On Hockey

Early hole too deep to climb out

By Kevin Paul Dupont
October 24, 2010

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What, you were expecting something like 40-0-0 this year on Causeway ice? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, ordering Duck Boats for a June parade, or celebratory cruises with the Cup stuck on the bowsprit of Old Ironsides.

The Bruins are better this year, no doubt about it. But just two weeks into the new season, they lived the consequences of a poor start last night, and it’s a fair bet that it won’t be their only poor start on the 82-game schedule.

“We were a little bit off tonight,’’ acknowledged Bruins coach Claude Julien, following his squad’s 3-2 loss to the Rangers, on a night that began with the Blueshirts sporting a 2-0 lead by the 12:01 mark of the first. “No ifs or buts about that.’’

And such is the margin for error in today’s NHL. Come out of the gate a bit out of synch, as the Bruins did, or slightly slow afoot, as the Bruins were, and a 2-0 lead can feel like 20-0 even if there are 48 minutes left on the dance card. The Bruins got better, but they could never get even, and it translated into their second loss of the new season.

“A couple of bad bounces put us behind,’’ said Nathan Horton, who potted his fifth goal, cutting the gap to 3-2 midway through the second period.

Frankly, the Bruins were as weird as they were bad. New York’s first goal was batted at almost crossbar level, Artem Amisinov banging home the puck after Brandon Dubinsky’s shot from the left circle popped up in front of Tuukka Rask. Only 27 seconds later, at 12:01, Alex Frolov netted the 2-0 lead on a swat from the front that first got by Mark Stuart’s glove attempt, and then went by Rask’s glove attempt. There hadn’t been as many muffs on the same popup around here since the days when Dick Stuart (aka Dr. Strangeglove) patrolled first base at the Fens.

But here’s the thing about bad bounces: They are often, if not usually, the product of poor overall play. The Bruins couldn’t be charged with being sleepy, uninterested or lethargic — as they often were last season.

“They had lucky goals,’’ added Julien. “But they probably don’t happen if we get a better start.’’

The day will come, and perhaps soon, when Julien will be able to call on rookie Tyler Seguin as a potential remedy in similar situations. Seguin, with a goal and three points in his first six games, is by far the speediest Bruin. Even in his limited role (13:43 of ice time) last night, he could be seen racing after pucks, looking for the first time as if he has found his legs in the pro game.

One wonders what kind of threat Seguin will be when Julien trusts him enough to kill penalties. As one of the two high forwards in the penalty-killing box, he’ll have opposing point men jittery, for fear that he’ll pick off passes and leave them playing Wile E. Coyote to his Road Runner. Beep, beep and see you later.

But for now, Seguin is being kept under wraps.

“We can’t expose him against top lines,’’ said Julien, fearing that the 18-year-old would be devoured on the defensive side of the puck. “That much I think we are all unanimous on because there is more to the game [than speed]. He’s a dangerous player, but . . .’’

The original plan, as Julien went over again, was to start the season with Seguin playing on a wing and ease him into the NHL’s NASCAR-like life, just as Patrice Bergeron was in his rookie year. When No. 1 pivot Marc Savard reported to camp with post-concussion symptoms, Seguin was plopped into the middle. But as a center, Seguin has to cope with the pro game’s faster tempo and the usual burden of a pivot’s defensive responsibilities. A lot for a kid not named Sidney Crosby.

“We were hoping to have him on the wing,’’ mused Julien, “and that would have helped him probably feel his way a little better in the league.’’

Seguin finished with two shots on net against the Rangers. His linemates, Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder, both couldn’t put a puck on goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The only other Bruin not to record a shot was Stuart.

None of that is to say that Seguin was misused or that he alone could have turned a loss into a win. But it is to say on a night like Game 6 of the new season, the kid’s legs were whirring. It became obvious as the night played out that one day, when the coaching staff has more faith in him, he could be just the elixir for a team in need of an early energy boost.

Just a subplot to watch. Especially on nights of subpar starts.

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