BUFFALO - The Bruins have a pretty good grasp of defense, no longer skating helter-skelter through all three zones looking like so many distant, dismal sons of the Ice Follies that turned last season into a laugh track.
But when it comes to offense, or simply sustaining pressure on the net . . .
"We just can't put that little black thing in the net," said veteran winger Glen Murray. "No doubt, it's frustrating."
The lack of scoring once again brought the Bruins asunder last night at
"All losses are frustrating in their own way," said Boston netminder Tim Thomas, who was backed by Marc Savard's goal in the first period and nursed that until an Ales Kotalik power-play strike evened it in the second. "But it's important for us not to get too far down . . . we're doing a lot of things right, but just not enough right now."
It was the Bruins' second straight overtime loss, on the heels of Sunday's 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Senators in a shootout. They have gone three straight without a win (0-1-2), their longest drought of this young season. They put 26 shots on Ryan Miller, half of those in the third period, when they recovered from a second-period dip in which they once more seemed to forget one of the game's fundamentals - one must at least shoot if there is any chance of "that little black thing" finding its way into the 24-square-foot opening.
"The last three games, yes, it's been frustrating," said coach Claude Julien, noting his club's meager total of four goals in that span. "It's hard for us to score goals. We hit a couple of posts tonight - so you hope sooner or later one of those goes in, and that gets it going. Sometimes you just need to shoot more to get the confidence going."
Part of the Bruins' undoing of late has been their powerless power play. They were blanked (0 for 3) by the Sabres and have now gone 0 for 7 in their last three games. The fact they have drawn only seven penalties in itself reflects they aren't moving enough, with or without the puck, for other clubs to foul them. Some of that, too, is inconsistent officiating, which always gets underscored in times such as these. Referees Chris Lee and Mike Leggo were inconsistent from start to finish.
"The power play's got to get better," said Julien. "It's the same thing . . . it's just hard for us to get power plays now."
Without the high-powered Daniel Briere (now in Philadelphia) and Chris Drury (now wearing Ranger blue), the Sabres also don't have much in the way of firepower. They made it to the Eastern Conference finals last spring in large part because of their ability to attack with all four lines, creating a constant wave of quick-skating shooters that often caused nightmares for defenses.
The Bruins took the lead on Savard's strike at even strength 8:07 into the first period.
Murray, with only 1 point (assist) in his last seven games, cruised into his familiar midslot position as P.J. Axelsson, taking advantage of a Sabre mixup, slid a velvety relay into the middle. Murray let go one of his patented half-slap bombs, but it ricocheted off a Sabre and went directly to Savard, poaching to Miller's right. Wasting no time, Savard potted his third goal of the season, firing a tricky shot under the crossbar as Miller moved too late to the near post.
"We finally got a good bounce there," said Savard. "Maybe that means it's coming. We played a good game. We just have to keep doing that and hope we get hot."
Without Patrice Bergeron (concussion, broken nose), the Bruins are likely to be in a nightly struggle for offense, perhaps for weeks, given that Bergeron easily could be sidelined through the Christmas-New Year's holidays. Grade 3 concussions, with the type of whiplash symptoms he is experiencing, typically take months to heal.
"We miss him, for sure . . . he helps, especially on the power play," said Savard. "He makes that cross-seam pass that not a lot of guys in this league can make."
The Sabres answered with the only goal of the second period. Buffalo went on the power play at 15:02, after Jochen Hecht skated with a turnover and landed a shot on net that created a fat rebound in the middle. Skating in on the rush, Stafford was just about to cash in on the rebound until he was upended by Zdeno Chara, sending the Bruins' captain to the penalty box for interference. It took Kotalik all of 48 seconds to knock home the equalizer.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.