KANATA, Ontario — The Bruins were hoping Patrice Bergeron — mostly cured of what ailed him — would cure what ails them.
After another sluggish start and incomplete finish, they were left picking apart the same issues as before.
“We’re going through a tough stretch in terms of getting our energy level where it needs to be,” coach Bruce Cassidy said after a disappointing 5-2 loss to Ottawa. “If you’re not competing hard on the puck, around the puck, on the puck in this league, you’re not going to beat anybody.”
Not even the lowly Senators, who competed harder than their record (13-17-1) and rebuilding status foretold. They won more races, more battles, and handed the Bruins (20-5-6) their second consecutive regulation loss. Winless in their last three (0-2-1), the Bruins visit the league-leading Capitals and dangerous Lightning on a back-to-back that begins Wednesday.
Bergeron scored a goal in his return, off a no-look feed from David Pastrnak, but a bad line change, a bad bounce and a bad idea had the Bruins down, 3-1, after two periods. By the time they found their game, it was too late.
It was Boston’s first regular season loss to Ottawa since April 6, 2017, ending a 10-game run over their division rival.
Ottawa goalie Anders Nilsson made a few sharp stops on deflections — and Danton Heinen, who might be seeing the 6-foot-6-inch Swede in his sleep — and finished with 38 stops on 40 shots. The Bruins outshot the Sens, 16-5, in the third, and put 32 pucks on net in the final 40 minutes.
“It’s been happening for a while, that we fall behind in games,” Rask said. “We want to correct that. A lot of that is on me, when I play. I want to give us a chance to get the lead, and not fall behind one or two goals — in the first period, especially. That never helps.”
The Bruins were caught in a bad change when Artem Anisimov made it 1-0 on a backhand breakaway 1:35 into the game. Defenseman John Moore was too far up the ice, and Matt Grzelcyk couldn’t get on in time. Charlie Coyle, backchecking desperately, couldn’t stop him.
Anthony Duclair made it 2-0 off a bad bounce. Bothered by Vlad Namestnikov’s check along the half-wall, Chris Wagner floated a high rim behind the net. It clanked sharply off the glass, rather than safely toward the corner, and Moore had a front-row seat to watch Chris Tierney feed Duclair in the slot at 15:44 of the first.
The Bruins got one back some two minutes later. A quick 2-on-1 saw Pastrnak go cross-ice to Bergeron, who slammed it into an open half of the net. It was the Bruins’ top line going old-school, with Brad Marchand making the play happen with good puck protection in the neutral zone, and a slick, short dish to Pastrnak as he entered the zone.
The momentum died after Rask gave the Sens an early Christmas present. Just 1:21 into the second, a simple dump-in by Duclair turned into an empty-netter. Rask stopped the puck behind the net, but slipped a backhand to the corner, expecting a teammate to be there. Instead, Namestnikov was. He found Tierney, who slung it upstairs.
“I should have been more aware,” said Rask, who stopped 23 of 26 shots. “It was the wrong play on my part.”
Boston’s slumping power play went 1 for 5, Jake DeBrusk jamming one home with 2:15 to go. But that was less than a minute after Torey Krug made a bad decision to shoot on 6 on 4, with Rask out of the net.
“I had an open shot, I just made a poor play,” Krug said. “Just a floater in there that gets knocked down, and we can’t recover the puck. I had a few of those tonight. Just got to be better.”
Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored off the blocked shot — one of 29 the Senators fronted — with 2:58 to go. Duclair scored another empty-netter with one second left.
On the power play, the B’s are in a 2-for-20 funk. A league-best power play masked mistakes early in the year. Their warts are now showing.
“We’ve turned it into not trusting each other to make the right play,” said Krug, the quarterback. “We’re hanging onto pucks for a little bit too long, playing one-on-one hockey instead of realizing we have the man advantage.
“Just zip the puck around. When you get the open shot, we’ll collect the rebound. That’s what we do well. All of a sudden those nice plays open up. We’ve just got to move the puck a little bit quicker, and be more decisive.”
Maybe the challenge that awaits in D.C., or a heavy dose of Florida sun, will solve their issues.
“A season is filled with ups and downs,” Bergeron said. “We’re facing every challenge, good and bad, as a team, together.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports