Zdeno Chara, playing for the first time since his controversial check on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, enjoyed the support of the home crowd last night at TD Garden, but as a whole the Bruins may have been better off playing away from home.
The plane from Hanscom Field couldn't take off fast enough last night for the Bruins, who barely touched their postgame meal before embarking on a four-game road trip that starts tonight on Long Island. It's road, sweet road for the Black and Gold, where the points pile up like dirty laundry.
The Bruins haven't treated the Spoked-Believers to their best brand of hockey. They've saved that for enemy ice. Last night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres dropped their home record to 16-12-5. That's 19th in the league, sandwiched between playoff outsiders Minnesota and Toronto. Of the teams currently holding down NHL playoff spots, only the Sabres (14-15-3) and New York Rangers (15-16-3) are worse off at home. Conversely, the Bruins are like George Clooney in "Up in the Air." They feel most at home when they're not, posting a 22-8-4 road record to tie Detroit for the most points picked up on the road in the league.
We've always been told that the good teams in any sport are capable of winning on the road, but in the NHL the championship teams own home ice. Looking at the last 10 teams to life Lord Stanley's hardware, only one team finished outside the top 10 in home record -- the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, who were 11th at 25-13-3. The only other team outside the top five in home ice advantage to skate away with the cherished chalice was the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, who had the sixth-best home record that season.
That's not a good sign for the house-broken Bruins bringing home the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1972, unless they can be more formidable on home ice in their remaining eight home games.
The Bruins generated considerable buzz and optimism with a recent perfect 6-0 road trip, the first such trip since Bobby Orr was sporting the Spoked-B and hockey was a religion in this region. Claude Julien's road warriors returned home triumphant with a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to stretch the win streak to seven straight, but they dropped overtime decisions to the Penguins and Sabres at TD Garden -- sandwiched between the infamous evening in Montreal -- to break their momentum and give pause to the parade plans.
"We've had definitely our highs and our lows this homestand here," said defenseman Adam McQuaid. "I think that's probably the biggest thing to come out with a 60-minute effort and get back to doing some of the things we're doing on the road, just simple, simple plays instead of trying to make a fancy play or trying to impress the crowd."
It's hard to believe for those who remember how the old claustrophobic rink on Causeway Street used to rock and how the Bruins had a distinct advantage with the smaller ice surface, but home ice advantage is negligible this season at TD Garden.
McQuaid said there are certain buildings in the league that players just know are tough to play in, and the Bruins want TD Garden to be that building. It has at times, especially in fight-fest wins over the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens last month. But other times, like last night, when none of the penalty calls went the Bruins way and they blew a 2-0 lead, it was not.
"It's not something that we're proud of that's for sure," said McQuaid of the team's middling home mark. "We were really hoping coming down the stretch here to really make this a tough building to come into and we're hoping to have home-ice advantage and make it an advantage. We want whoever we're playing to be like, 'Oh, geez, we don't want to go into that building and play.' It's something that we're going to have definitely work on coming down the stretch."
It's certainly not the fans' fault. The support and positive energy are there, unless you were Dennis Wideman. It's just kind of hard to explain. How can a team with one of the most ardent, appreciative and passionate fan bases in the sport be so blah in its own building?
Do they feel the weight of a nearly 40-year Stanley Cup drought with every home skate? Is there too much negativity in this town? Or are there simply fewer distractions when they go to one of the other 29 rinks across North America?
It's a baffling situation and one that doesn't bode well for the playoffs, not when you are a team that the last two seasons has seen its Stanley Cup chase come to a screeching halt by losing Game 7s in your own house (of pain).
This is two years running that the Bruins have played better in the away sweaters. The Bruins were pedestrian at home last season as well, going 18-17-6. In 2008-09, when they had the best record in the Eastern Conference, they had the second-best home record in the league, going 29-6-6.
"It might be a matter of how we focus on the road," said feisty forward Brad Marchand. "We're all together. We know every time we're at the hotel or at the rink we're all getting focused. Here there are families and girlfriends and other distractions. We have to find a way to put that aside and make sure every time we come to the rink we're focused on having a 60-minute effort. Maybe we want to play to the crowd or try to impress them. We just seem to have a little more on the road."
They certainly do.
That's fine, sometimes we all like to get away from home. However, it's pretty clear the road to serious Cup contention is incumbent on the Bruins finding a way to win more at home.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.