BOSTON (CBS) – It was easy to not know exactly where Bruins coach Claude Julien was directing his venom after he was asked if his players were squeezing their sticks and lacking confidence in the shootouts.
The Bruins had just lost their seventh straight shootout, which capped a 4-3 defeat to the Calgary Flames on Thursday at TD Garden.READ MORE: Body Believed To Be Missing Five-Year-Old Elijah Lewis Found In Abington
“They suck. They suck,” Julien replied. “Yeah, that’s my version of shootouts.”
But did he mean the actual shootouts suck or his players, who have scored six goals in nine shootouts this season, suck?
“Yeah, shootouts,” he said.
Good save, Claude.
Whether he meant to ridicule his players or the ridiculous post-overtime gimmick the NHL instituted in 2005-06 so people who probably don’t even watch hockey until the playoffs won’t have to see a tie, Julien was right on both counts.
Luckily for the Bruins, the Florida Panthers also lost a shootout Thursday. That preserved the Bruins’ two-point lead in the race for the second Eastern Conference wild card. In the long run, the Bruins’ inability to win a shootout since they prevailed in their first two of the season might not cost the Bruins a playoff spot. But they’re certainly making it more difficult on themselves by squandering these extra points.
“Yeah, I don’t know, like I said, it’s just having the confidence of scoring especially in the shootout there,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who is now 0-for-2 this season after missing against the Flame. “Like you said, there’s no shootout in the playoffs and we’ve been a pretty good overtime team this year, but we can’t bank on that right now. We still have a ways to go until the playoffs start and we got to make sure we earn our spot, earn our playoff spot.”
In overtimes the Bruins are 7-3. But as overtime winds down and it appears the Bruins, who typically used three forwards and one defenseman to go for the kill during the 4-on-4, won’t avoid the shootout, you just want to scream “watch out” like you’re watching Wile E. Coyote head toward the edge of a cliff.
There are two words to describe the Bruins’ shootout performances: terrible and consistent. Everyone shares in the ineptitude. Reilly Smith is the biggest culprit with a 1-for-9, including eight straight misses. Loui Eriksson and David Pastrnak are 0-for-3. Patrice Bergeron scored against the Flames to improve to 1-for-7. Brad Marchand is 1-for-5.READ MORE: 'Mecca Of Rowing': Head Of The Charles Regatta Participants Grateful For Event's Return
Eriksson was asked if maybe the Bruins are overthinking things when they face the opposing goaltender 1-on-1.
“Maybe because of the record we’ve been having,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re a little bit stiff when we get down there, instead of being loose and taking advantage when we have those chances in the shootout like that.”
Sometimes a team can’t avoid the shootout. Against the Flames, the Bruins clearly could have closed out the game in regulation or overtime and spared themselves the embarrassment. They had 89 shot attempts to Calgary’s 52. The Flames blocked 37 shots.
Boston scored all three of its goals at even strength. But the Bruins were shorthanded seven times and their penalty kill coughed up two goals. Julien has often talked about the Bruins shooting themselves in the foot. Against the Flames the Bruins blew off all their toes.
When they got to the shootout, they couldn’t shoot straight. Adding insult to injury, defenseman David Schlemko, who has nine goals in his NHL career, beat them in the eighth round.
Although the Bruins’ hold on a playoff spot might not be harmed by the shootout struggles, goaltender Tuukka Rask’s win-loss gets victimized. He stopped six of eight shooters against the Flames and has stopped 29 of 39 shooters on the season.
He probably has the best answer to solve the Bruins’ woes.
“I heard they’re getting rid of them soon, so let’s get that 3-on-3 going. That would be better,” Rask said.
Indeed, the American Hockey League has been experimenting with 3-on-3 after 4-on-4 in overtime. But the shootout still looms if no one scores after that. The shootout is never going away regardless of what Rask or Julien think of it. The only choice the Bruins have is to buy some confidence in the spectacle or try even harder to avoid it.MORE NEWS: Boston Mayoral Candidates Hit The Streets On First Day Of Early Voting
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.