LOS ANGELES — It was after the first goal allowed on the power play that coach Claude Julien sensed some panic creeping in. The Bruins were playing Anaheim on Tuesday, and nearly six minutes into the game, the Ducks converted on the power play.
Then it happened again. And again.
And Julien saw his team feeling the pressure. The Bruins had allowed four power-play goals to the Islanders just three games earlier, and were without two of their best penalty killers in Chris Kelly (out since Dec. 7) and Dennis Seidenberg (out since Dec. 28).
“Both games I found that we’ve given up that many power-play goals, after they scored the first one, there seems to be a little sense of panic,” Julien said. “And instead of being focused and then just settle down and go out and kill that next one, we seemed a little bit stressed about it, and it only got worse.”
It’s not a reaction the Bruins are used to having. They have always had a good penalty-killing unit, a confident unit. Now, a goal occurs and it seems to “ruin our game,” as Daniel Paille said.
“For us, it’s definitely something we haven’t seen in the past,” Paille said. “I think we’re still making adjustments from [missing] certain players on the defense, having Seids gone, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. We have a ton of talent back there to keep us really strong defensively. We want to make sure that we remain one of the top teams in the league on the penalty kill.”
It’s a matter, Julien said, of winning the battles, of gaining possession. That has to change for the Bruins to continue to succeed on the penalty kill, one of the hallmarks of Julien’s team.
It’s also a matter of taking a breath and not getting ahead of themselves.
“Maybe panic’s not the word, but more we felt the pressure of having to go out there and make sure,” Julien said. “Sometimes more is not better, less is better. We’ve just got to settle down a little bit and guys ran out of position, and because of that, because we were a little too aggressive, they found the seams and were able to score those goals.”
With the three power-play goals allowed to the Ducks, the Bruins dropped from fifth in the NHL on the penalty kill at 85.3 percent to 10th at 83.4 percent entering Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Kings, in which LA went 1 for 6 with the man advantage.
While both Julien and Paille mentioned the loss of some key penalty killers, they didn’t want it to sound as if the unit won’t recover. Kelly should be back this month, but Seidenberg (knee) is gone for the season.
“It’s a little bit of that, but I don’t think it’s the whole thing, because there’s games we’ve been really good,” Julien said. “That’s not to say we don’t miss those two guys. Both of them are really smart penalty killers.
“Dennis, not only that, but he’s strong physically, was winning battles in front of the net. He’s also a great shot blocker, so there’s no doubt you miss a guy like that. He played such a big role on the penalty kill. We’ve got guys to do power-play work and we’ve got guys to do penalty-kill work, and he was probably one of our top guys.”
Julien said he “wouldn’t write it off” Loui Eriksson returning for Saturday night’s game in San Jose. The winger was cleared for contact on Wednesday, skated early on Thursday, and continues to make progress from the concussions that have sidelined him for a month.
But when he does return, it seems increasingly likely that Eriksson will be skating with new linemates, on the third line.
“It could be,” Julien said. “I’m not saying it will be because anything can happen on any night, you get guys that go down. But it might be a possibility for different reasons.
“You’ve got a guy that’s playing pretty well on [Patrice Bergeron’s] line, but at the same time I don’t know that we need to throw him into the fire right away and push the expectations on him right off the bat. It would be maybe an opportunity for him to ease his way back in as well by maybe not having to play against top lines and just finding his game.”
But that won’t come until the Bruins are sure Eriksson is prepared to return.
“We need to make sure that he’s ready mentally, not just physically,” Julien said. “I think physically we’ve put him through some grinding tests on the ice, battle drills, and so on and so forth.
“At the same time, you don’t want a guy that’s going in there and is still a little hesitant about getting hit, so he needs to be comfortable that way, and we told him that we would give him that time.”
Benning beat out
The Buffalo Sabres ended a lengthy search for a replacement to Darcy Regier, naming Ottawa assistant GM Tim Murray their new general manager. Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning had also been under consideration for the job . . . Kevan Miller was the Bruins’ healthy scratch against the Kings, and Jordan Caron (back) also sat out . . . Julien continues to be impressed by Justin Florek, who scored his first NHL goal on Thursday. “He’s skating well, he’s forechecking well. He’s making good plays,” Julien said before the game . . . Ryan Spooner was named to the AHL All-Star team for a game Feb. 12 against a team from the Swedish Elite League.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.