February 1, 2012

Bruins should have second thoughts after win over Sens

By Andrew Merritt

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t sound much like a team that had just picked up a key win against a division foe after Tuesday night’s game. 

Winger Milan Lucic came through with a big goal for the Bruins near the end of the second period. (Getty)

The 4-3 win over Ottawa may have given the B’s a leg up in the battle with the second-place Senators for the Northeast crown, and it may have pulled them within one point of the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference, but it also showed them that they’ve got some work to do.

Most obviously, there’s some work to be done on how the Bruins have played in the second period. They entered the game having surrendered more shots (10.7 per game) and taking fewer (10.4) in the second period than in their firsts and thirds this season, and Tuesday night’s game was an even more glaring display. Ottawa outshot the Bruins 13-5 in the second period, after holding just a one-shot edge (13-12) in the first. More importantly, the Senators scored two of their goals in the second, taking a 2-1 lead on Kyle Turris’ whipped wrister 7:43 into the period, and extending it to 3-1 with Erik Karlsson’s open-look wrister with 6:32 to go.

Milan Lucic’s goal, which punctuated a near-perfect bit of cross-ice puck movement by the B’s, cut the lead with 45 seconds left in the period, and ultimately gave the Bruins some of the push they needed to overcome the deficit, but the first 19:15 of the middle frame left a sour taste.

“When we don’t play the way we can and the way we have to to win, we have periods like the second and teams will pick us apart, and we’re not that good of a team,” said goal-scorer Brad Marchand, who banged in his 18th of the year on a rebound from Joe Corvo’s drive 2:20 into the third.

As the season-long shot disparity indicates, Tuesday night’s second period wasn’t an aberration. Sounding not unlike the coach of a non-playoff team instead of a second-place team, Claude Julien recognized that the middle 20 minutes has been a source of strife for the Bruins.

“Every year, there seems to be a challenge in certain periods, and I thought we were doing a pretty good job earlier on (this year) in the second period,” Julien said. “But lately, it’s our game. When our game falters a little bit, we kind of come out with an OK first but then struggle through the second, and desperation sets in in the third, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.

“Last year was always a 60-minute effort going into the playoffs because the regular season was a challenge in regards to that, and right now it is a bit of a challenge to put a full 60 together.”

Though the Bruins are hardly in crisis over this one glitch in their game, it’s telling that their record when leading after two periods is 21-0-0, while they’ve lost more than they’ve won when trailing (6-8-1) or tied (5-6-1) after two.

In a sense, the B’s have been a little lucky not to be worse off because of their muddled middle frames. Opponents have scored just 34 goals in the second period, to the B’s 50, despite the shot advantage.

Lucic said that from a tactics perspective, the increase in shots faced during the second period by Bruin goalies Tim Thomas (30 saves Tuesday night) and Tuukka Rask actually starts at the other end of the ice.

“It all had to do with our play in the offensive zone and the forecheck, letting them break out easy,” Lucic said. “A lot of our goals that we get come from playing good defense and (forcing turnovers), and it results in offensive chances.”

There’s another piece of the puzzle, though, and it comes not on the 200-by-85 sheet of ice, but the single square foot of real estate between the ears.

“I really don’t know, it’s been a mystery, nothing really you can point to,” Corvo said. “It has that feeling going into the first couple of shifts in the second, it seems like they’re not our best, so we kind of just dwell on those, and that carries through the rest of the period.”

Thanks to their red-hot November and solid December, the Bruins are in good shape after a less-than-satisfying 8-4-1 January. Yet they sounded nothing like a satisfied team Tuesday night after dispatching the Senators, with the second half of the season still ahead.

“Right now, we’re just struggling through, like I said, the momentum of the game, or the execution, everything else,” Julien said. “It’s just not as crisp. It wasn’t at the beginning of the year, it came back, and now it’s kind of slipped away from us a little bit. Now that’s what we’ve got to recapture, but I don’t think it’s from lack of wanting.”