But we haven’t had to use those yet. We’ve disinfected and sanitized the room and the facilities, and we’ll continue to do that. The biggest thing is to continue to wash their hands and get to us early if they start to feel any symptoms.”