Devils silence Bruins
Scoring woes continue as win streak ends at 4
The not-quite-ready-for-regulation-time Bruins played into overtime again yesterday - for the fourth time in five games - and their payoff was a 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils that ended Boston’s season-high four-game winning streak.
The loss also had to raise concerns about Boston’s overall ability to score goals, which some two months into the 2009-10 season isn’t happening with enough regularity to think this is a team that can challenge for the Stanley Cup.
Yesterday’s lone Black-and-Gold goal was scored by Blake Wheeler, who was bumped up to the No. 1 line upon learning that Milan Lucic will be sidelined for the next month with an ankle sprain. Only 12 seconds into the third period, Wheeler hammered in a doorstep forehander, off a pretty feed by Byron Bitz, ending Martin Brodeur’s shutout bid, and also ending Boston’s scoring for the day (other than the one Wheeler potted in the shootout).
In four of their last six games, the Bruins have been able to muster but one goal in 240 minutes of regulation. Despite their offensive struggles, they have been winning, in large part because of the superlative netminding provided by Tuukka Rask, who yesterday, in his sixth straight start, turned back 36 shots.
Rask and partner Tim Thomas, who could play tonight with the Senators in town, are capable of providing that kind of netminding on a nightly basis. But as winning formulas go, such little offense has a way of catching up to teams, especially come playoff time.
In 25 games thus far, Boston’s goal scorers have connected only 55 times, or 2.2 goals per game. Last season the Bruins scored 270 times in 82 games, or 3.29 per game. They need to get their scorers more engaged.
“It’s a team thing to me,’’ said coach Claude Julien, reflecting on his squad’s need to score more “dirty’’ goals, the product of hard work and determination around the net. “You have to decide if you want to go to the net, or feel you have to go to the net.’’
Case in point was New Jersey’s lone regulation goal, mashed into the net by the talented and ever-gritty Zach Parise, who kept pressing in the crease after Rask had made two stops. Withstanding the various bangs, hacks, and pushes, Parise finally knocked his 14th of the season by Rask.
As Julien noted, Parise might get 50 this season, and it’s a good bet that half his total will be generated off his attitude around the cage. It’s that same attitude that makes him a lead-pipe cinch to be on the US Olympic team headed to Vancouver in February.
“My skate was on the post,’’ lamented Rask, going over the dynamics of the Parise strike, “and Parise jammed his full body into my pads. So . . . ?’’
In the shootout, after Patrice Bergeron failed on a forehand stuff and Rask stopped Patrik Elias, Wheeler connected on a short-range wrister that he snapped off in stride from the slot.
“Exactly where I meant to put it, low to the glove side,’’ said Wheeler, his overall game showing improvement, in part because he is more physically engaged in one-on-one battles. “I had some success last year using the deke in the shootout and I think goalies have been ready for that this year. So I decided just to come down and let it fly.’’
Parise, shooting next, knotted it by deking right, switching back, and stuffing in a forehander at the left post. There are times when he flashes skills equal to his grit. David Krejci followed, failed to beat Brodeur, setting up Jamie Langenbrunner for the kill shot. The winger cut in from the left side and snapped home the winner, halfway up the left post.
“All I can do there is guess,’’ said Rask. “Just a great shot. I guessed wrong and he made it.’’
The Devils appeared to have a 1-0 lead at 14:15 of the first when Travis Zajac knocked one by Rask. But the officiating crew immediately disallowed it, the net having been dislodged from its moorings.
The Bruins didn’t come as close with any of the 32 shots they couldn’t slip by Brodeur, including a game-high five from Bergeron, four from captain Zdeno Chara, and three apiece from Mark Stuart, Derek Morris, Vladimir Sobotka, and Michael Ryder. Lots of shots, but not enough true scoring chances.
It’s not that they don’t generate shots. Hardly. But using yesterday as a prime example, too many of their shots don’t pose a real threat. They took 25 more attempts on Brodeur, only to see eight go off net entirely and 17 others get blocked. They need to be more efficient with their shots and they especially need to demonstrate more jam down low around the cage, picking up rebounds for follow-up chances.
“It is not about highlight goals, if you want to call them that,’’ noted Julien. “It is really about bearing down and scoring those dirty goals.’’