ATLANTA -- To Dave Lewis, the team he coached last night in a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers looked like an ill-fitting collection of individuals who had abandoned the month-plus preparation they had undertaken before the season started.
``We're not a team yet," said Lewis in condemning the Bruins, who fizzled for the final two periods before 12,579 at Philips Arena. ``We have to grow together. We have to work on things. We have to identify what's important for a team to be successful. That's one of the things I recognized tonight."
What Lewis saw in the final 40 minutes wasn't pretty. Neutral-zone turnovers. Little production from the go-to guys. Failure to bust up Atlanta's cycle down low. In the second period, especially after P.J. Axelsson was whistled for an offensive-zone penalty that led to Atlanta's go-ahead goal, the Bruins didn't bend.
``We're not doing a real good job of handling adversity throughout a game," said Brad Stuart, one of 13 Bruins who limped away from the loss bearing a minus-1 rating. ``There are ups and downs throughout every game. We're not dealing with those real well."
It was a slap in the face for Lewis and the Bruins, who gritted their way to a third-period win against Tampa Bay last Saturday. Last night, they were facing a club similar to the Lightning -- two loaded scoring lines, a potent power play, and a defense that could play tough when necessary.
But the undefeated Thrashers had the most important element: near-perfect goaltending from Kari Lehtonen, who ran his club-record scoreless streak to 167 minutes 56 seconds before Axelsson snapped the string in the second period.
``We keep improving our defense," said Atlanta sniper Marian Hossa, who capped the scoring with a sparkling third-period goal, dangling through Nathan Dempsey (minus-2 in 12:07 of ice time) and tapping home a backhander. ``I know it's only four games, but it's good for our confidence. Kari is playing big for us and we try to help him, too."
Early in the game, Lehtonen stopped an odd-man rush by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes, kicking out Bergeron's shot with his right pad. He stoned Bergeron again later in the period during a shorthanded rush with Boyes. Then in the third period, when the duo broke out again for an odd-man flurry, Lehtonen stopped Boyes at 14:05, putting out any hopes of a Boston rally.
Also in the third period, Lehtonen (22 saves), facing down an unmarked Phil Kessel when a turnover put the puck right on his stick in the slot, waited out the rookie and foiled his backhand bid.
``When we've got chances, we have to make something happen," said Bergeron. ``We have to make a play when they give us a two-on-one."
The clubs played a scoreless first period. Then Atlanta forward Jon Sim, with Steve Rucchin battling Wayne Primeau and setting a screen in front, whipped one through traffic and past Hannu Toivonen (24 saves). Axelsson tied the game when Boyes's power-play shot deflected off the left wing's chest and into the net at 5:14.
But after forward Scott Mellanby took a perfect cross-crease pass from Hossa and shoveled it into an open net at 14:27 of the second period, the Bruins failed to respond. Forward Glen Metropolit slipped behind Dempsey and roofed a shot over Toivonen's glove at 15:35, making it a 3-1 game.
``We made a couple mistakes in the neutral zone," said Toivonen, who made his second straight start. ``We were sloppy in there. That turns the game totally over. You've got to respect the neutral zone. We have to try to minimize mistakes. I made a couple myself. I could have given the guys a better chance to win."
Instead, it was the hard-nosed Thrashers controlling play in the high-traffic areas, and paying a bloody price. In the third period, Bergeron cranked a one-timer that appeared to deflect off Rucchin's stick and into defenseman Greg de Vries's face, opening a cut near his left eye. As de Vries skated toward the bench, he left a trail of blood on the ice.
The No. 1 power-play unit of Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard, Glen Murray, and Marco Sturm failed to generate much pressure as the club went 1 for 8 on the man-advantage. In fact, there wasn't much presence from the Bruins' top line while at even strength. Savard, Murray, and Sturm combined for four shots.
Murray said the trio had some chances, but acknowledged they didn't have their best game.
``I expect more from them," Lewis said. ``In all areas of the rink. I think they're capable of doing that."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.