COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a promising start, but a frustratingly familiar finish.
Not long after the ungodly loud cannon blew for the first time at Nationwide Arena Monday night as the Blue Jackets marched to the ice, the Bruins came out as if they had been shot out of that very same apparatus.
Over the first 10 minutes, the Bruins, fresh off what coach Jim Montgomery hoped was an energizing night in New York, swarmed the puck and the Blue Jackets, who were coming off a Sunday night loss in Raleigh, N.C.
Then, boom, the tide turned. And the cannon blasted. Over and over and over and over again as Columbus raced to a 4-0 lead on the way to an eventual 5-2 victory that extended the Bruins’ losing streak to three.
The rebounds were there early against Blue Jackets backup goalie Spencer Martin, but the Bruins couldn’t bank any of the loose change. They started pressing, squeezing their sticks a little too tightly, and the inevitable mistakes followed.
When there’s no puck luck, it can start to play with players’ heads.
“Yeah, of course,” said Hampus Lindholm. “But it’s a long season, you’ve got to play 60 minutes of hockey. You need to find ways to put 60 minutes together no matter what. If you get the bounces or not, then that’s something we definitely can work on here for the next game.”
An anemic offense can lead to troubles in all three zones.
“I think we got a little bit loose defensively, a little loose with the puck,” said Brad Marchand.
That sloppiness led to chance after chance for the Blue Jackets (7-12-4), the second-to-last-place team in the Eastern Conference. Coach Pascal Vincent’s club sensed the uneasiness in the Bruins game, and the Blue Jackets played with their sticks down, breaking up and picking off passes, which lacked crispness.
Soft passes and defensive lapses have been the common themes haunting the Bruins during this skid.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Marchand. “Probably our biggest problem this year is we just give up too many odd-man rushes, and that was a big problem. You can’t expect to give up three and four breakaways a night and multiple two-on-ones and expect to win a game. So we need to be much tighter all over the ice defensively.”
The Bruins (14-4-3) woke up Tuesday still tied for the top overall spot in the NHL (the Rangers and Golden Knights also have 31 points), but they’ll need a sharp turnaround from their dull play to keep their pursuers at bay.
Messrs. Montgomery and Marchand pointed to Wednesday’s practice as an important piece to solve the struggle puzzle. Because the NHL schedule is so compacted and rest is needed, practice sessions can be few and far between. Film sessions are helpful, but there’s nothing better than being on the ice to help cure what ails a struggling squad.
“We’ve been loose, missing coverage kind of everywhere on the ice, so it’s got to be a little bit more dialed in some certain areas, and that will help with a little bit more practice on,” said Marchand.
“We haven’t had a ton of practice, but we obviously go over things on video and try to talk about it, but we need some reps at it, so work on that on Wednesday and hopefully be better Thursday.”
Montgomery, who has preached being firmer on pucks, mixed and matched his lines once Monday’s game got out of hand, and it’s likely he will roll out some new combinations Wednesday at Warrior as he looks for a spark and some spontaneous chemistry.
The Bruins played four of their last five games on the road, and Marchand said a little home cooking could go a long way in trying to get back to winning ways.
“It’ll be nice to be home for a bit,” said the captain. “And then like I said, Wednesday we come in, reset, watch video, realize the things that we need to improve on and work on them in practice.
“But the biggest thing is always you want to work your way out of any kind of down spell. Once you try to get too cute or you try to start going east and west a little bit, things go south. So, we’ve got to put our heads down, get to work, and work our way out of it.”