October 14, 2013

No need to panic, but Bruins have some work to do

By Andrew Merritt

Henrik Zetterberg and Brad Marchand chat during Detroit's 3-2 win over the Bruins Monday at TD Garden. (Getty Images)

BOSTON – It's a little early for the panic button.

Nine days ago, the Bruins scorched the Red Wings at TD Garden, looking every bit the team that had just made a run to the Stanley Cup Final. Torey Krug, Brad Marchand, Jordan Caron and Zdeno Chara scored in the rout, marred only by a Henrik Zetterberg wrister late in the first period. The Bruins improved to 2-0, and made the highly-touted newcomers to the Atlantic Division look like also-rans.

On Monday afternoon, the tables were turned as the Red Wings jumped all over the Bruins for a 3-2 Detroit win. Goals from Stephen Weiss and Daniel Cleary in the second period pushed the visitors ahead, and the Bruins couldn't catch up despite three power plays – including a long 5-on-3 – over the final 21 minutes of play.

The 3-2 score will make the game look a little closer on paper than it really was. The Bruins (3-2-0) struggled to create as many solid offensive chances as they have in their three wins this year, while some awful defensive breakdowns opened the door for the Red Wings (4-2-0).

The Wings looked like a very different team than the one that got trounced by the Bruins nine days ago, and that was no accident.

“They embarrassed us last time,” said Cleary, whose pretty goal off a feed from Daniel Alfredsson midway through the second gave the Wings the winning margin. “We came in making sure we were ready. The first period, there wasn’t really anything going on, then we had a good second. It was a big win for us, something to build off.”

So the Bruins were beat by a team that took the Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals, and still has some of the game’s biggest names on its roster.

Again, no need for panic. But there are some areas of concern.

For one, there’s the power play. The Bruins’ Achilles heel last year looked like a strength after they pumped in two power play goals against Detroit in the teams’ first meeting. But the goal Zdeno Chara backhanded in with 7:43 to go in that game is the last one the Bruins have scored on the man-advantage, going 0-for-12 in the three games since.

That includes Monday’s game, in which the B’s power play was an 0-for-5 dud, even after a nearly two-minute 5-on-3 spanning the second and third periods. During that 1:53 of two-man advantage, the Bruins didn’t lack for open looks, but mostly blasted away from the points and struggled to get close to Detroit goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

“I think I had a few of them but two were good ones,” winger Jarome Iginla said. “One I just missed probably by a couple inches the top right corner, one I missed by a mile and that was just trying too hard and too excited and just missed it.

“It was an important time of the game, it could have been a big difference. And you get out there in those situations and you definitely want to help the team and feel responsibility, all of us out there.”

Iginla is also a point of concern. Through five games, the Bruins’ most anticipated offseason addition has just one point, while linemates Milan Lucic (3-2–5) and David Krejci (0-4–4) are leading the team. That one point, by the way, was an assist on a goal scored by Chris Kelly in the win over Columbus on Saturday – not on a goal by one of Iginla’s linemates.

It’s not a matter of opportunity for Iginla, either. His 19 shots on goal are the most by any Bruin – three more than Chara, and 10 more than each of his linemates.

“I think he can shoot the puck a lot better than we’ve seen him because we know he’s a good shooter,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “So whether that’s pressing or whether that’s circumstances, I don’t know. … Right now it just isn’t there and I see maybe a little hesitation in shooting where, when a player has confidence, their release is a little quicker too.”

Iginla isn’t the only veteran whose production isn’t yet meeting expectations. Brad Marchand is also the owner of just one point (a goal against Detroit on Oct. 5), after leading the team last year. On Monday, Julien swapped Marchand into the third line and promoted Reilly Smith to the second line, ostensibly with an eye on giving Marchand a change of scenery to prime his scoring pump.

“Yeah I think I was just pushing a little hard and maybe trying to do a little bit too much, and with [Chris Kelly] and [Jordan Caron], they’re both hard working guys and keep it pretty simple, so it’s more just getting back to the basics and getting back to my roots,” Marchand said.

Marchand didn’t find the net, but his four shots on goal were the most for him this season.

Defensively, the Bruins looked sluggish in the early going, but tightened up some as the game wore on. Unfortunately for them, however, the offense wasn’t able to similarly wake up, and less than a week after being shut out by Colorado’s Jean Sebastien Giguere, they made things too easy for another backup goaltender in Gustavsson.

“I think we’re pressing,” Julien said. “That’s what we’re doing – we’re pressing right now. I don’t think our guys don’t feel they can score. I think we’re pressing right now and that’s probably what you’re seeing. Once we get some goals I think we’ll be pressing a little less.”

The season is only five games old. Unlike last year’s lockout-shortened slate, there’s some time to get things figured out in the early going. And over the course of the next 77 games, there will be more slumps – both by individuals and by teams. So there’s no reason for the Bruins to panic yet.

But there’s still some work to be done.

Twitter: @A_Merritt
Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com