WILMINGTON, Mass. -- With the NHL trade deadline Feb. 27, there were plenty of NHL scouts on hand for the Bruins' 3-0 loss to the Hurricanes on Thursday night. Chances are, they were more focused on Carolina -- who remained in last place in the Eastern Conference even after beating the defending Stanley Cup champions for a fourth straight time to sweep the season series with Boston.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has gone on record as saying he doesn't want to disrupt team chemistry and will simply be looking for depth up front and on defense, but the Hurricanes have let it be known they are willing to deal impending unrestricted free agents such as Tuomo Ruutu. So the scouts weren't targeting any Bruins, right?
Well, if the Bruins don't snap out of their current funk, that could change. As alternate captain Chris Kelly pointed out after practice Friday, the Bruins are not playing their game right now, and if they don't start doing so soon, Chiarelli could change his approach to the trade deadline.
"It doesn't matter how good you are or how good the team is, any manager who thinks he can make his team better, he's going to, regardless of who it is," said Kelly, who himself was dealt from Ottawa to Boston just prior to the deadline last February. "If that trade becomes available, I think Peter -- like he has in the past -- will do what he has to do to make sure this team can succeed."
But Kelly knows his team can't be worrying about that and instead must focus on getting back to basics.
"If I'm worrying about that and we're all worrying about that every night, then this little funk we're in is going to get way, way worse," Kelly said. "As players, those are things that are out of your control, and in order to avoid those things, you gotta play better. I think we need to focus on coming out [Saturday] and getting back to the basics, and we'll have success."
The Bruins are 9-6-1 since Christmas after motoring through November and the majority of December, and Kelly and his teammates know they're not playing up to their potential.
"I think for a while now, we haven't been playing the way we should be playing, and I think that we're a much more capable team than what we're showing," Kelly said.
One thing the Bruins took advantage of in their run through November and December was a plethora of home games and not too many back-to-backs. They also weren't playing the cream of the crop. But as the calendar year turned, they have found themselves on the road and facing tougher opponents.
Kelly, however, won't use that as an excuse, and he hopes his teammates won't, either.
"That's hockey, and everyone else goes through that," Kelly said. "Back-to-back games; road trips; so if we're even thinking of using that as an excuse, we better get that right out of our minds. We're not doing the basic things; we're not doing the little things that made us a good hockey team. We have a lot of talent in this room, and so do a lot of other teams. But what separated us from the average teams and the below-average teams was our work ethic. When we outworked other teams and focused on the smaller details, our talent took over, and we're getting away from that."
The fact that the Bruins' play has tailed off but they're still above .500 since Christmas seems to have shielded the team's problems, and their third-period comeback against the Senators on Tuesday night was a perfect example.
"I think sometimes when you come back and play one good period and end up winning a game, there's that false sense of security," Kelly pointed out. "But yeah, that Ottawa game, we didn't play well. Obviously Luch's goal was a huge goal late in the second, and if we don't score that one, we're in the exact same situation we're in [Thursday] and maybe we don't win that one and we're down two games in a row. But hopefully [Thursday] night was an eye opener to everyone -- and I think it was -- and we need to come out [Saturday] and play a solid 60 minutes."
Kelly knows that no team is perfect and everyone has bad nights, but the fact that the Bruins are not competing from game to game and period to period worries him.
"You're not going to play 82 games perfect, and I don't think anyone expects us to," Kelly said. "But I think what they and we expect us to do is compete each and every night, and show up to work. I think if you ask the coaching staff and management if we showed up to work and competed every night and we didn't win, they'd still be happy. But the fact that we're not doing that, that's the concerning part."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.