BOSTON -- The Bruins' theme song for the season so far may as well be the classic Rolling Stones hit "Mixed Emotions." The B's seem to be inconsistent not only in their play on the ice but also in their evaluations of their performance, which has them at 3-5-0 eight games into this 2011-12 season after a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
Following Friday's practice at TD Garden, Bruins head coach Claude Julien seemed concerned that his team was a bit sloppy and had not carried over the focus and momentum from their best performance of the season in a 6-2 win over Toronto on Thursday night.
"That's what I talked about to the guys again today," Julien told the media after practice Friday. "We just seemed to have good days and average days and again today in practice we talked about it; mentally we weren't sharp out there. We can't afford to do that and if you can sharpen yourselves up in practice it will become second nature in a game. That's the biggest challenge right now is maybe being able to sustain that focus. Maybe bringing it to the attention of the players will certainly help them get through it."
His team allowed the first goal for the sixth straight game, falling behind 2-0 in the first period, before tying the game with two goals in 29 seconds early in the third, only to fall behind again midway through that final frame and allow an empty-netter. Yet Julien seemed a lot more pleased than his players, the media or the 17, 565 fans that packed the building for another sellout. While many dwelled on the Bruins' inconsistent start to the season that has them headed into a home-and-home set with the hated Montreal Canadiens next Thursday and Saturday, Julien felt his team played well enough to win. As far as he is concerned, the Bruins' early-season woes are not from a lack of effort, but rather one of sharpness and focus. Certainly, they need to bury the frequent scoring chances they're missing right now. But is that really all that's ailing his team? It was a case of mixed reviews and emotions after the Bruins' latest setback.
"The first minute wasn't great, but I don't think we can necessarily link those two things," Julien said when asked if his team's performance resembled what he was concerned about after practice Friday. "We got off to a bad start in the first minute and got ourselves behind the eight ball, but the rest of the game, I thought we played well, and we had our chances. Again, probably more scoring chances than we've generated in the past even. Right now, as you know, we're not burying our opportunities. Even if you score two goals, a lot of times, it's not enough. I think that's probably one of the biggest issues, and a couple of mental mistakes you see often in games -- coverage and stuff like that -- that ended up being costly.
"Defensively, we didn't give them much, but when we did, there were some mistakes that were made that ended up costing us. At the other end, we had some open nets, we had some great chances, and right now, we're not burying them, and that's being ready to do that. It's a challenge for us right now, and it's frustrating because if you look at the whole game, it wasn't a bad game from our part of it. We had lots of chances, and at the end of the night, we didn't capitalize enough."
The players generally agreed, but some also see a lack of consistency plaguing them early in this 2011-12 season. To them they're not burying those chances because they're not ready from the get-go and the focus is inconsistent. On Thursday, the Bruins looked like a team on a mission for 60 minutes but on Saturday, they were good but not good enough and only in spurts. Yes, they outshot the Sharks 39-30, and yes, they had plenty of scoring chances, but the bottom line is they didn't capitalize on them. The focus, the intensity, and all that's needed on a consistent basis to light the lamp on those chances still isn't there.
"The big thing we are talking about right now is just consistency, that's a big word in here," said Tyler Seguin, who has been a model of consistency so far with points in all but two games, including a goal that tied the game at 2-2 early in the third period. "And having a big game against the Leafs that we just did and then coming out tonight and losing in our own barn, it's a tough one to swallow, like I said. And we have to improve from it and learn."
Just as Seguin sees a need for general consistency, so does goalie Tim Thomas -- who likes to judge his team every five games. But like Julien, Thomas wasn't hitting the panic button just yet.
"Yeah, I don't know to evaluate yet," Thomas said when asked if he has seen enough to start judging where his team is at. "We want to get into a rhythm and -- kind of like we did last year -- win two or three, lose one. You don't ever want to lose but you know what I mean? But we haven't been throwing the wins back-to-back so far this year. Some of that is just the way things work out. We've played some pretty good teams that have played some pretty good games against us, too."
Forward Chris Kelly is known more for his defensive game, but as of late he's been playing between Milan Lucic and Seguin, and has been one of the few Bruins generating offense. Kelly summed up the current state of the team as well as anyone.
"We haven't played our best," the alternate captain said. "There have been moments that we have played the way we're capable of playing and we haven't done that on a consistent basis. I think as a group we know what our identity is and what brings us success, but for whatever reason we're just not doing that on a consistent basis. It's a fine line to just be good enough to be in the game opposed to playing the way we want to play and the way that has brought us success. I think for the first two periods -- yeah, we were in that game. A couple bounces here, a couple bounces there and it could have been 2-2 going into the third. I thought we played well in the third, but yet again it's tough playing from behind -- you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself."
Until the Bruins get on the same page and pinpoint what exactly is ailing this team right now, that pressure will not only build from within but from without, as a fan base that expects nothing but a Stanley Cup contender will grow impatient with the Bruins' "mixed emotions."