Commentary

First has become last

Against Habs, the Bruins struggle to maintain focus again and land in the cellar

Updated: October 28, 2011, 9:27 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It's almost the end of October, nearly a month into the 2011-2012 NHL season, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins are in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-6-0 record.

After losing 2-1 to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Bruins have only six points. Of course, Boston has played only nine games and there's still plenty of time to recover from this mediocre start to the season.

But that's not the feeling in the Bruins' locker room.

"We can't say it's a long year," said Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. "We have to turn this around and if we don't we'll get behind the eight ball."

[+] EnlargeMilan Lucic
Elsa/Getty ImagesMilan Lucic battled frustration in the third period of the Bruins' 2-1 loss to the Canadiens on Thursday night.

The theme seems to change from game to game. First it was the team's inability to score first and their difficulty playing from behind. On Thursday night the Bruins did score first, even though it was the result of an own-goal on a faceoff in Montreal's end, but Boston couldn't secure its one-goal lead after the first 20 minutes of play.

Montreal capitalized on the Bruins' defensive breakdowns and notched the tying goal in the second period off a redirect before the game-winner came midway through the third period. Boston goaltender Tim Thomas (33 saves) was not at fault for either one.

But it doesn't matter how many saves Thomas makes per game if the Bruins can't score.

Bruins coach Claude Julien is not the type to single out players -- at least publicly -- when things are going badly, but when the team is playing as poorly and inconsistently as it is, everyone is at fault.

"I'll probably get nightmares thinking about how we're playing right now," Julien said. "It's more about our team right now. I don't care where we are in the standings, what I care about is how we play and right now we're not playing at all to the level that we should be."

Julien said there are plenty of excuses, but he doesn't want to hear any of them. The coach will point to the obvious facts: The team's lack of scoring and poor execution in all three zones are serious issues.

"Unfortunately we're not sitting here looking at one or two players that you can kind of move around, you're looking at the majority of the team and that's what the issue is and this is what we have to find a way to correct," Julien said.

That focus should start at practice and in the locker room, and needs to translate into the games.

"You're either focused or you're not," Julien said. "You just don't jump on the ice and all of a sudden get focused. The game starts way before the puck is dropped and we said we would be challenged in a mental way and it's about preparation."

It's clear the Bruins are having trouble maintaining focus and a consistent effort, and that was visible Thursday night against the Canadiens.

"The inability to focus for 60 minutes is pretty obvious and apparent," Julien said. "When you play the way you do in the first period and seem to be heading in the right direction, and you come out in the second period and play that way it certainly shows the lack of focus."

Don't think that general manager Peter Chiarelli will sit back and watch this team continue to unravel. He has the cap space with about $3 million to spend if needed.

"I'm always working the phones, but I am a little more diligent these days," Chiarelli told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.

Behind closed doors, the Bruins have had the type of team chemistry that was one of the major reasons it won the Stanley Cup last spring. The leaders on this team always speak their minds and the others follow. That strong team bond usually translates on the ice, but that hasn't been the case so far this year.

[+] EnlargeMontreal Canadiens celebrate
Fred Kfoury/Icon SMIMontreal celebrates the game-winning goal Thursday night at TD Garden while the Bruins and their fans wonder what hit them.

"We're obviously not happy and not satisfied," Bergeron said. "It's not something that we would have expected at all. We've done it to ourselves and we can't put the blame on anyone else. Now we've got to work through it and find our game."

While watching Thursday's game at the Garden, no one would have been able to tell that the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry is one of the best in all of professional sports. Maybe the fans were spoiled by the incredible seven-game series between the clubs last spring during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Both teams are struggling at the start of this season, and if they can't turn it around quickly, there will be no playoff showdown next spring.

"I don't think we're that far off," Thomas said. "But the record is the record and we're getting too far off."

"It's something that we are working on addressing daily," added Thomas. "We realize we need to start putting wins in the win column. We're going to try our best to make that happen."

When asked if he could have imagined the Bruins being in last place on Oct. 27, Thomas said he couldn't.

"No," he said. "I never pictured it happening this way."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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