Host Bruins duck out early
Anaheim is the life of this party
When things go well for the Bruins, it doesn’t require a puck prodigy to see who they are — a club that leans on airtight goaltending, stout if not puck-moving defense, and a forward corps that turns opposing mistakes into goals.
After last night’s 3-0 dud of a loss to Anaheim before 17,565 at TD Garden, it’s clear that the flat-lining Bruins are none of those things.
In fact, they don’t know who they are.
“You have to earn an identity,’’ said defenseman Andrew Ference. “It’s not like everybody can just be part of the team’s identity. It’s up to each individual player to play into that role and actively be a part of that identity.
“You can’t just put the jersey on and be a hard-working, dedicated guy. You have to actually play that way.
“If you don’t have a whole team doing that, then the identity’s not there. It’s something that every shift, every game, you have to have. If you don’t, you start to lose that, you start to be inconsistent, and you’re a bit scattered.’’
Right now, the identity is the following: Float around the offensive zone and joust with their sticks instead of slamming bodies, taking numbers, and creating turnovers. Roll four drowsy lines of easy-to-play-against forwards. Pray to the hockey gods that goalie Tim Thomas saves their skins.
It’s not working.
They’re slow. They’re soft. They have too many passengers instead of participants. Opponents are taking notice.
“We didn’t have enough guys going tonight. No doubt there,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Our compete level needed to be better. That started with our forecheck, a sustained forecheck. We didn’t have a sustained forecheck.
“At the same time, whatever scoring opportunities we had, we had to show more hunger in the finishing department. We had some chances. Maybe if we finish on a few of those chances, we’ve got a different game. We’ve got to be a lot better than that. Right now, we’ve got to find that intensity and that emotion that is needed to compete the way we want to compete.’’
Jonas Hiller stopped 45 shots to earn the shutout. Hiller moved swiftly from side to side, stayed square and big when necessary, and pulled out the acrobatics as needed.
But the Bruins didn’t put enough heat on the goalie and his defense. Not enough rear ends in his face. No sticks jamming for rebounds. Little traffic in front.
After the loss, Julien was fair enough to his players not to name names. Rarely has he done so during his time behind the Boston bench. But anybody who watched last night’s snoozer could pick out the culpable with little effort.
Top of the list: Nathan Horton, parked in a 0-0—0 funk for the last four games. The Bruins acquired the former No. 3 overall pick from Florida with the hopes that, in a hockey market and on a playoff club, he would mature into the No. 1 right wing they’ve needed. As Horton’s faded, he’s shown why the Panthers aren’t weeping about his departure.
In 17:45 of ice time, Horton had three shots. In the third period, he was demoted to the No. 3 line alongside Marc Savard and Michael Ryder. Blake Wheeler replaced Horton on the top line and skated with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
“We needed to move some guys around. We didn’t have everybody going tonight,’’ Julien said. “It’s unfortunate. Looch was by far our best forward tonight. But we needed more than Looch going. I’m disappointed. I’m really disappointed in our effort. It’s not something we should be proud of. We should be willing to redeem ourselves next game and find some emotion and more intensity in our game.’’
While the Bruins bumbled their way around the rink, the Ducks buried their offensive opportunities. At 5:57 of the first, Brandon McMillan gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead when he lifted a short-range shot over Thomas. In the second, Teemu Selanne triggered a scoring sequence when he snapped a shot on goal. Thomas steered the rebound into the slot, where Lubomir Visnovsky brought the hammer down on a slap shot that sizzled past the goalie at 4:45.
Just over 10 minutes later, with Ryan Getzlaf serving a tripping penalty, Corey Perry scored a shorthanded goal. Perry blew past Patrice Bergeron, then cut into the crease, where he slipped through every Bruin. Perry buried his shot at 15:05 to give the Ducks a 3-0 edge.
“You play with some emotion, you go in there and you finish your checks,’’ said Julien. “Tonight, we had a lot of guys playing at the end of their sticks. When you’re battling to move up five spots, it’s unacceptable.’’
For some reason, the Bruins think they’re better than they are. Perhaps that stems from an eight-game run in October and November when they rattled off seven wins. Those months are long gone. Ninth place (Carolina is only 4 points behind) could arrive soon.