Jim Montgomery closed his press conference by succinctly summing up the Bruins’ 4-1 loss to the Flames Tuesday night at TD Garden.
“I thought Calgary was physical,” said the Boston coach. “I didn’t think we were physical.”
Instead of running into a floundering Flames team that just traded away top center Elias Lindholm during the All-Star break, the Bruins were met by a feisty Flames squad eager to show they’re not dead yet.
The visitors outmuscled and outmaneuvered their hosts at every turn. They pounced on every loose puck and bounced into Black-and-Gold bodies at every opportunity.
Holding on to pucks, stringing passes together, getting to the dirty areas to create scoring chances, and outworking opponents had been hallmarks of the Bruins’ torrid post-Christmas run (12-3-3). In their first game back from a lengthy All-Star break, those elements were missing.
“I just didn’t think we were good,” said Montgomery. “Our effort was poor.
“Obviously as a coaching staff, you look inwardly, and you look at our preparation. You always think, as a coach, your preparation was good. But obviously it wasn’t good enough. A lot of mental mistakes. A lot of physical mistakes. That’s a lack of real good preparation individually and collectively.”
The lack of pushback was a problem, too.
The Flames, many of whom could be auditioning for new jobs with the trade deadline a month away, took a lot of post-whistle liberties.
In the first period, Oskar Steen was belted to the ice after a net-front rush and Brad Marchand absorbed a vicious cross-check to the face from Martin Pospisil. Both hits came after the play.
The referees made Pospisil pay the piper (a five-minute major plus a game misconduct), but the Bruins didn’t match Calgary’s intensity or physicality.
“Yeah, they play hard,” said Marchand, his nose bloodied, and his cheek and mouth swollen from the Pospisil assault and a later high stick courtesy of MacKenzie Weegar. “They were getting into a lot after whistles and they were running around.
“We definitely didn’t push back enough the way we needed to elevate to their level.”
By the time the Bruins got their ire up, they were down, 4-1, and the Garden faithful were trekking to the exits in droves.
“They were extremely physical after the whistle tonight and, yeah, I don’t think we tried to match that enough,” said defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who was hit with a roughing call and a misconduct in the third after more extracurricular activities.
Bruins players refused to blame rustiness, pointing out that both teams had the same amount of rest; neither had played since Jan. 27.
McAvoy said the Bruins had solid practices Sunday and Monday but they “didn’t translate” to the first game out of the break. With the Western Conference-leading Canucks in town Thursday, McAvoy said, the loss wouldn’t necessarily serve as extra motivation.
“I mean, every single night in this league can be a humbling experience, so I don’t think I’m going to look too far into it, to be honest with you,” he said. “First game out of the break and a couple practices and those are great and all, but now we’re back to playing games and we’re the first-place team in our conference, so we’re going to get everyone’s best, even more so than we did before.
“So, this is good. This is good for us to know what to expect from [opponents].”
‘An easy fix’
Slow starts have been a problem for stretches this season, but the Bruins (31-10-9) have been able to overcome them thanks in large part to timely offense, good special teams play, and excellent goaltending.
They were not able to find any kind of groove or establish any momentum against Calgary. Even after pulling within 2-1 on Pavel Zacha’s five-on-three goal, they gave up a quick one to fall behind by two again.
Zacha touched on keys to starting on time.
“I think sticking to the system, I think simplifying it, especially [tonight], knowing that we come from the break, simplifying it, being hard on pucks in the O-zone,” he said. “When we play our best, [the way] we played in Philly [a 6-2 win before the break], we are chipping pucks in and winning the battles, and that’s what we didn’t do tonight.
“So that’s an easy fix. I think it’s a mental fix that we have to do and play better next game.”
The Bruins had Wednesday off. After they host Lindholm and the Canucks Thursday, they will face Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals Saturday afternoon ... The Bruins landed just 22 shots vs. Calgary, with bagels from forwards Marchand, Trent Frederic, Morgan Geekie, and Steen ... The Bruins won 55 percent of faceoffs against Calgary, with top performances from Charlie Coyle (9 of 13, 69 percent) and Zacha (10 of 15, 67 percent) ... Derek Forbort had a game-high five blocked shots.