- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Bruins head coach Claude Julien summed it up best Saturday afternoon after his team blew a two-goal lead for the second straight game and then fell in a shootout again, running its winless streak to 10 games (0-6-4).
"The way things are going, I guess at this point you dread seeing a shootout," he said after his team fell 3-2 at TD Garden.
You can't blame Julien if his stomach turns every time his team doesn't finish off a game in regulation or overtime. Not only has Boston lost four straight shootouts, the Bruins have been shut out in three of the past four. They've missed their past eight shootout attempts and now have a 6-9 record in the post-overtime spectacle.
If the Bruins have accomplished anything positive over the past five weeks in which they've struggled for points it's that they've proved the theory that offensive ineptitude does not have to be limited to 65 minutes of actual hockey. Even in a skills competition, this Bruins team is not equipped to put enough pucks in the net to win.
"It just kind of goes hand in hand. You see what's happening there and we keep talking about the same issue," said Julien, who's completely sick of answering the same questions about the one problem that's keeping the Bruins out of the W column. "To me that's the only issue right now, but it's a real important one."
Granted, for the second straight game the Bruins should never have been in overtime, let alone a shootout. They were up two goals after the first period and were protecting a one-goal lead in the third when they somehow managed to turn a break in their favor into one for the Canucks. After Sami Salo's stick shattered on a slap shot from the right point, all Milan Lucic had to do was tap the puck out of the zone. Instead, he overskated it and Pavol Demitra tied the game by tipping home Tanner Glass' subsequent spinning shot to the net.
"Bad luck, story of my season, nothing can go right. What can you do?" Lucic said.
Well, his teammates could have bailed him out by scoring more than two goals. That'd be a novel concept for a team that is last in the NHL in offense and has scored two or fewer goals in nine straight.
Other than putting one more puck past Roberto Luongo during the actual game, they might have bore down and won the shootout. But they continued to flat-out stink during the breakaway competition. With their three failed attempts against the Canucks, the Bruins are now 2-for-14 (14.3 percent success rate) over their four-shootout losing streak. Even going back to their win over San Jose, during which they scored once on four attempts, the Bruins are 3-for-17 for a 17.6 percent success rate. The league's shooting percentage, including the Bruins' dismal numbers, is 32.1.
Sure, Luongo is an Olympic goaltender and his career shootout save percentage heading into the Bruins game was .705. But this season he had stopped only 4 of 8 shootout shots until he ran into the gang that couldn't shoot straight.
"He's a tough goalie. We figured he's worse against dekes if he's bad at anything," said forward Blake Wheeler, who failed to score for a fourth straight shootout attempt and dropped to 2-for-12 on the season. "He's a tough goalie to score on, no matter when it is. I tried going 1-on-1 with one of the best in the game in front of 18,000 [people]. It's not the easiest thing in the world. But you're out there to score and you've got to do it."
Wheeler isn't the only player in a shootout slump who dwarfs his regular scoring struggles. Patrice Bergeron, 3-for-12 on the season, has missed five straight, while David Krejci (1-for-6) has also missed five straight.
What does it all mean? It means that sometimes you do play like you practice. While the Bruins look pretty solid in regular passing and shooting drills every day, and then can't muster offense in games, the team's shootout practices are just as sub-NHL-caliber as their game shootout performances.
Some of that has to do with a goaltending tandem that stacks up against any in the league. Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, despite combining for a sub-.500 shootout record, both have save percentages at or above the league average in shootouts. But the other part has to do with confidence and accuracy. Wheeler and Marco Sturm continued the Bruins' trend of not scoring on breakaways during regulation (Sturm has now missed two games in a row on short-handed breakaways), so there's no reason to expect they're going to score in the shootout.
Of course, we'll never know if Sturm could be a shootout hero. He has yet to get the call from Julien, despite his 7-for-25 career numbers. Michael Ryder and Marc Savard have, in a smaller sample, scored at a rate better than the league average. But neither got the call against the Canucks, which is somewhat egregious in the case of Ryder. He was the Bruins' best forward on the day with one goal, on a power-play tip, and seven shots on net.
In the games ahead, Julien might try to change up his shooters again. Giving Chara a chance to make up for his shanked slap shot against the Kings might be a shrewd move. Or maybe the coach will throw Sturm or Daniel Paille into the mix. At least opposing goaltenders don't have scouting reports on them yet.
Regardless, the Bruins have to solve their shootout problem if they're not going to take care of their overall scoring troubles. The less they score, the more they're going to find themselves in the post-overtime shooting spree.
Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com and runs TheBruinsBlog.net.
Bruins' scoring problems go beyond regulation play.