Once proudly known as the Big Bad Bruins, the local NHL team Saturday night was chock full of boo-boos and blunders, and when the night of miscues came to an end, the sight was all too familiar: Canadiens 4, Bruins 2.
The Bruins, who fell into holes of 2-0 and 3-1, now have not beaten their longtime rivals on Causeway Street since January 2012. And for the fifth time in as many games in the new 2016-17 season, the Black and Gold surrendered the first goal, once again putting them in a position of catch-up hockey — only this time there was no catching up.
“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we are looking for,’’ said coach Claude Julien, his club losing at home for the first time this season. “No doubt, it’s pretty obvious, for the amount of games we have played we haven’t scored first. We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, but it hasn’t happened yet.’’
It didn’t happen in Columbus or Toronto or Winnipeg. It didn’t happen Thursday night at home vs. New Jersey. It could have happened Saturday night, because the Bruins played a decent first period, launching a total 22 shots, including a handful of good ones, at longtime goaltending nemesis Carey Price.
Unlike most nights, though, it wasn’t Price who tied the Bruins in knots, prevented them from scoring. Fault rested in their own hands. Of those 22 shots, only a handful (six) made it to the net. The Habs also were blanked in the first, but 13 of their 20 attempts found their way to Anton Khudobin (making his second start in place of the injured Tuukka Rask).
“That has to get better,’’ said Julien, rightly bemoaning the lack of success in getting shots through on Price.
Then came the second period.
“Terrible,’’ said Julien.
Actually, the Bruins were slightly better in getting shots on net in the second, but they were messy with the puck at critical times. They blew their defensive zone coverage at 11:41, allowing pesky Brendan Gallagher to rip home the 1-0 lead off a backhand feed from Max Pacioretty. Then they botched a pinch by John-Michael Liles in the offensive end, allowing Alexander Radulov to gallop off with Phil Danault, with Danault converting off the rush to make it 2-0 at 17:44.
“We’ve had a couple of decent starts, but we’re not scoring goals,’’ said defenseman Torey Krug. “And we’re not playing with a lead.’’
The third period was far more entertaining — the sellout crowd of 17,565 finally awake and into it — but the Bruins could do no better than draw within 2-1 and then 3-2, with goals by Dominic Moore and Ryan Spooner (power-play goal).
Moore’s strike, his second this season, came at 5:34, the Habs surrendering a rare 2-on-1 breakdown that Moore finished off by dotting a short-range wrister off the rush.
But the night’s toughest emotional blow for the Bruins was right around the corner. Working with a power play (delay of game on Habs), the Bruins lost a faceoff in the offensive end, the puck promptly broomed up the right wall by Shea Weber, sending Paul Byron off to the races. Byron blitzed in on Khudobin and buried the 3-1 lead, less than two minutes after Moore’s goal.
The Bruins responded quickly with Spooner’s goal, off a pretty backdoor feed from David Backes, to trim it to 3-2 to 8:09, but yet another blown coverage in the defensive end quickly delivered the loss. Torrey Mitchell, taking advantage of a botched play by David Krejci and Joe Morrow, walked into the slot and banged home the 4-2 lead with 7:13 to go.
“The second period came back to haunt us,’’ noted Julien. “We were flat coming out. We didn’t make good outlet passes. We spent way too much time in our own end and it gave them some momentum.’’
Julien and Co. now have a couple of days to figure out a different approach, something he didn’t want to address after the loss.
“I’m going to digest this one first before I start making decisions,’’ he said.
The key will be finding ways to get the offense more engaged and far sharper from the hop. It could be time to change out a body or two, particularly up front. For example: Jimmy Hayes (now 0-0—0 and -5 after five games), played the least ice time (8:37) of anyone in Black and Gold. The hulking right winger played only three shifts in the final period and again added nothing to a line that includes Matt Beleskey and Riley Nash.
For all their slow starts, the Bruins are 3-2-0 in the new season. Meanwhile, the Habs are on top of the conference at 4-0-1. New season, old result, and lots more work to do for a Bruins team hoping to avoid a third straight season without a playoff berth.