Three stinkers into an increasingly fetid slump — an 0–3-0 stretch that is their worst regular-season run with Jim Montgomery as coach — the Bruins returned to the ice Wednesday at their Brighton practice facility with the same 22-man roster.
Only the forward lines were massaged slightly in preparation for Thursday night’s visit to Causeway Street by the bottom-feeding Sharks (5-15-2).
There were no callups from Providence. No getting a look at, say, defenseman Matt Grzelcyk moved to a forward spot (just spitballing here, dear readers). No grueling practice chock full o’ wind sprints or sticks held upside-down to promote puck battles (a favorite drill of Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour in his Islanders heyday).
All in all, no panic, and for the most part status quo for the free-falling, backsliding, what-we-gonna-do-now Black and Gold, who have slipped to 14-4-3.
“You look overall, we’re pretty happy with our group,” said Montgomery. “As a group, you give them the opportunity to continue to do well when things are going well, you’ve got to give them the opportunity to respond.”
Then, with a slight chuckle and an espresso shot of reality, Montgomery added, “I’m sure if this continues, changes will be made.”
In losses to Detroit, the Rangers, and Columbus, the Bruins were outscored, 17-8, including a 4-2 disparity in power-play goals. They never once took a lead in any of the games, trailing for 132:39 of the 180 minutes (just a tick below 75 percent).
Playing uphill one night to the next is never a prescription for success.
Aside from the three consecutive losses to Florida last April in the playoffs, it’s the worst the Bruins have looked in Montgomery’s season-plus on the job.
Their pace of play has been, at best, mediocre, with trends toward Clydesdale. Too often, they’ve been backing up on defense or racing in retreat to regain puck possession.
“It was nice to practice, to get to some of the habits we like to preach,” said Montgomery, noting that the last full-scale workout was 10 days earlier. “A lot of it gets back to checking. I think we’ve just been an easy team to play against. Not just the last three games, but probably the last six, seven.”
Overall, said Montgomery, he’d like his team to be more physical, adding, “But the most important thing is taking away time and space. We’re not doing a good enough job of that.”
The reworked lines had Jake DeBrusk (one power-play goal in the three games) moved up to No. 1 left wing, riding with Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak (ditto: one PPG in three games). Left wing is DeBrusk’s natural position, the move to that spot potentially a way to get him playing more with speed and instinct.
Brad Marchand, without a goal for seven games, was on the left side of a trio centered by rookie Matt Poitras, with Danton Heinen on the right side. Poitras’s offense has slumped of late, but he did chip in with a goal at Columbus once the Blue Jackets posted a 4-0 lead.
“There’s a lot of games, so of course it’s going to take a toll on the body,” said Poitras, 19, asked how he was feeling a quarter way into his first NHL season. “But I feel pretty good. Maybe the numbers haven’t been coming as easy, but I feel I am still creating some chances. Just a matter of time, I hope.”
Could some frustration have set in for the freshman pivot?
“Uh … there’s always going to be frustration when things aren’t going exactly how you want them to be,” he said. “But it’s not to the point where it’s going to affect me.”
Charlie Coyle rode with James van Riemsdyk and Trent Frederic, the heaviest of the club’s trios. Coyle scored two of of the eight goals in the three-game stretch.
Johnny Beecher held on to his No. 4 pivot job, slotting for wingers Jakub Lauko and Morgan Geekie.
Back to Swayman
Goalie Jeremy Swayman, yanked after yielding a second goal only 5:38 into the second period vs. the Blue Jackets, will be back in net vs. the Sharks.
“I had a good meeting with him this morning,” noted Montgomery. “Our goaltenders have been the No. 1 reason we are 14-4. And the No. 2 reason is distant to those two.”
Montgomery felt that yanking Swayman in that moment was the way to spark his team.
Asked if he questioned the decision, a smiling Montgomery said, “No. That’s for you guys.”
Swayman, who looked peeved as he approached the bench upon being pulled, was calm when asked about it following the workout in Brighton.
“He’s our head coach and we trust everything he’s going to do,” said Swayman. “Whatever it takes for the team to win, I’m going to take the positive and roll with it.”
Asked how he felt in the moment, Swayman, after joking that he’d like to see the reporter play net, said, “I want to finish every game I start. That’s an edge that I know I play with, one of my MOs.
“The guys trust me that I am going to battle, no matter what. That’s something I am going to carry forward for the rest of my career, and for today and tomorrow.”
His exchange at the bench with Montgomery, he explained, “wasn’t jawing back or anything like that. Just a communication thing. We talked about it and we’re completely good.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.