SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. - Chris Kelly spoke quietly. He kept his head bowed and his chin tucked into his chest. For good reason.
Kelly had no wish to flaunt the damage to two of his cracked front teeth that a grinding off-day practice had inflicted.
“Just one of those days,’’ Kelly said, shaking his head.
Of the 20 Bruins put through the paces, Kelly was suffering the most following yesterday’s grim 40-minute practice at Wakota Arena. Early in the session, as Kelly entered a corner, he lost an edge and hit the deck.
Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron approached to check on their teammate. After several moments, Kelly got up and skated to the dressing room to recover from the tooth-cracking tumble.
Naturally, being a hockey player, Kelly returned to the ice minutes later. During the three-on-three cross-ice battle that followed, Kelly hit the ice once more, driven to the sheet by a thundering Shawn Thornton check.
After practice, his teammates tried to console the third-line center. Kelly sat in the corner, his gray practice jersey dotted with blood, no doubt dreading the dentistry that he will require.
“At least when I wipe out, I have on a full cage,’’ said goalie Tim Thomas.
There weren’t many smiles on the Bruins’ faces following their practice. After their latest loss, a 4-2 setback to Winnipeg on Friday, they have posted a 4-6-0 record in their last 10 games.
They haven’t won two straight in over a month. They are down two right wings in Nathan Horton (concussion) and Rich Peverley (knee sprain).
They are grinding their gears, scraping metal on metal, with no indications that a WD-40 cure-all is in their near future. For too long, they’ve been playing with as much fizz as a week-old can of ginger ale.
“We need a better package from our hockey team,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “Whether we talk about D-gap or putting the puck in deep or putting it in the right area where we can get it back, there’s so much of that.
“When it’s all over the place, it’s a matter of righting the ship and getting our focus on doing the little things right again. It’s really not just one area. It’s many, many areas.’’
Amid the peaks and valleys that have troubled the Bruins for almost two months, they’ve avoided slipping into a significant hole.
Since the beginning of November, they have dropped two straight games on only two occasions. Their longest losing streak is three, which took place in October when they were at their worst.
But while their collective approach hasn’t plunged off a cliff, they are concerned with how they’ve regressed in multiple areas of their game. Thomas and Tuukka Rask haven’t been bad, but they haven’t been great. The defense isn’t springing one big leak, but there are a handful of small holes. The offense has carried the play and established in-zone time.
But that last hard push - the battle in the dirty areas, the wave-after-wave pressure - isn’t there to complement their puck possession.
“It’s very frustrating,’’ said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “[On Friday], the first period was OK. I think we played pretty good. The second period, we were just flat. We were going through the motions. We didn’t have any battle in us. We were making bad passes. We weren’t coming out of our zone clean.
“It’s very frustrating, because we know we have it in the locker room. But if we don’t play together, it’s not going to get better.’’
Yesterday, the coaches repeated the exercise they have introduced more than they’d prefer: a hard, focused practice meant to spark the players and inject life in their skates.
The most spirited action took place in the cross-ice drill. The Bruins threw checks, flung pucks at their goalies, and battled in the net-front danger zones to initiate the energy they’ll require today against the Wild.
“It starts with the commitment to play the way we can, the work that goes behind it, and the enthusiasm,’’ Julien said. “Enthusiasm creates energy. We haven’t had that in a while. When we have it in spurts in certain games, it makes a big difference.
“We have to find that again and get ourselves geared up to head in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep working through it.
“It’s not a fun situation. It’s not an easy situation. There’s not a team in the league that doesn’t go through it. We go through it every year. We’re going through it now.
“Bottom line is, let’s fight through it and find a way to get through it. We can’t just give up. But we can’t just accept it either.’’
Tyler Seguin was the only player who didn’t practice yesterday. Julien declined to explain Seguin’s absence but said he will play today . . . The USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints will attend today’s game. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is a part-owner of the Dubuque club. Former University of Maine star Jim Montgomery is the coach. Montgomery might not be long for the USHL, as his name has been mentioned as a pro or college coach . . . The Bruins will stay in St. Paul after today’s game and will travel to St. Louis tomorrow morning.