BOSTON (CBS) – There’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the Boston Bruins’ 3-7-0 record, which is the worst start by any defending Stanley Cup champion dating back to the 1994-95 season.
That’s why head coach Claude Julien and his staff had the entire team report to TD Garden for a lengthy video session Sunday the morning after yet another loss to Montreal. Julien wanted his entire team to witness all the mistakes they’re doing. Among those errors has been the inability to refrain from retaliation, which led to two minor penalties during the defeat to the Canadiens Saturday.
“We prided ourselves last year, with a guy like [Brad] Marchand, who would drive other players crazy. We thought as long as he stayed on the right side of it, it was a good thing,” said Julien after the video session. “Well, [Saturday] P.K. Subban did it to us. He instigated a lot of the stuff, but he was smart enough to let us take the penalty. We have to look at ourselves for that. We have to be better, we have to be smarter.”
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Andrew Ference owned up to his gaffe in popping Subban in the face after the Montreal defenseman rode his Bruins counterpart with his stick in Ference’s crotch for a solid five seconds after the whistle. Milan Lucic wasn’t available to comment on his slash of Subban, but if he didn’t know he was in the wrong he certainly does now after the coaches and leadership corps have gotten their message across.
As great a skater and player Subban is, he has that “pest” mentality as part of his arsenal, which makes Nathan Horton’s third-period penalty on Hal Gill all the more distressing. If Horton had reacted to something Subban did to him, you could have forgiven him a tad. But Horton’s decision to take a run at the affable Gill away from the puck while the Bruins were on the power play and riding the momentum of their first goal of the game was inexplicable.
So if Julien won’t single out individuals who are most at fault for the Bruins’ struggles right now, well that’s what I’ll do. Here are the three biggest goats of the season and what they have to do to help the Bruins turn things around:
*I’ll start with Horton, who has now twice thwarted Bruins third-period rallies with dumb penalties. Against Carolina, Boston had closed to within 2-1 when he decided to attack Tim Gleason, who had no intention of giving into the Bruins forward’s whims and letting the momentum of the game shift totally in Boston’s favor. Saturday night, Horton’s illegal hit on Gill was one of the only times he showed a pulse in the 4-2 defeat.
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Horton, who has 2-3-5 totals and just 14 shots on goal on the season, fired just one shot on net and continued to show a disturbing lack of focus and aggression with the puck. Once he circled from the blue line all the way around the net before he lost the puck. Other times he failed to settle the puck so he could get a shot off. This is seems to be a trend with Horton over the course of several games.
If his dislocated shoulder from last spring is bothering him, he needs to do something to take care of it. Otherwise, he has to settle down and channel his frustration into something productive, not rally-killing penalties. The Bruins, a team without a seasoned NHL sniper, need their power forward to pop in some goals and not pop off when someone gets under his skin.
*Joe Corvo came to town with the reputation of a shooter that could help the power play and also be decent enough a defender that he wouldn’t damage the Bruins’ solid blue-line corps. I was dubious about Corvo’s defensive rep, but figured that I’d give him some time to win me over. While he’s lived up to his reputation with 23 shots on net in 10 games, all he’s done is proved me right in his own end. He’s constantly missing coverages and getting beat to the puck. His decision-making when pressured by a forecheck leaves you yearning for the days of Tomas Kaberle.
Veteran defensemen used to playing a different way typically take a little longer to get their act together in the Bruins’ system. The Bruins, however, no longer have the luxury of letting Corvo play his way through it. In Montreal, Julien started pairing Corvo with Zdeno Chara to try to cover his mistakes up. If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s time for Corvo (0-3-3 and minus-4 on the season) to see how the system works as an observer and not a player for a game or two.
*This won’t win me any fans, but when is Brad Marchand going to go about conquering that sophomore slump he talked about avoiding during training camp? Last year’s rookie sensation and Bruins “super pest” has been invisible for quite a few games now. Sure, he dropped the gloves with Subban in Boston. But he did little else in that game and he’s done nothing along the lines of emulating Subban’s penalty-drawing actions in Montreal. He’s minus-2 in six point-less games since his last goal October 12 at Carolina.
If Marchand’s not going to score and not going to make be a nuisance, maybe he needs a return to Boston’s fourth line, where he cuts his teeth as an NHLer last season. Sometimes getting back to basics on a grinding line can do wonders for guys who forget what made them successful in the first place.
As I said, there’s plenty of other players who could be fitted for goat horns right now. But these three guys are the ones holding the Bruins back the most in my opinion.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operatesTheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.