Bruins get the result, not the effort, they want
The name of the game is winning, and the Bruins did that last night, pinning a 3-2 loss on the undermanned and shallow-of-talent Islanders while cracking the 100-point plateau for the second time in three seasons.
Of more importance right now, to hear coach Claude Julien tell it, is effort. The playoffs are but a week away, and the coach hopes to have his Cup-starved team playing like a Stradivarius. Instead, he’s got a banjo serenade playing at the end of his baton, a cacophony as hard on the eyes as it is on the ears.
“Our best players weren’t very good tonight,’’ said Julien, after seeing next to nothing from his top line in particular, the one that usually has David Krejci between Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. “When your best players aren’t very good, you aren’t going to get the results you want.’’
Such is every coach’s worst nightmare, especially coaches who are left with nothing to say when the playoffs have come to an unexpected, unwanted end. When the big boys don’t come up with big results, dreams live short lives, a reality that had to be in the back of Julien’s head — no matter what the scoreboard or the standings say. He has seen the same listless effort from his top guns too often of late, including Monday night’s horrendous effort in Manhattan that had the Bruins turning a 3-0 lead into a 5-3 defeat.
Based on how they played last night, the smackdown by the Rangers two nights earlier really didn’t serve as a wake-up call.
“Not the kind of game you want to see from your team,’’ said Julien. “You try to motivate your team to play well. Say what you want, preach what you want . . . a lot of players are looking forward [to the playoffs].’’
Nonetheless, half-hearted proved good enough against the Uniondale Fishsticks. Shawn Thornton, Dennis Seidenberg, and Gregory Campbell connected for the three goals, and that was enough for win No. 45.
Austrian-born rookie Michael Grabner had the Islanders’ two strikes, jumping his top-of-the-freshman-class goal total to 33. Nice work from a kid who was dumped on the waiver wire by the hapless Panthers at the start of the season, the kind of move that should have a club’s owner wondering who’s making the calls on the playing talent. Grabner is fast and slick in a league that usually finds ways to wipe out such assets.
The Campbell line, with Daniel Paille at his left side and Thornton on his right, was by far the best thing going in Black and Gold. They played with pluck and purpose, something that was in short supply, and in some cases nonexistent, throughout the rest of the forward corps. Paille made an old-time hockey block of a shot at the very end, with the Islanders skating an extra attacker in an attempt to tie it. Forgotten for much of the season, Paille has staged an impressive microburst in the last two weeks and deserves his ice time, in part explaining why rookie Tyler Seguin spent last night in the press box.
The No. 1 line, though, was first only in frustration. After watching the futility play out over the first 40 minutes, Julien yanked Krejci from between Lucic and Horton and gave the leading man’s role to Chris Kelly (no doubt to the howls of the Internet haters/posters). Krejci slipped down to center Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder.
When the night was over, neither Lucic nor Horton had a shot on net. They combined for four attempts, but all were either blocked or misfires. Krejci put one puck on net. Kelly showed a little more life and dished the puck in the second period that Seidenberg cranked by Rick DiPietro for the 2-1 lead (with a second assist to Peverley). Ryder and Peverley combined for a total of five shots on DiPietro, but overall they were only a tad better than the No. 1 line, even when they had Krejci as their pivot.
“Not a ton . . . not a ton,’’ said Julien, asked if he saw better results from the switch of pivots. “I wish I could tell you I saw a change, but I didn’t. That’s not throwing them [Horton and Lucic] under the bus. No doubt they’ve been good for us this year, but it was a tough night for them.’’
The nights are about to get tougher, much tougher, whether the Bruins face the Canadiens, Sabres, or Rangers in the playoffs. If his best players summon their best games, then Julien will still have plenty to worry about, because that’s the nature of a sport in which even the best effort doesn’t guarantee the best result.
Of much greater concern right now, headed into weekend games with Ottawa and New Jersey, is that the best effort is in short supply on a team that has gone wanting for nearly 40 years. It’s late, and although they are all present and accounted for, no one really knows where these Bruins stand right now. And that includes the coach.