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Bruins paying the penalty

Loss of discipline led to lost hopes

Bruins GM Mike O'Connell wants a well-rounded team.
Bruins GM Mike O'Connell wants a well-rounded team. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)

There are 16 games remaining in the Bruins' regular season -- beginning with tonight's contest against Ottawa at the TD Banknorth Garden -- and it's expected that is all that will be left of the 2005-06 campaign.

Do the Bruins still have a mathematical chance to make the postseason? Yes, but Boston is not playing like a group on the way up, it's playing like a group that has completely lost its way.

General manager Mike O'Connell said what he sees night in and night out now is a far cry from what he witnessed as the Bruins made a run prior to the Olympic break. ''There's a lack of confidence," said O'Connell. ''Going into the break we were playing very well, our penalties were down. We lost a couple of tough games right before the break even though we played well. We came back and we started off playing good right out of the box and then we lost a couple of games then. I think our confidence is down."

Losing has a way of sucking confidence out of a club, especially when it has won just two of its last 13 outings (2-8-3). But the lack of discipline recently hasn't helped the Bruins' fortunes, either.

''We've got to stay out of the box," said the GM. ''That was one of the keys to our surge there, we were taking less penalties."

Part of O'Connell's job is to remain optimistic, as bleak as the Bruins' situation is. But he said what he's seen hasn't been all negative despite the club's maddening ability to find ways to lose, no matter how many leads it generates in the course of a game.

''We'll keep going the way we are," said O'Connell. ''We still have a few guys out [with injuries]. It's good to see [rookie defenseman] Mark Stuart up. He's been very good. We added three new players to the mix [just prior to the trading deadline] and it takes some time to sort out. Mariusz [Czerkawski] looked sharper [against Toronto Tuesday] and Marty Reasoner felt a little more comfortable. Hopefully, we'll gain some confidence and get playing the way we were."

It has been a stressful season for O'Connell, who began what turned into a season-long retooling when it became apparent very early on that the Bruins' roster -- put together at warp speed once the labor dispute ended -- wasn't working.

''The strategy we started with, the one we took, it was flawed by the way the whole [collective-bargaining agreement] worked out," said O'Connell. ''If you look at the teams that have had success this year, did anyone think the Rangers were going to be as successful? How about Carolina? How about Buffalo? Or Nashville? Those are four teams that surprised everyone because of the rule changes . . . There were teams that benefited tremendously from this and teams that didn't benefit from it. We were one of those teams that didn't benefit from it."

Heading into this offseason, there is no worry about having to re-sign big-ticket items the likes of Joe Thornton or Sergei Samsonov. The Bruins' strategy is less about building a team around a franchise player and more about adopting the Sabres' long-term strategy of crafting a well-rounded team. ''I think we will have [flexibility]," said O'Connell. ''It just depends on which direction we want to go in. We don't have a $7 million player anymore.

''You can build a team like many of the teams I mentioned, with the exception of the Rangers. Even the Detroit Red Wings, to some extent, they have a full roster of players. They benefited from the 24 percent rollback. There are a lot of different things that no one could predict because of the lateness of the deal being signed. It's very disappointing, but take a realistic look at it and you can realize what happened. There were a number of things that hadn't gone our way.

''Do you wish you didn't make those decisions, yes? But the decisions we're talking about were made three years ago."

When April 15 rolls around, the date of Boston's last regular-season game (a matinee in Atlanta), it likely won't mean anything more than the end of a long year. Until they are officially out, though, the GM said there is still a slight chance to sneak into the postseason mix.

''You've got to always hope that's going to happen," he said, ''but with each loss it becomes more difficult."

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