By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins coach Claude Julien practiced the art of the backhanded compliment Tuesday better than his team executed the shot off the end glass.
After the Bruins dropped a 4-2 decision to the New York Islanders at TD Garden despite firing 95 shot attempts, including 50 on net, Julien had to give his fourth line of Dominic Moore centering Jimmy Hayes and Anton Blidh some credit.
Blidh scored his first NHL goal as part of his six shots on net, Moore scored his eighth goal of the season on one of his two shots and Hayes delivered an assist and six shots on goal.
“I don’t know if I’m going to call it a fourth line, to be honest with you,” Julien said. “They seemed to be better than some our other lines. So right now it’s nice to see that some of those guys are doing their jobs and we need more guys doing their jobs to the level that they should.
“That line gave us most of our offense tonight. And that kind of explains a little bit of why we’re where we’re at here tonight.”
Translation: tons of credit to Moore’s line and a pox on the Bruins’ other three lines from Julien. No one could blame Julien for holding his nose while watching the other nine forwards. Through the first two periods, before they scored twice in the third period and came close to tying the score a few times in the third period, the Bruins made life easy on Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss, who finished with a career-best 48 saves.
The Bruins’ offense, which has now scored two or fewer goals in 23 of 34 games, once again was inept and contributed to the Bruins falling behind 3-0 heading into the third period. But the lack of goals wasn’t the only culprit. Brad Marchand ran into Tuukka Rask to set up Anders Lee for the Islanders’ first goal. Then with defenseman Brandon Carlo already pinched down in the corner of the New York zone, Patrice Bergeron decided to leave his perch covering up for Carlo at the right point and pinch, leading to a 3-on-1 and Thomas Hickey’s goal that made it 2-0.
Not to be outdone by the forwards, defenseman Kevan Miller did Rask no favors by losing a mano-a-mano battle with New York forward Nikolay Kulemin in front of the Boston net for the third Islanders goal. Rask misplayed the puck, and he paid for his lackluster performance by getting pulled, but Miller’s No. 1 purpose on the Bruins is to manhandle people and instead he was leveraged right out of the play.
Considering the way they clawed their way to a 1-0 win against a heavy Los Angeles Kings team on Sunday, the Bruins should’ve been riding some momentum against an Islanders team that was riding a five-game losing streak. Instead for the third time in seven games Boston lost to a last-place team.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Bruins’ lack of concentration and execution for 40 minutes. Certainly the coach has to have a better feel for his team and be ready to act sooner to shake things up. Julien didn’t start juggling his lines until halfway through the second period. He used a lot of combinations but nothing really clicked when it came time to finish on a set play or win a battle for a loose puck or rebound.
Julien called the Bruins’ first 40 minutes “not acceptable.” Then he added: “We wait until we’re in a hole and the desperation and I guess our work ethic and our compete level should be that at the first, not in the third when you’re down 3-0. So somehow we’ve got to find that.”
Some players like Rask and Bergeron were willing to accept the criticism. Bergeron had five shots on net, hit the post during a power play and played his eighth straight game without scoring.
“It’s one of those things where I guess that cliché of keep shooting on net and keep sticking with is kind of getting old. And you want some results. We’re at that point now,” Bergeron said.
And that’s where the fourth line – or whatever Julien wants to call them – comes in. Even with Frank Vatrano and David Pastrnak’s returns to the lineup on the horizon, Julien can’t break up Blidh, Moore and Hayes. Of course, he might have to split them up and sprinkle them throughout the Boston lineup to try to find a spark. Regardless, it’s sad that we’re days from Christmas and talking about the Bruins’ fourth line being their best line.
“I think that until we can find, or some of our best players can find their games, we’re going to be playing these types of games,” Julien said.
The Bruins better hope Julien can call that Blidh-Moore-Hayes line a fourth line soon or their hold on a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division will sink faster than their goals-for average.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.