By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The last month of home games for the Bruins has been ugly, and it could doom them by the end of the season. It could also get their head coach fired, whether you feel he deserves it or not.
Since winning six out of eight home games between Nov. 7 and Dec. 5, the Bruins have lost five of their last seven games at TD Garden, bringing their record at home to 9-10 on the season. The team that scored first has won six of those seven games … and the lone exception was on Dec. 15, when the Bruins scored first against the Anaheim Ducks but lost 4-3.
The Bruins have allowed the first goal in 10 of their 19 home games and are 3-7 in those contests. Even worse, many of those first goals have come early in regulation. The recent cold streak started against the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 8, when Matt Duchene scored an unassisted goal just 5:30 into the game. The New York Islanders scored just 3:05 into regulation on Dec. 20. And on Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers scored first just 1:08 into their 4-3 win.
The Bruins are putting themselves in holes early and often, on their home ice. And it could be the trend that kills their chances of returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
David Krejci was at a loss for words when trying to explain why they have given up so many early goals and have had so many slow starts, especially at TD Garden.
“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job of coming back when we’re down, but we’ve got to start playing with the lead,” Krejci told reporters after the game. “It’s good for our team that we know we can come back, but it’s nice to play with the lead once in a while.”
Patrice Bergeron also struggled to explain why the Bruins have been so weak at home this season.
“I don’t know. … We have to fix it, obviously,” said Bergeron. “The record at home is not good enough for our fans and they deserve a lot better.”
Krejci’s right about one thing: the Bruins have been able to battle back in a lot of these games after digging early holes. But since going 3-3 in their first six games in which they allowed the first goal, the Bruins have lost their last four in that situation. In other words, they are dooming themselves early on.
Such poor starts can render good overall efforts largely meaningless. It’s not that the Bruins on Thursday night had a “bad game from start to finish,” which was how head coach Claude Julien described the team’s poor effort in Monday’s 3-0 loss in New Jersey. The B’s had plenty of chances against the Oilers and outshot them 36-25 – but it was a handful of isolated but decisive breakdowns on defense that cost them in the end.
Julien felt Thursday night was a waste of a good performance.
“We were the better team. We played well and I thought we should have won that game,” a frustrated Julien said after the game. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have won that game. But when you have the type of breakdowns and the type of goals that you give to other teams – when they hardly had anything, yet we decide to give them gifts – then you don’t win at home.”
But Julien explained, right there, the problem. Were the Bruins really the better team on Thursday? Outshooting the opposition is nice and winning in the at-best-overrated possession stats can be good for you, if you finish your chances. But hockey, by its very nature as a low-scoring sport, puts an inordinate amount of weight on bad defensive errors. A few pivotal mistakes can undo a lot of good. That’s what the Bruins did to themselves against the Oilers, and have done all too often on their home ice.
It’s this kind of effort that could keep the Bruins out of the playoffs for a third season in a row – and, subsequently, get the coach fired. Certainly, the Bruins’ frustrating inconsistency has to fall somewhat on Julien’s shoulders, but at the same time, it’s ultimately the players who need to turn things around. Still, at some point, even good coaches like Julien run their course. The Bruins’ continued underachievement at home could be a sign that it’s simply time for a fresh start behind the bench, perhaps even in the front office.
“I think we’re the only ones that can really find the answer and turn this around,” said Bergeron. “It’s up to this dressing room to do it and to all look at ourselves in the mirror – I’ve said that before – and be better.
“You can’t wait for anyone to do it. It’s up to us. We’re the ones that are playing on the ice and we have to be better.”
It only becomes more frustrating to hear the Bruins’ veteran players and leaders acknowledge that they need to be better, yet they continue to get off to such bad starts, especially at home. The trend of starting poorly and ending up in the loss column, is going to be what causes major changes throughout the organization.
But perhaps that’s what they need.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.