Bruins need to fill void on defense

BOSTON -- After their season-opening loss to the Phoenix Coyotes in Prague, the Boston Bruins played like a team on a mission. There appeared to be no fatigue from the season-opening trip to Europe and Boston went 6-2 in the month of October.

But with the exception of a dominant 5-2 win against the Sabres in Buffalo on Nov. 3, the Bruins have looked like a completely different team in November. Suddenly this 2010-11 squad is in a slump at 2-3-1 over its past six games, with the latest loss a 2-0 shutout to the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden on Saturday night.

Injuries to Johnny Boychuk on Oct. 23 and David Krejci on Nov. 6 play a significant role in the slump, but this is a team that deals well with injuries and was rolling despite starting the season with Marco Sturm and Marc Savard on the shelf. The reason they could win despite the adversity caused by injuries was that they believed in and stuck to their system, and they skated hard from the opening faceoff until the final siren.

But right now, and especially in the past two games, there are elements missing from the Bruins' game that don't relate to the injuries. The most glaring seems to be the forecheck and the transition game, which might have been hidden by the team's early success.

"I think we've lost our transition game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said following his team's second consecutive loss. "We're not in sync, and that part of it starts from the back end. You've got to move the puck quick and you've got to move it well. Your forwards have to be able to handle those passes, which I thought they struggled with those tonight, as well. When you've got speed and you put the puck in deep and you've got some speed to go and retrieve it, then you're in sync. Tonight, we had none of that. Absolutely none.

"The transition from the back end was almost nonexistent. We couldn't handle a pass, and then we did end up dumping it and we never put it in an area where we gave our guys a chance to retrieve it. And that's not to take away the credit that the other team deserves. I think they played a great game. We were just ourselves. We were just a bad team tonight. Probably looked more like the team that played the first game in Prague."

Veteran forward Mark Recchi, who did his best to spark the team by dropping the gloves with Senators defenseman Chris Campoli with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game, agreed with his coach. Recchi, too, wants his team to find its identity again, forechecking and carrying the puck through the neutral zone with precision.

"That's our game," Recchi said. "We got to get it back, and part of that is getting speed through the neutral zone so we're able to get in there and we're not getting a lot of speed through the neutral zone right now. So we can get in there, it's just giving guys, teams opportunities to break our fore check too easily."

Ask most scouts around the league what this team's biggest weakness was coming into the season, and even dating to the arrival of general manager Peter Chiarelli and then Julien, and they'll say it was the lack of a legit puck-moving defenseman. Former Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman had the potential to be the coveted puck-mover but his inconsistency did him in. Luckily Chiarelli was able to acquire Nathan Horton with Wideman's potential but he has yet to fill the void on the blue line that has hampered the Bruins' transition game.

If the Bruins are to get the puck into the offensive zone to Horton with fluency and accuracy, Chiarelli might have to look into more than salary cap-clearing moves. As Julien pointed out, it all starts from the back end, and right now there's not even a start there.

James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.