Normally, the long layoffs between games would be most welcome late in the year when the grind of the season has taken its toll.
But having struggled out of the gates with a 3-5-0 record and having failed to string even two wins together at any point so far this year, this week’s respite may just be perfectly timed for the Bruins.
After dropping a 4-2 decision to San Jose on Saturday, Boston doesn’t play again until opening a key home-and-home series with the Canadiens Thursday night at the Garden. In between, the Bruins will get a couple days off to clear their heads and a couple days of extra practice to try to clean up the problems in their game. Both could prove invaluable tools to help turn things around.
“I think it’s an opportunity to kind of refocus,” Bruins center Gregory Campbell said. “The first eight games, there’s been times when we’ve played well, but I don’t think we’ve consistently played well. It’s always nice to be able to go back to the drawing board so to speak and be able to work on things and get our confidence back and get our chemistry back.”
The Bruins got Sunday off and will also have Tuesday off. On Monday, they were put through their paces by coach Claude Julien in a practice at Ristuccia Arena that focused on shooting drills and net-front presence to try to get the offense going.
“We’ve got an opportunity to work on those kinds of things,” Julien said. “I don’t feel we’re that far off. We’ve just got to clean up a couple areas where it’s going to allow us to score a little bit more. And at the other end too, I think defensively we can be better and a little stingier. If we can take care of both ends a little bit better I think things will balance themselves out and we’ll turn those losses into wins.”
After playing three games in each of the last two weeks and with a November slate that features 13 games in 30 days, the Bruins know these opportunities to get in extra rest and practice don’t come along often. They won’t have another four-day break between games again until the league shuts down for Christmas. Still, the extra time only helps if you make the most of it.
“Every break is what you make of it,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said. “If we make it into good timing and use it as well as we can, then it will be a good break.”
Monday’s practice was a good step in that direction with a workout designed to address the club’s scoring struggles. Boston is 22nd in the NHL averaging just 2.25 goals. That number is a bit deceiving, though, as the Bruins have managed just six goals in their five losses, while scoring 12 goals in their three wins.
Those stats show that there is indeed enough firepower in place to produce offensively, but the Bruins have not been able to consistently tap into it so far this season. This week’s workouts could help that somewhat, but at least one Bruin sees a limit to what can be done in practice in that regard.
“I don’t think a break can help you with that [consistency],” Thomas said. “That’s got to come when you’re playing. It can help prepare to get to that level of consistency when you start to play, but you can’t build consistency when you’re not playing a game.”
One thing that could help is the fact that Montreal will be the opponent after this layoff. If the Bruins can’t come out with a consistent effort against the hated Habs, then they are in far more serious trouble than feared.
“Those games are always intense,” Campbell said. “It’s obviously a divisional game, so we have to look at it as one game at a time, but those four points are key for us getting back to .500 and digging ourselves out of this hole. It’s always easy to get up for Montreal.”
And Campbell expects the Bruins to get back to playing their style of game when the schedule resumes on Thursday. The first eight games have been frustrating, but they haven’t created any lack of confidence in the club’s ability to turn things around.
“There’s no doubt in my mind and in our minds,” Campbell said. “It’s just a matter of expecting more of ourselves. I don’t think it’s something where we can say, ‘Oh, it’ll turn around.’ It’s something we have to make turn around. We have to take it upon ourselves to be a better team. We have confidence in ourselves. Nobody doubts one another.”
That confidence stems from what they accomplished last year, but the Bruins are also cognizant that last spring’s success doesn’t mean anything this season.
“It’s a different year, different challenge,” Thomas said. “We’re in a different spot. It’s how we react to it that’s going to be the key. All last year, no matter what kind of adversity was thrown our way we reacted well. That’s part of what made up our identity as a team by the time the playoffs came around. We have to try to build that same thing this year. It’s not just there. You don’t get it because you had it last year. You’ve got to build it again.”