The dreaded Stanley Cup hangover has hit them hard at the start of this season. Boston stands just 3-5-0 through eight games, and they've yet to post back-to-back victories while struggling to shake off the effects of their long postseason run and short summer.
"You've heard me talking about us addressing and dealing with this hangover, and whether it's been self-fulfilling or not, I believe that it's here in some form," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday night in a conference call with reporters. "I haven't minded our game that much. Our compete level is getting a little better. Our execution is getting a little better. We're still a little sloppy here or there. I have to stress that it's something that we have to work through. The expectations are high, but we also expected this sort of thing and as we're finding out there's no easy answer to it."
The Bruins did have an idea what to expect, as Chiarelli sought out advice from other recent champions who have dealt with the phenomenon.
"I've talked to GMs, coaches and players that have been through this," Chiarelli said. "They all have different stories but they all say there's something that happens that you can't avoid. Malaise is too strong a word. It's just a bit of a cloud right now. I know one team said it took them 20 games before they were back to normal. There's no easy answer. I'm not using it as a crutch. It's something we expected and talking with the guys at the beginning of the year, we've just got to deal with it."
The Bruins appeared in better position than most recent champions to deal with the hangover. They had nearly their entire roster returning and opened the season with 13 of their first 17 games at home. But thus far, the chemistry from last year's Cup run has been difficult to replicate and playing in front of the Garden faithful hasn't provided much of an advantage with a 2-4-0 mark at home.
"It's unfortunate that we're going through this with the bulk of our games at home," Chiarelli said. "I think our fans deserve better at this point."
Chiarelli isn't pressing the panic button however. There are some signs of the club starting to turn things around. They are creating scoring chances. They're just struggling to finish them as they have just 18 goals this season. Ten of those tallies came in their two home wins, while they've scored just six goals in their five losses. The inability to score off their chances is the biggest cause of the slow start in Chiarelli's view, but he'd be far more worried if they weren't creating those chances.
"We've had better quality chances in the first eight games this year compared to last year, but we're not finishing them," Chiarelli said. "To me that's focus, execution and compet[ing]. Sometimes [when] you have a chance and you have to stay in and take a hit. To me that's the biggest thing I'm seeing."
That and a lack of consistency that's reflected in the club's sub-.500 record.
"We've been winning one and losing one and I've seen that," Chiarelli said. "But none of the games for me have been out of hand. To me that says that we're not far off from getting it back. That's the way I read it."
The Bruins have a golden opportunity to get back on track and erase the frustrations of these first few weeks as they enter a key stretch of division games. Their next four contests are against Northeast Division rivals, including a huge home-and-home series with Montreal beginning Thursday at the Garden.
"It certainly is an opportunity to get back to where we want to be," Chiarelli said. "We set goals for ourselves and where the team should be at certain points. You look at this juncture of the schedule and you hope that the team can take advantage of it."