BOSTON -- Maybe it's not a "Stanley Cup hangover." Maybe it's not the short offseason. Maybe it's not the fact that they have targets on their backs as the defending Cup champions.
Then again, maybe it's all those things that have contributed to the Boston Bruins stumbling out of the gate with a 2-4-0 record to start the 2011-12 season.
Whatever the case, the Bruins' frustrations over their sluggish start and the fact that they are not playing like the team that captured the hearts of their fans with their improbable Cup run this past spring poured over in an undisciplined and ugly 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
As coach Claude Julien acknowledged after the game, "It's not what we are. It's what we're not right now."
The Canes were more than happy to take advantage of the Bruins' short fuses, drawing nine power plays (and 72 minutes in Boston penalties), converting two in the third period to bury the lost B's.
But give the Bruins credit. Following Tuesday's loss, every Bruin who was available to the media resisted the urge to blame the referees for the loss. Instead they acknowledged that they are not the team they pride themselves on being, one that balances skill with physical grit and emotion and stays within its system to dictate the play of the game.
On Tuesday the Bruins did none of that, and the players and Julien -- who was ejected late in the third period -- didn't hide from that.
"We have to take responsibility for our own actions here," Julien said. "In the first period, we had some great chances but we're not capitalizing. And what I see is frustration setting in, and the minute we start getting frustrated, we lose focus of our game and then it gets worse and worse. And that's been a bit of a pattern this year.
"If you look back at the Philadelphia game, we start off well in the first period, same thing, didn't capitalize. And even Colorado, and there's been some games where we come out of the game well and have some great opportunities to score, but it's not going in right now and the frustration is getting the better of us.
"So I think it's important that we fight our way through it and manage our frustration here. And obviously I'm not on the ice to hear or see everything that's going on as far as the misconducts were concerned, but I think we have to take that responsibility upon ourselves and understand that the referees have a job to do.
"I'm sure I'm going to hear later on what was said or why those things happened. But you know what, we can't shoot ourselves in the foot here. We got to battle through it. It's not what we are. It's what we're not right now."
The players agreed with their coach, and while they might not have agreed with every call, they weren't about to blame the officials.
"Those two refs are out there doing their job, and they're going to call the game the way that they see it," alternate captain Chris Kelly said when asked whether the lopsided penalty calls cost the Bruins. "I don't think any official is out to get any one team. For the most part, we deserved most of those calls. Maybe some are questionable and we might not have deserved them, but I'm sure they got some calls their way that maybe they didn't deserve, so I think it was our own doing."
Kelly then acknowledged that he and his teammates have not been emotionally prepared for each game. Instead of the Bruins thriving off their emotions, they're letting their emotions get the better of them.
"It's not from lack of effort in this locker room," Kelly said. "Everyone wants to go out there and work hard and compete, and I think it's just, for whatever reason, we're not in sync each and every shift.
"We want that controlled emotion. I think we're at our best when we're playing at a bit of an edge, but a controlled edge. Going out there, working hard, finishing our checks, getting the puck in, sticking up for one another, but not to the point where we're in the box for the majority of the third period."
That lack of controlled emotion was evident in the third period. The Bruins had just cut the Hurricanes' lead to 2-1 on a Rich Peverley power-play strike, when Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton gave into their frustrations as Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason -- a thorn in the Bruins' side throughout the game -- drew two key penalties.
Horton got a hold of Gleason and took him to the ground, pummeling away at Gleason, who clearly wasn't trying to defend himself. The result was four minutes for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct to Horton, the beginning of a sequence of 5-on-3s for the Hurricanes that would lead to two back-breaking goals.
Horton and Lucic, who was hit with a 10-minute misconduct later in the period, were not available for comment after the game. But again, the Bruins who were didn't try to pass the blame.
Alternate captain Andrew Ference accurately said this wasn't a case of lack of effort but lack of discipline. He said the Bruins need to reel in their emotions and use them effectively. For Ference, that means getting emotional with the lead.
"There are games where we can get emotional and get things going," Ference said. "I'd rather see the emotion built into a game where we are actually winning and playing well. I think we've got a bunch of guys that care about this team doing well. We seem to get a little frustrated, and it's going to happen.
"We took some penalties that let us work on our penalty kill for a while. That happens, guys are emotional and I don't know how to explain it. You just want to get something going so bad that you try to get involved physically, and if it's a little one-sided, the other team just turns the other cheek, and it's tough to get something started just purely on that. I'd rather see our emotional side during the games where we are ahead and taking control of games."
Right now that means the Bruins getting a hold of themselves and their frustrations at not being ready to defend their Cup championship. The majority of the players acknowledged that Tuesday, and while Horton and Lucic chose not to do so publicly, if they do on the ice, there is plenty of time for them and the Bruins to be themselves again.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.