WILMINGTON — The Bruins are searching for answers. They’re searching for answers when asked about their lackluster play of late. They’re searching for answers while on the ice and baffled by repeated mistakes, the kind they don’t usually make. They’re searching for answers in meeting rooms and in practices.
This Bruins club is not playing the way it should be playing — the way the front office, coaching staff, players, or fans expected it to play. So, they’re searching.
“It’s frustrating,” Chris Kelly said Wednesday, the day after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars at TD Garden. “We only have ourselves to blame for it. No one else.
“We do play well in spurts, but I don’t know if it’s being complacent or if we try to do too much or too little, but I think we need to get back to the basics and what’s made us successful in the past.”
Even coach Claude Julien admitted to not knowing exactly what the problem is with his 8-5-1 team. He can see that there is one, of course, as the Bruins have gone through a slump of late in which they have won just once in their last five games.
But how to fix it?
“I think sometimes it’s a challenge mentally,” Julien said. “You look at the mistakes that are made and you know it’s not a characteristic of your hockey club to make those kind of mistakes.
“As a coach, you wonder, why is that happening and is there a little bit of a mental lapse? Are we still having a little bit of a hangover from finishing late?
“I don’t want to find excuses, I want to find solutions. But you ask those kind of questions.”
There are easy things to point to — as Kelly said, “Just not executing at proper times, not being consistent” — but knowing what needs to be done doesn’t always translate to doing it on the ice.
“Engaging in battles and competing, it’s a strength of our hockey team,” Kelly said. “It’s not where we need it to be right now and everyone knows that. It’s one of the those things that we want to rectify as quickly as possible.”
Another issue has been a lack of production from the second line. Part of that has been a shuffling of players, with the struggles of Brad Marchand and the concussion to Loui Eriksson. Part of that has been a still-developing chemistry.
All of it adds up to just six goals and 13 points from the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Marchand, and Eriksson. By contrast, the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Jarome Iginla has a combined 12 goals and 36 points.
Asked the reason for the lack of production, Bergeron said, “If I would know right now, I would be leading in scoring.
“Obviously I’m trying to play my game and do everything right, but production is a part of my game also and I know I need to find that. That being said, it’s about bearing down when we do have some chances. [Tuesday night] we had more than one that should have went in. We need to find ways to get it.”
Said Julien, “It’s hard to evaluate [Bergeron] in his situation because you know he always competes hard. But can he be a little bit better? Probably. But at the same time, what he has around him right now hasn’t been the greatest, either.”
Eriksson’s return should help, with the winger just back from the concussion that sidelined him for five games. Tuesday night marked the first time the trio originally intended for the second line had played together since Marchand was demoted in the fourth game of the season.
“We definitely want to score goals and get chances out there,” Eriksson said. “I thought we did create some chances [against Dallas], but we need to be a little bit better to bury those goals, to score those goals. Just a little bit sharper.
“We found each other pretty good sometimes, and sometimes we were a little bit off. So that’s something we need to clean up, to play a little bit more consistent, make those plays all the time.”
The line did get better play from Marchand, which Julien acknowledged, though the coach was not overly interested in praising the winger. He also was not interested in sharing whether a major line shakeup could be forthcoming.
“When I make those changes, you guys will see it,” he said.
But he did acknowledge that players need to continue to earn their spots on their lines.
“We’ve got to find the right combinations and guys have to be playing well enough to be playing on certain lines,” he said. “I guess we’ll see as we go along here.”
Now is the time to turn things around. The Bruins are one game into a season-high five-game homestand, and overall have 10 home games in November. Not to mention that the standings at Thanksgiving are usually a good indicator of the playoff teams come spring.
At the moment, the Bruins are tied for fourth in the Atlantic Division (albeit with fewer games played than some of the teams above them), a tenuous place to be. The hope is that they can turn things around at the Garden this month before the road gets more difficult.
“That’s a great opportunity for us to put ourselves in a pretty good spot,” Kelly said. “We know that. We know what’s at stake.”