WILMINGTON - The Bruins were coming off their latest six-goal stinker. They had a midmorning flight from South Florida. They hadn’t had a day away from the rink at home since Feb. 26. They are clogged in a four-game losing streak, their longest of the season. The only way their heads and bodies are in synch are through fatigue and sloppiness.
Yet Claude Julien knew one thing for sure: It was critical to land at Hanscom Field on Friday and have his gassed players report directly to Ristuccia Arena for a midafternoon practice. The Bruins will be tested in Saturday’s matinee at TD Garden against Philadelphia.
“When we’ve had those long flights, we all know how that feels,’’ said the Bruins coach. “I didn’t want us to get a sluggish start [Saturday]. We also know that when you come off a longer road trip, that first game back is a challenge in itself.’’
For 45 minutes, the Bruins shook off their mental fog and physical fatigue with a hard practice. They emphasized net-front play in their zone and quicker decision-making at the points.
During a one-on-one drill, each defenseman leaned and whacked and prodded on a forward in the corner. Once they were released from that battle, they progressed to the front of the net. The defenseman lifted the forward’s stick and boxed him out while a shot from the point came through.
“We worked on being better in our own end, boxing out in the net-front area, being quicker on the points - a lot of the things that have slipped a little bit in that regard,’’ Julien said. “We worked on our forecheck the other day, and I thought our forecheck was better in Florida. Now we had to attack another area of our game. Not that they’ve forgotten, but it’s a lot about confidence. We’ve got to get confident and trust in each other again.’’
The system-wide failure has included leaky goaltending, rotten puck management, bad starts, and lack of timely scoring. Significant injuries to Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, and Tuukka Rask - amid secondary boo-boos to Daniel Paille, Andrew Ference, Benoit Pouliot, Adam McQuaid, and Patrice Bergeron - have amplified the Bruins’ spiral.
But unreliable performances from Tim Thomas and Marty Turco haven’t been the primary reasons the Bruins allowed a dozen goals in consecutive setbacks to the Lightning and Panthers.
“You give up six goals in back-to-back games, that’s not the definition of this hockey team,’’ Chris Kelly said. “We’re a sound hockey team, especially in our own end. That hasn’t shown the last couple games.’’
The heart of Julien’s defensive system underscores perfect execution in the front of the net, commonly known as the house. Forwards are instructed to sag off the points and collapse in the net-front area. Defensemen must be efficient at leaning on opposing forwards, eliminating their sticks, and making the space a do-not-enter zone.
They have done none of those things. The Lightning and Panthers pillaged the house.
“The last couple games, we haven’t been good there,’’ Johnny Boychuk said. “We have to address that and work on it. It hasn’t been like it should be, especially when before, it was probably our best thing.’’
In Friday’s practice, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg took most of their shifts together. They have been paired in stretches of games this season. But for the most part, Chara has skated alongside Boychuk. Seidenberg has played with former Carolina teammate Joe Corvo. The Bruins have been wary of pairing Chara and Seidenberg so far because of the heavy minutes they’d play and how it would affect the other two duos.
That may soon change.
In the first round of last year’s playoffs, management and the coaching staff decided to pair Chara and Seidenberg after the team fell in an 0-2 hole against Montreal.
It was a move of desperation that became the best decision they made. The Bruins are desperate now.
“I don’t think it takes a genius to understand that it’s a little rattled right now,’’ Julien said of his club’s confidence. “But at the same time, this is the majority of a group who showed resilience last year when we went through some tough times. I think experience and the past shows that this is a group that can certainly do it.’’
Peverley skated on his own before practice, his third straight day of skating. The forward suffered a third-degree MCL sprain in his right knee Feb. 15 when he was hit by Montreal’s Hal Gill. Peverley skated for just short of an hour under the watch of strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. “I feel pretty positive with where I am,’’ Peverley said. “I feel better every day.’’ It’s possible Peverley could resume practicing with his teammates next week. The original diagnosis was that Peverley would miss 4-6 weeks . . . Horton continued off-ice workouts by riding a stationary bike. There is no timetable on when he will resume skating . . . The Bruins assigned Trent Whitfield to Providence before practice.