SUNRISE, Fla. — The Bruins might have gotten 2 points against the division-rival Panthers in Thursday’s 3-2 victory, but that doesn’t mean the team was getting raves after the game. Boston continues to struggle finishing around the net, turning solid chances into misses or saves.
“I can’t say I’m pleased with our game tonight,” coach Claude Julien said. “We had a 2-0 lead and then we started maybe letting up a little bit. Probably got away from our game as well, started getting cute, gave them an opportunity to get back in the game.”
The Bruins went up by two goals in the first period, and seemed ready to put Tim Thomas and the Panthers away, but couldn’t get another past the goalie until less than a minute remained in the third, when Reilly Smith scored the winner.
When it was pointed out to Julien that the defense had some untimely miscues, including a failure by Zdeno Chara to clear a puck on what turned into the game-tying goal by Jesse Winchester with six minutes to go in the third, the coach turned the conversation back to the lackluster offense.
“There’s no way we should have just scored three goals tonight,” Julien said. “[Forty] shots at the end, and the chances we had. We don’t have real good net-front presence, and when we come in the zone we don’t really have that middle drive.
“So right now I think offensively that’s one of the reasons we’re not scoring as much — we’re not as committed to those kind of things. Defensively it’s the same thing.”
The Bruins came into Thursday’s game having scored just 12 goals in five games. They scored three times against the Panthers, but came close many more times in 40 shots against Thomas.
But close isn’t good enough for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
“Overall our game has got to be better,” Julien said. “It’s not about necessarily practicing certain things. I think it’s more about the commitment and the attitude towards our game right now that needs to be a little bit better.”
Julien has been effusive in his praise of Smith, who was moved up from the third line to the second line in place of Brad Marchand on Saturday. After getting three assists in his first five games with the Bruins, Smith tallied his first goal on Thursday.
“I thought he played well tonight,” Julien said. “Not only did he score the winner, but he had some good chances early on. The one time I told him you’ve got to be a little bit more selfish. He forced a pass versus he had a good chance to shoot there. It’s a young player really trying to do the right thing here and sometimes you’ve got to encourage them to be selfish and take those shots. He’s got a great shot.”
Smith said earlier in the week that it has helped his confidence to have the team rely on him to play with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson, the latter of whom he also played with in Dallas. And he was certainly happy to give the team the last-second victory. “It’s a great feeling to be able to score and help the team get a win,” he said.
McQuaid sits out
Adam McQuaid was the healthy scratch against the Panthers, marking the first time Julien has taken one of his veteran defensemen out. That left Chara paired with Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug with Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg with Matt Bartkowski. “I even said to him, I’m not going to make a big story of this, we’re rotating guys in and out,” Julien said. “We need some of those young players to play early in the year. Somebody’s going to go down at some point, and I don’t want guys to be sitting for a month and then all of a sudden throw them into the lineup. That’s what we’re doing early on. Whether you’re young or you’re a veteran, those are the decisions that we’re making right now.” . . . With McQuaid out, Hamilton was in after sitting out the last two games. Hamilton scored a power-play goal in the first period. The defenseman credited the “excitement and adrenaline” he had, being back in the lineup early in the game . . . Daniel Paille’s goal marked the first one for the Merlot line this season. “We created a lot more chances today,” Paille said. “We can still improve, I think. For the most part we did stay in their zone, but at times we got caught with their top lines and kind of gave some chances. We have to be better defensively.” . . . After not killing a penalty in their last game against Detroit, the Bruins had only one penalty to kill in Thursday’s game, a tripping call on Smith in the second period.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.