January 7, 2011

Bruins big guns not getting the job done

by Jesse Connolly

B's winger Milan Lucic has just one point in his last nine games. (Getty)

On the surface, things hardly look bleak for the Boston Bruins of late. Despite a 3-1 setback to the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden on Thursday night, the B's still own 4-1-2 record over their last seven games.

 But underneath it all lies some serious struggles, notably up front where the Bruins haven't been getting nearly the amount of offensive production they've come to expect from their big guns.

 Coach Claude Julien made an effort to mix up his forward combos in the third period of his team's loss on Thursday in hopes of sparking his club against their defensive-minded opponent, a trend that carried over into the squad's practice on Friday morning.

 "It's what coach did to generate some offense and get some chances," winger Michael Ryder said. "We had 30 something shots. We could have done things a lot better. Like I said, it's disappointing but we had a chance to come back in the third and get the win and get a point but we came up a little short. There are some things we have to get better at."

 One major area for concern of late has been the Bruins efficiency -- or lack there of -- on the power play. The B's went 0-for-4 on the night against the Wild, and never once had any flow to give some sense of hope that a turnaround on the man advantage was imminent.

 "Yeah I think we, especially on the power play, I mean you put your best players out there and you want them to move the puck the way they can and take the shots when they’re there but tonight we didn’t do any of that," Julien said after the game on Thursday. "We were soft in the battles and we have to take responsibility for that and that’s what really hurt us tonight was the power play. (We) also we had some shooting opportunities and it didn’t happen."

 One other noteworthy maneuver Julien made was benching first-line pivot Marc Savard for majority of the final frame. After Savard took to the ice with seven minutes gone in the third period, he didn't come back out for another 10 minutes, returning at the 18:47 mark for a shift in which the Wild buried an empty-netter to seal the deal.

 "I think when you make a mistake like that everybody’s got to be accountable," Julien said, as it was a turnover by Savard that led to Cal Clutterbuck's game-winning goal earlier in the period. "It’s one of those things that happens throughout a game and, from the first player to the last player, you want to make sure that everybody understands that. It was a mistake that you don’t expect a guy like that to make.

 "(It) doesn’t mean that you lose confidence in him. Because you’re gonna go right back with him next game and you hope that they bounce back.  That’s what coaches do. They coach and that’s what I did."

 Savard was asked if he felt as though his coach was losing confidence in him, but insisted upon deferring to Julien himself.

 "I don’t know," Savard said. "That’s a question you have to ask him. He still puts me on the power play and gives me regular shifts. I just have to take advantage of it."

 Two other key cogs not taking advantage of their wealth of ice time of late have been Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. Lucic still leads Boston with 16 goals and 28 points on the campaign, but has just 0-1-1 totals and is minus-5 in his last nine games.

 Horton broke out of a nine-game drought without a goal on Monday, scoring once and adding an assist in the B's 2-1 win in Toronto, but the 25-year-old winger has just three points in his last 11 games.

 To further add to his issues, Horton suffered an undisclosed injury -- presumably Thursday against the Wild -- and left the team's practice on Friday with what Julien described as some discomfort.

 Julien noted that Horton will make the trip to Montreal, where the lead in the Northeast Division will be on the line against the Canadiens.

 "I think games against Montreal are always really intense and tough battles but it’s just a regular season game," Tuukka Rask, the tough-luck loser again on Thursday, said.  "Obviously you try to gain the lead in the division and it’s going to be an interesting game, but nothing too special."

 Shawn Thornton views the upcoming tilt with the Habs as a bit more important than Rask.

 "I guess that’s the good news right?" Thornton said of the team heading back on the road. "It's a big divisional game."

 If the B's expect to depart Quebec coming off of a big win, their big guns are going to have to find a way to start taking care of business.