Commentary

No excuses for Bruins' performance

Poor showing against Ottawa can't be blamed on injuries, schedule

Updated: January 18, 2010, 7:14 PM ET
By Matt Kalman | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Among the 18 Boston Bruins skaters who took the ice to face the Ottawa Senators on Monday afternoon, only Patrice Bergeron could be forgiven for not playing up to his potential.

Bergeron played his first game after a six-game absence but had to wear a splint under his glove to protect his broken right thumb. Having not practiced with the team since he left the lineup, Bergeron did not take any faceoffs, and his timing, understandably, was off.

If the other 17 skaters were wearing splints and coming off two-week absences, it would be a lot easier to accept the Bruins' 5-1 loss at TD Garden. But after the embarrassing defeat, there was a lot of talk of not wanting to make excuses, then a lot of excuses.

"Going into today's game, we were of the mindset that we didn't want to let that West Coast trip be an excuse," said goaltender Tim Thomas, who was pulled in the second period after surrendering Ottawa's third goal on just nine shots. It was the second time in five starts that Thomas was yanked in the second period.

[+] EnlargeChris Phillips
AP Photo/Michael DwyerOttawa's Chris Phillips celebrates a goal by Daniel Alfredsson, one of three allowed by the Bruins' Tim Thomas (left) on nine shots before he was pulled from the game.

"We tried to put on our game faces as well as we could and pretend like it wasn't going to affect us, but in the end it partially did. We really leaned on some important players during that road trip; they got a lot of ice time. Say what you want, it catches up to you to a certain extent. There's no excuse. We're professionals; we've got to find a way to battle through a little bit. We all wanted to, but we weren't able to."

"I know guys were exhausted and you have an afternoon game, so you don't have a ton of time to recover," said coach Claude Julien, who noted that the team got in at 2 a.m. on Sunday, then had an off-ice workout later in the day. "When you come back from a West Coast road trip, the first game at home becomes a challenge. It's nothing new. Certainly don't want to use that as an excuse.

"Our goal tonight was to come in and defy that challenge and come in and play well, and unfortunately, they got an early goal and they got the momentum going their way, and we just couldn't recover."

During the Bruins' West Coast trip, which featured a win, a regulation loss and a shootout defeat over four days, some key players were in and out of the lineup because of injury and illness. However, only Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan really saw a significant boost in their playing time. David Krejci played more than usual in the trip finale at Los Angeles, but he had missed the previous contest.

Defenseman Dennis Wideman missed the L.A. game and had logged just 19:40 (a good deal less than his season average) two nights earlier in San Jose. So there was no excuse for his minus-3, which was a solid indicator of his play; he acted as a spectator rather than as a defender of Alex Kovalev's game-opening goal and lost Daniel Alfredsson going to the net on the second of Alfredsson's three goals.

"There's guys that played a lot on the road trip. And it was a long road trip, not as far as length, but hard, and they played real well and played a lot," Wideman said. "Coming back, obviously, we wanted to see a lot more out of us."

Every team has travel issues in a 30-team league that spans the continent. The Detroit Red Wings, who are based in the Eastern time zone, had to play a game in the Central time zone late Saturday afternoon, fly home, and then play a home matinee Sunday. They came away with a pair of shootout defeats, which in the socialist NHL means two valuable points in the standings.

Every team has injuries. Alfredsson was playing just his second game since returning from injury, Ottawa defenseman Filip Kuba was in his first game back, and center Jason Spezza remained on the sidelines. The aforementioned Red Wings could beat some teams in the league if they suited up only the guys who have missed lengthy amounts of playing time this season.

For their date with the Senators, the Bruins were actually healthier than they've been in a while. Marco Sturm joined Marc Savard on the injury parade, but Bergeron came back, leaving the Bruins down only two skill players. No knock on Byron Bitz or Steve Begin, but grinders are pretty replaceable, and the efforts of AHL call-ups Trent Whitfield and Drew Larman more than filled those holes. So with Wideman, Bergeron and Mark Stuart back, the Bruins were actually in better shape in terms of personnel than they had been in San Jose (without Bergeron, Stuart and Krejci) or Los Angeles (without Wideman, Sturm and Bergeron).

The fact is, the Bruins on Monday laid a big, fat egg in front of a sellout crowd at their home arena. If it were their first of the season, it would almost be acceptable. But there has been a trend for the better part of six weeks of the Bruins -- even in victory -- picking and choosing the periods in which they play hard.

During the three games in California, it looked as though they finally might have gotten over that habit. Despite squandering two third-period leads, they competed until the final horn in those contests. But they canceled out those efforts by mailing in three periods upon their return home.

Maybe some accountability could get these players to pull together. Ice time and power-play minutes still get doled out to Wideman, Michael Ryder and Krejci, regardless of how they perform. There are ways to look beyond who's out of the lineup and focus on who's in, and base playing time on merit. Blake Wheeler seems to be hustling his rear off and often faces the music postgame. But he registered just one shot on net against the Sens. Based on the Monday lineup, he's the Bruins' first-line left winger. Obviously, more is expected of him than just one shot.

Bergeron's play will improve. He said that he's going to make some adjustments to his splint to make it more comfortable and that he's looking forward to getting some practice time. But Begin, Sturm and Bitz are day-to-day, and there's no telling when they might return. Savard and defenseman Andrew Ference are still weeks away. So the Bruins on the ice Monday might be the same ones that face Columbus on Thursday and play Ottawa again Saturday.

Saying you're "not going to make excuses, but …" is the same as making excuses. Unless the Bruins find a way to play at a consistently high level soon, the only excuse will be that they're just not talented enough.

Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com and runs TheBruinsBlog.net.

Matt Kalman

Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade.

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