The rust was expected in the first period against Buffalo Wednesday. It was, after all, the first time the Bruins had played a game in 17 days, a period that included vacations and Olympics and significant time off the ice. The rust — and the mistakes — were less expected against Washington.
And even less acceptable.
The problems have been most evident on the defensive end, where the Bruins have misplayed pucks and misplayed opponents into nine goals against in the last two games, including their 4-2 loss to the Capitals Saturday at TD Garden.
The Bruins had finished the lead-up to the Olympic break on a roll, getting points in all but one of their final 11 games before the break. So far, after the time off, the Bruins have just one point in two games against two teams not in playoff position.
As defenseman Johnny Boychuk said, “We want to be better, and we know we can be better and have to be.”
That about summed it up.
“I don’t like excuses, so we’ve got to be better defensively,” forward Shawn Thornton said. “Yeah, maybe there was a little bit of rust, but we don’t really have time for that.
“Everyone is in the same boat, that’s the thing. Everyone had the same break. Everyone had guys go to Sochi. Everybody had guys go on vacation. So we’ve got to look inside here and we’ve got to do better.”
There were two goals on which the lapses were especially evident, breakaways that underscored the issues that the Bruins had Saturday. The eventual game-winner, which put the Capitals up, 3-0, at 10:13 of the second period, came on a breakaway by Joel Ward. David Krejci had won the center-ice faceoff, but Boychuk turned over the puck, and Ward made the Bruins pay.
The Capitals then sealed the game with a score by Eric Fehr at 10:53 of the third, another breakaway that resulted when Torey Krug fell down and there was no defensive help between Fehr and Tuukka Rask.
“I think we’re getting caught cheating on the offensive side too much, and it’s ending up in the back of our net, so we probably need to fix that if we expect to win,” coach Claude Julien said. “Because at this rate here, we’re giving up too many goals.”
The Bruins had gone down early to the Capitals, allowing consecutive goals to Alexander Ovechkin on the power play, one coming at 18:39 of the first, the other at 2:24 of the second. It was a not-unexpected result. The Capitals, after all, have the NHL’s second-best power play at 22.7 percent.
“It’s got to be better, it’s going to get better every day,” Rask said. “It doesn’t matter if we keep talking about it, today was pretty crappy again, just mental mistakes. You talk about certain things in their power play, you just give them those opportunities and breakaways and stuff like that, it’s just not our style. So we just have to be better.”
Boston did pick up its game offensively about halfway through, with Patrice Bergeron getting the Bruins on the board just 41 seconds after the Ward score in the second, cutting the deficit to two goals. The score came on a nice feed from Dougie Hamilton with Carl Soderberg screening on the power play.
They added another at 17:32 of the second, the goal coming from the Merlot line, which was rewarded for its early energy and chances. Thornton picked up the score, though it originally was credited to Gregory Campbell.
But that was it for the Bruins. It wouldn’t be enough, not with a defense that Boychuk said was “still a little bit loose.” And not with the chances they had missed. The Bruins had gotten a golden opportunity early in the first period, a full two-minute five-on-three power play after penalties to Tom Wilson (high-sticking) and Jay Beagle (holding) on which they barely got off a shot.
Quipped Julien, “I think it’s the first time we’ve had a two-minute five-on-three power play this year, so it might have been a shock to the system, but certainly wasn’t a good one.”
No, there haven’t been all that many good things for the Bruins since the end of the Olympic break, not exactly a good sign on the first day of a month that has the Bruins facing 17 games in 31 days as they try to make a push for the postseason. And for the team, that’s not good enough.
“It’s the level that we expect of ourselves, the standard that’s expected of us,” Campbell said. “It’s not really hard — that’s what’s expected when we play on this team, to compete like that every night. Before the break we were playing some pretty good hockey, and so now it’s just up to us to find our game again.”