BOSTON -- His team having just lost its seventh regulation game in 10 outings since its Winter Classic victory, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had a message for his teammates about their quality of play and effort.
"I think that we all try sometimes even harder than we should, and maybe that's when you're trying, when you want it so much, it works against you," he said Saturday from his corner of the Bruins' TD Garden dressing room when asked whether everyone on the sinking Bruins is putting forth a maximum effort every night. "That's just the nature of it. You want to make it happen, you want to score a goal and you don't want to be losing, and then you push and push and push and sometimes when you push even harder, it starts going the other way. You just have to relax. We just have to relax and find what we know is in here."
The Bruins, who at the completion of the NHL's matinee schedule Saturday were sitting in eighth place (with potential to be in 10th by the end of the night), need to relax? Chara was obviously trying to make a point about players staying within themselves -- that great sports adage. Because if the Bruins took it any easier right now, they'd be able to hold a drink in one hand and their sticks in the other.
Head coach Claude Julien had a different idea about what his team needs to change after Boston's 2-1 loss to Ottawa.
"I think we have to play with a little bit more emotion, a little bit better attitude, more determination, and get yourself a win, which would do us a lot of good right now," said the Jack Adams winner, who's becoming more and more perturbed in his media sessions by the day.
The only thing everyone can agree on is that something's seriously wrong with the Bruins, and the problem goes well beyond the absence of four of their top 12 forwards to injury. The Bruins' latest loss featured the requisite bad break -- a disallowed goal by Mark Recchi that deflected in off his boot, which was a little less disappointing than Thursday's phantom high-sticking call -- some shots on net, and only a handful of decent scoring chances. Even the one goal they scored wouldn't necessarily have been considered a golden opportunity. Breaking out of their own zone has become like escaping Guantanamo, and getting across the opponents' blue line on the rare occasion they keep the puck long enough looks like the Bruins are trying to run across the Southeast Expressway.
Most disturbing, however, is the robotic nature with which they're playing. On their now-concluded winless three-game homestand, the Bruins engaged in one fight, hardly made any opponents hurt (except for Miroslav Satan shooting the puck into Columbus defenseman Kris Russell's face Thursday), and barely made the opposing goaltenders stretch out their hamstrings.
"I think everyone's working hard but I just don't think we have that emotion with that fierce intensity that we used to get when we were on a hot streak," said forward Daniel Paille. "It's definitely a struggle for us to go through right now, but it's something that we need to battle through."
If Paille recognizes that emotional deficiency, then a couple of other guys do too. But if the Bruins' leadership isn't hammering home the notion to the team's foot soldiers that there has to be more blood, sweat and tears flowing, it's not going to happen. Regardless of the results of the last two seasons, the Bruins forged a reputation for making teams pay for taking the Garden ice. Now they leave as though they were passing through town on a sightseeing tour.
Julien didn't touch the leadership question or call out anybody by name. When asked about leaders, he threw out an expletive and said he's not going to point fingers. He obviously regrets being publicly critical of defenseman Dennis Wideman earlier in the week, and in a way he should be. While Wideman's play has been nothing short of awful this season, the defenseman hasn't been the only massive underachiever.
It's time for Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci to set the tone. It doesn't have to be a goal or a great pass, just something that shows a pulse. A big hit or even a diving poke check can go a long way toward rallying the troops. Scoring can slump, but hard work and grit should never take a hiatus.
Relaxing is probably the last thing the Bruins should do right now, because vacationing at this critical portion of the schedule could give them a lot more relaxation time come playoff time in April.
Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com.