With a slam of his stick on the ice yesterday morning at TD Banknorth Garden, coach Claude Julien pointed out to his players exactly where he wants them to be.
In front of the net.
After eight games, the Bruins are averaging 2.50 goals (21st in the NHL before last night). They put only one puck - a third-period power-play goal by Dennis Wideman - past Montreal goalie Cristobal Huet in Monday's 6-1 laugher. They had to wait for Phil Kessel, the No. 3 sniper in the shootout, to beat Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist in Saturday's 1-0 victory.
"It's finishing chances, bearing down, and paying the price," said Julien, who worked his players through one of their harder practices yesterday. "I think we could have had more chances - quality chances - if we decided to play a little harder in those areas. I find that too many times we cross the blue line and prefer to spread out instead of having one guy go to the net. We've been hammering away at that since the first day of camp. So we just have to keep on them until it becomes a habit."
On Monday, the Bruins allowed six goals for the second time this season. But yesterday the club's focus was on generating offense in front of the net.
For Julien, one factor in Montreal's six-spot was his team's loss of composure. By trying to climb back into the game too quickly, the Bruins started to press in the offensive zone and committed mistakes that led to odd-man rushes and penalties at the other end.
The Bruins kicked off practice with a one-on-one drill that pitted a forward against a defenseman at one end of the rink. After the forward got a shot off, both players sprinted to the far corner, battled along the boards for the puck, and went one-on-one all over again.
Later Julien introduced several more forwards and defensemen into the drill, making it a three-on-three rough-and-tumble battle in the corners and in front of the net - precious plots of real estate the Bruins have been hesitant to enter.
"We got outbattled last game," said Marc Savard. "We've got to do a better job of that. We've only scored one goal in the last two games. That's not enough."
The Canadiens put only 20 shots on Manny Fernandez, but they made them count. They got good looks at the net and forced the Boston defenders to scramble in the danger areas.
Wideman was one of six defensemen on the wrong end of the Montreal attack. So he found out firsthand how challenging an aggressive attack can be, and how important it is for his team to do the same to opposing defensemen.
"All the teams in the league now drive to the net really hard," said Wideman. "We have to be better at dealing with guys driving to the middle. It's not like it used to be where you could just throw your stick on them and hold them up. Now you have to get good body position. It makes it a lot more difficult when you have a guy driving hard to the net and then having a high guy coming in."
The Bruins had been counting on Glen Murray, who led the team with 28 goals last season, to be a go-to scorer. But the veteran right wing has scored only one goal.
For the last seven games, Murray skated with Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron. But yesterday, Julien reunited Murray with Savard and Peter Schaefer, his original linemates from the season opener against Dallas, and placed Chuck Kobasew with Sturm and Bergeron. Savard and Murray played most of last season together, and Julien is hoping the pair can generate some offense starting tomorrow against Chicago. Julien had taken Murray off the line because he wanted the speedy Kobasew to skate with Schaefer and Savard.
"We made a few adjustments," Julien said. "We may make more down the road. That's always an option that's open to us."
As much as Murray needs to jack up his scoring rate, Julien is leaning on Savard to have a bigger offensive presence. Savard is Boston's leading scorer (1-8 -9), but 5 of those points came in an 8-6 win over Los Angeles. Savard has scored only 3 even-strength points.
"I think he's such a good player that we can get more from him," Julien said. "We can get a lot more out of a lot of players right now."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.