After lackluster efforts, they know the drill
WILMINGTON — The Bruins arrived back in town early yesterday morning, having completed a four-game, eight-day trip. Standard operating procedure would have had them enjoying a day off to recover from the travels.
There is nothing standard, however, about a late-season fade in which they’ve won just one of their last seven games.
So instead of retiring to their couches, the Bruins reported to Ristuccia Arena for 60 minutes of hard-nosed practice meant to jolt them from their slumber.
“If your team is playing well, you don’t mind giving days off,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “At this time of year, it’s been a long grind. You have to make sure they get their rest. But when their game isn’t where it should be, you don’t give days off. You work on finding your game. That’s the most important thing right now.’’
The circumstances indicated a hard practice. Perhaps even a bag skate with no pucks and lots of sprints. The Bruins were given Friday off in Toronto following a 4-3 overtime loss to Nashville the previous night. They have one more practice today before tomorrow night’s home game against New Jersey.
They started and finished with quick sets of sprints. But instead of sending his players through an all-out skate, Julien opted for a battle-heavy session that emphasized down-low play and hunger around the net.
With president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli watching, the Bruins rolled through drills that had a connecting theme: winning races for pucks. There were two-on-two drills down low. Those expanded into five-on-five cycles.
“Rest is sometimes just as important,’’ said Mark Recchi. “But when you get an opportunity to have two good practices, it’s very important to make the best of it. You take advantage of it. You go out and work hard and try to get better at things. We’ll be a better team for it, for sure.’’
The Bruins are not far removed from a perfect six-game road trip. During that trip (Feb. 17-March 1), which included a three-game Western Canada segment, the Bruins bested Vancouver, the best team in the league. But since their return, they’ve played like a team that believes it’s better than it is. They showed, with their win over Vancouver, they can go head-to-head with the league’s elite. But during their last seven games, they’ve performed with little urgency, perhaps thinking they can coast into the playoffs.
Yesterday’s practice was what the coaching staff hopes is the first step in preventing the indifference from continuing.
“This is where it has to start,’’ Julien said. “It has to start from here on in. We’ve got to find our game. We’ve got to get some consistency in that part of it as well. Game after game, we have to be good and reliable. Hopefully this is what’s going to start happening this week.
“Today we worked on that. We’re going to work on it again tomorrow and hopefully be ready for Tuesday.’’
In recent seasons, the Bruins have had strong finishes. Last season in their final 11 games, they went 7-3-1. The year before, they concluded the regular season with an 8-2-1 record.
This season, eight of their 11 remaining games will be at the Garden. Six of those 11 games will be against teams that most likely will not make the playoffs (New Jersey twice, Toronto, Atlanta, Islanders, and Ottawa).
However, the Bruins have recorded only 37 of their 88 points at home.
“We’re going to be fine,’’ Recchi said. “Everybody believes in each other in here. Everybody goes through stretches over the course of the year. If you look at our 10-game segments, we haven’t had one under .500 all year. We’ve been pretty good. We’ve been pretty consistent.
“We’ve got 11 games to really build this thing up again and have some great practices at home. We’ve got all week to practice again. Big games at home. We can build from there.’’
Marchand back Having completed his two-game suspension Saturday, Brad Marchand will be back in uniform tomorrow night. Yesterday, Marchand was one of four forwards practicing on the second line. Recchi, Patrice Bergeron, and Michael Ryder were the others.
“It’s tough watching even when you’re winning,’’ Marchand said. “If you’re winning, it’s always a little easier. If you lose a couple games, you always want to be out there wanting to help in any way you can.
“Watching the last two games was pretty tough. But they got me very anxious to get back. It was a lot of fun being out there with the guys today, even if it was a tough practice in a bad situation. Very excited to get back.’’
Marchand hasn’t scored since Feb. 22. His offensive slump has occurred at the same time as the fourth line struggling to make an impact. Tomorrow night, it might make sense to start Marchand alongside Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. The last two games, Ryder had more jump skating on the second line. Ryder was a healthy scratch last Tuesday.
Easing way back Shane Hnidy can be taken off long-term injured reserve tomorrow. However, it’s unlikely he will play any time soon. Hnidy is the eighth defenseman on the depth chart behind Steven Kampfer, who was a healthy scratch Saturday . . . Tim Thomas is likely to start in goal tomorrow night. With only two sets of back-to-back games remaining, Thomas could start nine of the last 11 matches.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.