A great shift from Bruins
Slow start is in rearview mirror
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The primary perk of an eight-game winning streak is that the Bruins can laugh about their 3-7-0 start.
At the time, however, it was no laughing matter.
The last game the Bruins lost was Oct. 29 at the Bell Centre against Montreal, the team they will play tonight. The Bruins dropped a 4-2 game in an embarrassing fashion - having hated Hab P.K. Subban sucker them into a pair of devastating penalties.
The next day, when the Bruins huddled at TD Garden for a morning meeting, they were in crisis mode. Ten games already had rolled off the schedule. It was their roughest start since 1999-2000, when they started 1-5-4. That season, the Bruins finished with a 24-33-19-6 record, a last-place standing in the division, and an early date with their golf clubs.
The way things were trending, this year’s Bruins could have been finished by now had they not shaken the stink from their game. They were in the Eastern Conference basement, with only the sad-sack Blue Jackets standing between them and the No. 30 overall spot.
“With where we were in the standings,’’ said coach Claude Julien, “I’m telling you right now that had we not gotten on this roll, we’d still be in big-time trouble.’’
Their last loss highlighted all the faults in the team’s approach. The Bruins gave up a first-period power-play goal. They fell behind by three goals. They blew their tops at the worst times. Andrew Ference took a swipe at Subban after the Montreal defenseman rode him into the boards after a whistle. Milan Lucic was nabbed for slashing Subban away from the puck. Nathan Horton wiped out a two-man advantage in the third period by retaliating against Hal Gill.
“Lot of things,’’ center Patrice Bergeron said when asked what was afflicting the club at the time. “I don’t think we had good transition. We weren’t consistent for 60 minutes. We had some good chunks in games. But we weren’t good enough. They were first on pucks more than we were. A lot of things. We just weren’t playing up to our capabilities and our strength. It was hurting us.’’
The Bruins had to find answers. Fast.
The next day, they decided the tumble had to end.
“I just remember the first two weeks,’’ said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “We had a lot of meetings about us not being sharp mentally, not playing well defensively, just not doing the right things all over the ice. We had a meeting. We talked about all those little things we usually do right, and in order to win, what we had to do better. I think everybody just got fed up with all the negativity that was going on. Nobody likes losing on this team. We just decided to turn it around. Ever since, we’ve been doing well.’’
During the meeting, the coaches reminded the players via video of the correct actions they take when they’re winning. Their forwards collapse in the slot to eliminate scoring chances. Defensemen read off their partners and make the net-front area perilous for opposing attackers.
Through 10 games, the foggy Bruins couldn’t prod their brains to move their bodies in the correct fashion.
“The mental part of our game just wasn’t there,’’ Julien said. “In practice, the execution wasn’t there. It wasn’t out of laziness. Mentally, we just hadn’t cut the cord yet. Somehow, we had to find a way to get these guys to understand the urgency. Where we were, screaming and yelling at those guys, in the long run, would only have made it worse. You have to understand where they are in their minds. You had to help them figure things out and understand the urgency.’’
At the time, the Bruins were averaging a league-worst 2.1 goals per game. The most important message the coaches had to deliver was that to score more regularly, the dirty work had to take place at the other end of the ice.
“When you look at video, it’s the easiest way to realize that you’re not playing your game. You’re not playing your system,’’ Bergeron said. “You have to be better. That’s how you improve.’’
They had no other choice. Another pillar of the Oct. 30 meeting was the reminder that the Bruins could not afford to keep digging their ditch any deeper. So the coaches showed the players that in the last four years, there has been very little movement in the standings after Thanksgiving. If the Bruins were to defend their Stanley Cup with another postseason appearance, they would have to be in the East’s top eight to correspond with what history has dictated.
Since that loss, the Bruins have rolled off those eight straight wins. In their most recent victory, they blew the doors off the last-place Islanders Saturday night with three first-period goals, dominating the puck-possession game and flaunting offensive-zone presence in what ended up a 6-0 rout.
“I think the guys are starting to get that feeling again,’’ Julien said. “They’re going out there every night and wanting to be a team that has to be hard to beat. We thought we handled it very well [Saturday]. We know where they are in the standings. We could have taken them lightly. But we learned our lesson the game before. Our guys were determined to get this road trip started on the right foot.
“Going back to Montreal now, it’s really more about what we need to keep doing than who we’re playing. That’s where our focus has to be the next game.’’