The number keeps sliding down the NHL rankings. When the Bruins headed to California last week, they had the fifth-best penalty kill in the league at an excellent 85.3 percent. Now, four games later, Boston is 12th, at a mediocre 82.8 percent.
It is a fall with serious ramifications for Boston, now tied with Tampa Bay at the top of the Atlantic Division, as it has allowed six power-play goals in its last four games, including two to doom them in a 4-3 loss to Toronto Tuesday night at the TD Garden.
“It’s always been a huge part of our game, and it’s allowed us to win a lot of games,” Brad Marchand said. “Right now, we’re not doing our job and we’re letting our team down by giving up so many goals. If we’re going to start winning more games, we’ve got to do a better job.
“It could be a lack of confidence. It just seems like when one goal goes in, we kind of let go a bit.
“We’ve just got to take it kill by kill and hopefully, like I said, we’ll get back on a roll.”
It wasn’t only the power-play goals, but they surely didn’t help a team struggling on special teams of late. In fact, the Bruins have not scored on their last 17 power-play chances, dating to a Patrice Bergeron goal Dec. 31 against the Islanders.
Asked how difficult it is to win without good special teams play, Tuukka Rask said, “It’s almost impossible.”
The downturn, not surprisingly, has coincided with the loss of defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, whose strength has been sorely missed on the penalty kill. And it’s not just when the team is down a man.
The Bruins have allowed at least four goals in five of the eight games Seidenberg has missed. Before he was lost for the season, they had also allowed at least four goals five times — in 38 games.
“We’re making simple mistakes that normally we don’t make, and they seem to be capitalizing on everything,” Marchand said of the penalty kill. “I think we’ve just got to get back to keeping it a little more simple and making sure everyone does their job.”
Coach Claude Julien spoke on the recent trip about his team panicking, about them putting pressure on themselves as soon as a power-play goal is scored. That doesn’t seem to have changed, for all of the desire to address it.
The Bruins went up, 2-1, Tuesday night, with both goals coming from the Marchand-Bergeron-Reilly Smith line.
The first came after Smith outmuscled three opponents to get a shot off on Jonathan Bernier, who made the initial save. The rebound was put in by Marchand at 3:38.
After Tyler Bozak scored the first of his two goals on the night, Bergeron nabbed his 11th of the season, slipping the puck past Bernier short-side, a goal that stood after a review at 10:48.
Then the power-play trouble started.
Toronto got consecutive goals with the man advantage, the first coming from Bozak at 12:47 of the first, the second from Jake Gardiner at 7:09 of the second. That put the Bruins in a hole from which they wouldn’t emerge.
“Lately it’s been we let in one, we let in two or three or even four, it kind of snowballs and we have to get rid of that,” Rask said. “It’s just one at a time and you’re going to get scored on — but it’s just a matter of how you’re going to get scored on.
“You make mistakes, but how do you recover from those mistakes? Lately, one hasn’t been enough, it’s been more than one and we have to fix that.”
The Maple Leafs extended the lead to two goals with an even-strength tally by James van Riemsdyk just 1:00 into the third, which proved to be the winner. The Bruins got one back on a nice pass from Daniel Paille to Gregory Campbell at 9:35 of the third.
But the Bruins couldn’t get any closer, despite outshooting Toronto, 15-6, in the third and 41-26 overall.
Julien blamed “self-inflicted” mistakes.
He added, “Until we clean up that part of our game, it’s going to be a struggle. We’re going to be playing coming from behind, like we did again tonight. It was the same thing in California, down, 3-0, both games that we lost. It’s hard enough to win in this league, you can’t put yourself in that position.”
That is exactly what they’ve done of late, repeatedly giving up goals and chances in situations that aren’t typical for this team, especially early.
“It’s important for us to respond in a way that shows some urgency and some desperation because every game, every point matters at this point in time,” Campbell said. “There’s really a lot of areas that we should have been better in.”
That starts with the penalty kill, problems Campbell said might be attributed to attention to detail, to focus.
“It’s not the system,” Campbell said. “The system that’s in place has worked for years. It’s been able to put us at the top of the league. It’s something collectively as a group we have to look at and, now, like I said, it’s not the system, it’s us as players — the ones that are given that responsibility have to do the job.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.