The Bruins lost for a 10th time in 15 games Thursday night, and while no two losses are identical, Black-and-Gold loss No. 21 (vs. 20 wins) this season looked all too familiar.
Too many soft goals ended up in their net. Too many of their own grand scoring opportunities went for naught. Sound familiar?
The Bruins reached the midpoint of the 82-game regular season and punctuated it with a 4-3 loss to the Oilers at the Garden, a defeat that had coach Claude Julien sounding as irked as he’s been since taking over the Boston bench in 2007.
“I am frustrated about it,” said a curt Julien, having watched his charges squander a brief 2-1 lead they forged midway through the second period. “And I’m sure the players are as well . . . OK . . . thank you.”
And with that, Julien ended his brief postgame news conference, steam all but billowing out of each ear, his club 5-7-3 over the last 15 games and sinking Titanic-like out of the playoff horizon in the Eastern Conference.
Patrick Maroon, originally a Flyers draft pick, scored three times for the up-and-coming Oilers, the club now managed by former Boston GM Peter Chiarelli. Maroon scored a goal in each period, including the night’s opening tally with only 68 seconds ticked off the clock. He scored the 2-2 equalizer in the second, followed by the 4-2 jawbreaker in the third.
Colin Miller and Patrice Bergeron scored for the Bruins to take the brief 2-1 lead. David Krejci connected on a five-on-three power play with 2:56 left in regulation, offering some hope, but the Bruins couldn’t beat Cam Talbot for a fourth time. Uh, sound familiar?
Most nights, the Bruins need 60 minutes or more to put two pucks in the net. Maroon needed only 49:02 for his three, his work made all the easier by some slipshod work in the Boston end around goalie Tuukka Rask, particularly by rookie blue liner Brandon Carlo.
Such is the fate of a team that routinely, predictably fails to finish its good chances. The Bruins outshot the Oilers, 36-25, with seven of those shots by Bergeron, and they had 39 other shots that didn’t make it to the net — a total of 75 attempts. The Oilers, meanwhile, generated a mere 32 shots, 25 on net and four in the net.
“Gifts,” said Julien, repeatedly using that depiction for the Oilers’ goals. “You can’t make those mistakes. Can’t give them gifts.”
The first gift was Maroon’s for the 1-0 lead on the first shot of the night. He slipped behind a slow-to-react Carlo and made the easy pot off a Connor McDavid feed (assist No. 30 for the budding superstar). Maroon made a goal-mouth ballerina-like twirl around Adam McQuaid for his second to knot it, 2-2. For his third, he first avoided Miller down low then walked in to complete the hat trick, avoiding a late swat by Torey Krug. Maroon made his way through the Boston backline the way Charlestown kids used to slip through aged ushers manning the ticket wickets at the old Garden.
“Breakdowns, I guess, in our zone,” said Bergeron, who now has a goal in three of the last four games, one of the few high notes in the otherwise flat opus that is the Boston offense. “If you let these teams get those type of chances, they’re going to hurt you. It’s really frustrating.”
Earlier in the day, rumors circulated out of Denver that the Avalanche, looking to make deals, talked to the Bruins about dealing prime young winger Gabriel Landeskog here for Carlo. The deal makes sense on a number of levels, including the fact the 6-foot-5-inch Carlo grew up in Colorado Springs.
Landeskog, a former No. 2 overall pick, is the type of player the Bruins need — a winger with a scorer’s pedigree. The need is all the more acute these days with veteran wingers Matt Beleskey and David Backes injured and out of the lineup.
But such deals are rare in today’s NHL. As bad as the Avalanche are right now, if they move Landeskog, they are more likely to bid up the market between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline. By then, the Bruins also could be in sale mode, listing badly toward a third consecutive spring without making the playoff cut.
“We were the better team,” bemoaned Julien, his club falling to 9-10-0 on home ice. “We played well and I thought we should have won. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have won.”
Julien went on again to point out how the breakdowns were fatal. But it was only half the equation. At some point — and a season’s halfway mark is an ideal benchmark — clubs have to be honest about their composition.
Most nights, yes, the Bruins do an adequate or better job in their own end. But it’s not a lineup that can score enough to cover mistakes and win consistently. General manger Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely need to find a fix, find it fast, or find themselves without work come spring time.