On Hockey

They’re lost in transition once again

By Kevin Paul Dupont
November 14, 2010

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How bad? Prague bad.

Similar to their season-opening stinker in the Czech Republic, the Bruins were lethargic and out of synch last night at TD Garden, a deadly combination that added up to a 2-0 loss to the Senators and brought down the boos from what was left of the sold-out crowd of 17,565 at night’s end on Causeway Street.

“Our transition game,’’ said coach Claude Julien, “was nearly nonexistent.’’

We will allow Julien a little hyperbole there. There was no “nearly’’ about it. The condition of the Boston transition was DOA upon puck drop at 7:16 p.m.

The six Boston defensemen did an OK job of retrieving pucks, but they couldn’t do much to get them out of their zone. The few times they were able to advance the puck over their own blue line, their partners in crime (see: 12 forwards, Black-and-Gold sweaters) rarely moved it through the neutral zone with speed and virtually never muscled it down low in the offensive zone.

All in all, it was a failure to launch, both mentally and physically, sending the Bruins to their fourth loss in five games and setting up what could be an ugly week against the likes of the Devils, Rangers, Panthers, and Kings.

So, what’s happening here? No question, we are finally seeing the impact of having three of the club’s top offensive performers — Marc Savard, David Krejci, and Marco Sturm — sidelined by injury. Go up and down the Original 30, pluck out three of any team’s top six forwards, and see what you get. Not pretty.

The Bruins played extremely well through October, sans Savard and Sturm, but the concussion Krejci sustained a week ago has left their offense in Carnival cruise liner mode. Krejci’s absence doesn’t explain the flat line on the Boston blue line. From here, that looks like an issue of predictability and scouting. The league long ago figured out that Boston’s breakout is structured on quick defenseman-to-defenseman passing on the back end. The Senators time and again took away that trigger, just as other clubs have done of late.

The frustration level for the Bruins reached the point that Mark Recchi, without a fight since March 2004, finally boiled over and took on Ottawa defenseman Chris Campoli in a center-ice bout with 7:46 remaining in regulation. Correct, that was 42-year-old Mark Recchi, all 5 feet 10 inches of him, taking on 6-foot Chris Campoli, who is 16 years younger.

When Recchi broke into the league in 1988-89, Campoli was only 4 years old, and we assume not yet able to read Recchi’s hockey card. For the record, Recchi wanted the fight and was the one who issued the invite.

“I’m glad he went,’’ said Recchi. “I’ve asked him before and he wouldn’t go, so . . . good that he went.’’

The underlying question here is why should a guy with Recchi’s, shall we say, patina, be doing this kind of work? Any number of Boston’s other 11 forwards and six defensemen could have tried to do what the revered Recchi tried to do — fire up the Boston bench. Admirable job by one of the game’s last Real McCoys.

“Hey, I still think I’m 25 years old,’’ he said, “and I think I act like it.’’

It wasn’t so much anything Campoli did, explained Recchi, but more what the Bruins weren’t doing. He was in search of an emotional spark, a trigger point, and he took it upon himself to pick a young player out of the Ottawa lineup and beat him up, old school.

Over the first 6-7 weeks, a lot of Bruins have put up their dukes, Shawn Thornton chief among them. When Chris Neil wouldn’t accommodate Thornton last night — planned retribution for Neil’s recent assault on peacenik Dennis Seidenberg — captain Zdeno Chara took on Neil. Milan Lucic hasn’t been a wallflower. Ditto for Mark Stuart. Newcomers Adam McQuaid and Greg Campbell have displayed ample fire in their bellies.

But last night, amid a team-wide snoozefest, it came down to Recchi, who increased his career penalty minutes to 1,003 with the bout. He became the 30th player in NHL history to break both the 1,000-point plateau and the 1,000-PIM plateau. Too bad such a sweet memory had to be recorded on such a sour evening.

Be careful not to overreact or read too much into Recchi’s actions, said Julien. As a whole, he said, his team hasn’t shied away from these kind of battles.

“You know, we’ve been a pretty good club until the last few games,’’ said Julien. “So all of a sudden, I don’t think I want to throw this team under the bus and start pointing fingers here.’’

Fair point, even if NHL fighting is no country for old men, especially with so many talented young throwers on that Boston bench. Of far bigger concern, anyway, is how Boston’s back end can look so dysfunctional and how the forwards can look so lame and tame. Those aren’t fighting words, but simply the reality for a team that suddenly finds itself with some serious work to do.

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