Commentary

Ring, ring ... Hello? Cup champs?

Slumping Bruins seem to be hitting snooze button

Updated: February 9, 2012, 10:32 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- In the midst of a 5-6-1 record in their past 12 games, the Boston Bruins are in desperate need of a wake-up call.

The defending Stanley Cup champions suffered their worst defeat of the season on Wednesday in Buffalo, losing 6-0 to the Sabres at First Niagara Center.

"By the end of it, it was something we haven't seen from our team in a long time," said Bruins coach Claude Julien.

[+] EnlargeMike Weber and Shawn Thornton
Timothy T. Ludwig/US PresswireShawn Thornton stayed busy Wednesday, but the Bruins didn't show much fight otherwise.

In fact, it was the team's worst loss in almost a year since the Bruins fell in similar fashion to the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 on Feb. 11, 2011.

"There's no use dwelling on it," said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. "We need to get back to playing with energy and playing hard."

At that time a season ago, the Bruins also found themselves in a similar downward spiral, but after two more losses last February, the Bruins were able to snap out of it and produce a significant winning streak, recording seven consecutive victories.

Sure, they've learned from experience, but this is a different season and opponents play a lot harder against the Bruins because of their reputation as the league's toughest team -- not to mention the fact Boston won the Cup last spring.

During this current skid, the Bruins have been outscored 39-32 in the past 12 games. Even though they've shown signs of correcting their mistakes, the lack of consistency has been the biggest problem.

"In the big picture, it doesn't matter if it was 2-0, 2-1 or 6-0, it's about the two points," said Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. "We've had other games this year where we've been scored on, but we were able to score at the same time. We just have to regroup and be ready to do what it takes to get the success we want on the ice on Saturday."

As the Bruins prepare to host the Nashville Predators in a matinee game on Saturday at TD Garden, it's almost as if the Bruins believe they can flip a switch and turn it on when it's needed the most.

That's evident in the locker room because the Bruins players don't walk around sulking, placing blame or pointing fingers. They know, as a collective unit, things need to change. There have been too many defensive breakdowns, and the only line that's producing offensively on a consistent basis is the trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin.

The frustrations are beginning to show.

In the waning minutes of Wednesday's horrific loss to the Sabres, the always seemingly calm Bergeron was slamming sticks and bench doors because of the team's lackluster commitment and sacrifice. It's that kind of emotion, however, that usually helps Boston snap out of any sort of funk it's in.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesTim Thomas' performance in relief of Tuukka Rask was as baffling as his recent Facebook activity.

There are times during any season when a team will be faced with winning streaks and losing skids. It's always the best teams that handle the situation appropriately and the Bruins hope this current skid is erased quickly.

"I don't know if there's ever a natural time for anything," Thomas said of the team's recent struggles. "It could be at the beginning or towards the end [of a season]. That's the nature of the game. If we could play as well as we did in November and December the whole year long, that would be great, but that's not the reality for any team. Like other teams, you go through cycles and we happen to be in a cycle that we have to battle out of."

Following Saturday's game against the Predators, the Bruins have one more home game on Tuesday, against the Eastern Conference's top team, the New York Rangers, before they head out on their annual West Coast road trip. It was that very trip a season ago that helped the Bruins erase any struggles they were having.

"You can learn from it so you don't panic," Thomas said. "You've got to look back and remember what it took to get us out of it last year and maybe you can draw from that to help us get out of it this year."

Boston won all six games on that trip. It was also the NHL's trade deadline, and the Bruins added key players, including Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has made it no secret that he plans on being active at the deadline again this season, but he will face some challenges, too. The conference standings and playoff races are so tight, teams could have a tendency in the coming weeks to remain idle.

While Chiarelli attempts to improve the team in the coming weeks, the Bruins need to focus on Saturday's game because the Predators are a tough team and are currently ranked fifth in the Western Conference.

If Boston can beat Nashville and then have success against the Rangers on Tuesday, the Bruins are hoping a string of wins will put this team back in line.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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