The Bruins are getting better.
David Krejci, out with an undisclosed injury for the first three games, made his season debut Monday. It was no coincidence that Milan Lucic responded with his best game. Lucic landed three shots on goal, two more than he’d totaled in the first three games.
Because of Krejci’s return and the promotion of Seth Griffith, the Bruins pushed Craig Cunningham, Matt Fraser, and Bobby Robins out of uniform.
The results remain unacceptable.
The Bruins are 1-3-0 after Monday’s last-second 2-1 loss to Colorado at TD Garden. They are averaging one goal per game. Dennis Seidenberg, their No. 2 defenseman, looks like someone who has missed half a season because of a mangled knee. They remain without a legitimate top-line threat to complement Lucic and Krejci.
“It seems like, right now, we’re a step behind or our passes just aren’t clicking right now,” said Brad Marchand. “If we want to compete and be a good team in this league, we have to find a way to keep up with the play, make plays, and score goals. Right now, one goal a game is definitely not going to cut it.”
A team that scores one goal per game cannot win without flawless goaltending. The Bruins did not get that Monday from Niklas Svedberg.
At 3:28 of the second period, Svedberg let Jamie McGinn slip a short-side softie under his left arm that gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead. Later in the second, during a delayed penalty on Colorado for too many men, Svedberg was slow to notice the infraction and get off the ice.
It is unreasonable, however, to ask Svedberg, Tuukka Rask, or Georges Vezina, at that, to deliver perfect puck-stopping performances every game. Svedberg (28 saves) bounced back well and turned back several difficult shots.
The margin of error is too slim because the Bruins can’t score.
It just so happened that the latest setback took place against Jarome Iginla’s new team. Last year, the power forward made things right in Boston.
Iginla, riding with Lucic and Krejci, commanded heavy defensive coverage. In the opening round of the playoffs, third-liners Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson chewed up the Red Wings, partly because they played against Detroit’s No. 3 pairing.
The Bruins have no such luxury this year. Iginla accepted a three-year deal with Colorado and is playing with McGinn and Matt Duchene. Iginla’s previous employer is feeling the trickle-down effect.
“Right now, a lot of guys are forcing things,” said coach Claude Julien. “That could be because of the situation we’re in. We’ve got to stop forcing things and make them happen.
“I thought we had better net-front presence this afternoon. I thought our guys did a better job of that. But the finish, whether it’s around the net or on our opportunities, has to get better.”
Griffith is smart. He has soft hands and a history of offensive production in the AHL and OHL.
He’s also a second-year pro who had no NHL experience before Monday. The Bruins put Griffith in a tough position, next to two players who are off their peaks.
Lucic will need several more games to ramp back up to NHL pace and timing. Krejci acknowledged being short of breath when he let his shifts stray too long.
The Bruins knew this would be a problem. It’s why they initially pegged Eriksson to ride with Lucic and Krejci.
But after four games, Julien is hesitant to break up Soderberg and Eriksson. They’ve been Julien’s most reliable offensive, puck-possessing duo.
In the second period, Soderberg and Eriksson went to work on the power play. As Reilly Smith wound up for a snap shot, Soderberg screened Avalanche goalie Reto Berra. Eriksson stayed on the perimeter.
Berra stopped Smith’s shot, but Soderberg quickly gathered the rebound and tapped a backhand feed to Eriksson. Before Berra recovered, Eriksson had tucked in the puck at 7:50 to tie the game at 1.
The Bruins attempted 51 shots. Chris Kelly, Soderberg, and Eriksson combined for 11, most of any line.
Part of the Soderberg-Eriksson offensive chemistry is because of Kelly’s two-way play. Kelly (9 for 13) took most of the faceoffs instead of Soderberg (0 for 2). In the defensive zone, Kelly regularly played the down-low center role of supporting defensemen and sealing off passes.
The Bruins are satisfied with Soderberg’s line. Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Smith are not finishing their opportunities, but they’re creating chances and playing responsible defense.
It comes down to waiting for Lucic, Krejci, and their right wing to slide into place. Griffith could get some more games. Fraser, who has the best shot on the team when he gets open to use it, might be an option. The Bruins could sign Simon Gagne.
Lucic and Krejci had some looks against the Avalanche. Their best chance came midway through the third.
After Griffith dug the puck off the wall to spring Krejci, the Bruins bulled away for an odd-man rush. Krejci slipped a pass to Lucic. The left wing fired a close-range shot on net. But Berra (27 saves) pushed over to get his right arm on Lucic’s shot.
“If only one goes in the net, then it’s a different game,” Krejci said. “But it didn’t. So we’ve got to stick with it and try to create scoring chances next game.
“In this league, when you get a scoring chance, you have to make sure you’re going to bury it. We didn’t do it today and it cost us the game.”