WILMINGTON — Part of the problem is the penalty kill. Part of the problem is a weakening defense, as players adjust to different partners. Part of the problem, too, is the goaltending.
While there are numerous reasons for the Bruins’ current slide — one that now has them in a tie atop the Atlantic Division — it is clear that Tuukka Rask hasn’t been at his best of late. It’s something that had him out early at practice Wednesday with goalie coach Bob Essensa, doing his best to correct his mistakes, but also not being too serious about it.
“It’s more about just laughing,” Rask said. “He jokes around. Just tries to keep it light.
“When you get scored on in goal like I’ve been getting scored on lately — it’s just bounces here and there — it’s tough. It’s draining. Because you think you want to stop them and you feel like you kind of have to, but then again you can’t really blame yourself, either.
“It’s a tough situation mentally but that’s why he’s here, and we just try to keep things light and work hard.”
Rask, who is playing in his first full NHL season as the primary goaltender, has allowed 12 goals in his last four games, and has been pulled in two of his last seven. But coach Claude Julien downplayed any suggestion of Rask being overworked or tired.
Instead, Julien said, “It’s about just making the corrections and letting the goaltending coach work with the goaltender and getting his game back on. Is it that? Is it a little bit of confidence that’s lacking? Is it not having the swagger he normally has?
“That’s one position I don’t really spend a lot of time working with because it’s a special position and what I do is I yank him when I feel I need to yank him and put the other goaltender in. It’s as simple as that.”
Rask has done his best not to let the goals allowed pile on top of each other, the tough bounces or screens along with the soft goals and should-have-hads.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “Maybe if you take the San Jose game [in which he had a shutout], they’d be one-goal games, but then there’s been that goal that I kind of should have had to make it a two-goal game. That’s kind of tough, but then again, it happens.
“You’ve got to take it. You get to be a hero, and you get to be the bad guy sometimes. Lately it’s been too much of the bad guy.”
That would normally lead to an emotional response from the goaltender, whose tendency to have meltdowns has been well-documented. But, as he said Wednesday, “I can’t do that anymore. I’ve got to keep it inside.
“I don’t know, maybe somebody said something.
“When I do it, it sometimes goes overboard. I’m still trying to find that fine line — what’s good, what’s not.”
For now, what’s good is trying to find his way back to the way he played earlier in the season, when he was building a case for the Vezina Trophy. And that’s partly on him, and partly on the team around him.
“You’ve seen a lot of mistakes — uncharacteristic mistakes — from our end, mismanaging the puck and turnovers, our penalty kill running around and giving guys good opportunities and so on and so forth,” Julien said.
“When you go through that, there’s a lot of blame to go around and that’s why I keep saying that we’ve got to get better as a team. Everybody can bring their game up a notch and be better, so if we can do that, we’ll get ourselves back on track.”
Top line sags
It’s been a struggle for the Bruins over the last week-plus, as they’ve dropped three of four games, and there’s one group that hasn’t exactly been helping out: the top line.
“I think it’s four games now that they haven’t had a point, and you’ve got a guy like Looch that hasn’t scored in a long time,” Julien said of Milan Lucic, who hasn’t scored since Dec. 21 against Buffalo. “I think they have that responsibility to find that game of theirs and start producing. That’s why they’re on the top line.
“You can go dry for a few games, but I think you’re at the stage now where you say four games in a row shouldn’t be acceptable. But it can’t always be about the coach. It’s got to be about the players not being satisfied with that and doing something about it.”
Two players are getting a return home this week, with Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson heading back to Dallas for the first time since they were traded from the Stars to the Bruins. “It would be nice to get a win for the team,” said Smith. “They beat us last time, so it would be nice to get 2 points back. Personally it doesn’t change too much. It would be good to see some of the faces that I know there, but other than that, it’s a business trip.” . . . Dougie Hamilton (mild concussion) and Chris Kelly (fractured fibula) will both stay behind in Boston while the team goes to Dallas and Chicago . . . The Bruins will host a blood drive Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at TD Garden to benefit the American Red Cross.