WASHINGTON - The midseason doldrums, especially for a team with a postseason spot essentially locked up, usually take place between the holiday break and the All-Star Game. Clubs on lower rungs are fighting for their lives to find spots among the top eight in each conference. Meanwhile, the top teams are often battling themselves - struggling to remain tight, crisp, and fresh - while they wait for the stretch drive to start.
Since regrouping in Phoenix after Christmas, the Bruins have gone 8-5-1. Not bad. Not great.
Now that the dog days are over, so-so won’t do.
After Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Capitals at the Verizon Center, Bruins coach Claude Julien said, “Not a very good game for us to end with before the break. No doubt.
“Probably the positive thing is that we’ve got five days to think about that and come back hopefully refreshed, rejuvenated, and playing with a lot more energy.
“We were slow again tonight on the puck. Half a step behind for most of the night. You’re not going to win hockey games like that.
“The bottom line is that we’ve got to play better. We know that. Saying it is one thing. We’ve just got to make sure to make it happen. Hopefully a week from now, that will happen.’’
Julien, along with assistants Geoff Ward, Doug Houda, and Doug Jarvis, will be in Ottawa this weekend for the All-Star Game. They will be joined by Bruins players Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas, and Tyler Seguin.
For everybody else, the break represents the final pause before the push to the playoffs, with play resuming Tuesday against the Senators at TD Garden. The Bruins are 2 points behind the conference-leading Rangers.
“We need to take these five days and make the most of it,’’ said Patrice Bergeron. “We have to come back and be ready for a great end to the season. It’s going to be real important.’’
Last year, the Bruins went 3-4-0 in their first seven games following the All-Star break. But soon after the seventh game - a 4-3 home loss to Toronto - general manager Peter Chiarelli made the first of four transactions that would prove crucial to the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run.
On Feb. 15, Chiarelli landed Chris Kelly from Ottawa for a 2011 second-round pick. Three days later, Chiarelli followed up with two more maneuvers. While the Bruins were preparing for a road game against the Senators, Chiarelli shipped Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler to Atlanta for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik.
Then, after freeing up enough cap space with his first move, Chiarelli got Tomas Kaberle from Toronto for Joe Colborne, a 2011 first-round pick, and a 2012 second-rounder.
On Feb. 23, Chiarelli made his fourth and final move by extending a tryout to Shane Hnidy. Three days later, Hnidy signed a one-year contract.
The acquisitions played complementary roles. Kelly became the all-purpose No. 3 center and penalty killer. He teamed with Peverley, who would see time on all four lines. Although he did little to jack up the power play, Kaberle was a third-pairing defenseman whose contributions, while modest, helped the Bruins win the Cup. Hnidy was usually a healthy scratch, but his veteran presence was welcome in the dressing room.
Chiarelli will be on the hunt for similar pieces this time around. The last two games, the Bruins have been without defenseman Andrew Ference because of his three-game suspension for boarding Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers. It may be a coincidence, but the Bruins allowed five goals in each game he missed. Ference has been a stable defenseman on the No. 3 pairing.
Even before Ference’s three-game sitdown, the Bruins were looking for defensive depth. They would like to add a left-shot blue liner without giving up any roster players in return.
Last year, one of the Bruins’ best decisions took place in the first round of the playoffs when Dennis Seidenberg was paired with Zdeno Chara.
If the Bruins elect to reunite the power pairing, it would require one of their right-shot defensemen to switch to the left side. Joe Corvo would be the leading candidate.
But the Bruins would prefer to bring a left-shot defenseman into the mix. Carolina’s Tim Gleason would be a good fit as a stay-at-home bruiser in the Stuart mold. But the Hurricanes will have multiple bidders, which will drive up the asking price for the unrestricted free agent-to-be.
Up front, assuming Nathan Horton (concussion) isn’t out long-term and the other forwards remain healthy, the top two lines are set. The Bruins could use some bottom-six depth on the wings. Phoenix veteran Ray Whitney could fill a Mark Recchi-like role. Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu, who has drawn interest from the Bruins before, also could round out the forward corps. Other contenders would also pursue both players.
In hindsight, the Bruins believed that bringing Kelly, Peverley, Kaberle, and Hnidy into the fold during a Western Canada swing helped them become familiar with their new teammates.
This year’s trade deadline is Feb. 27, and the Bruins kick off a six-game road trip Feb. 15 in Montreal. They will wrap up the roadie 10 days later in Ottawa. They will not return to Boston during the trip. If the Bruins use last year as a model, management would make its moves before or during the swing.
“You get those famous midseason blues. It’s a long year,’’ said Julien. “All of a sudden after the All-Star break, it seems to pick up again with the intensity of making the playoffs.’’