Bruins Defense Provides Only Offense As Forwards Struggle to Create Chances Against Penguins

Bruins Defense Provides Only Offense As Forwards Struggle to Create Chances Against PenguinsBOSTON – The Bruins managed to put 29 shots on goal against Pittsburgh on Saturday, a respectable total against a Penguins club that came in allowing just 26.8 shots a game.

But 20 of those Boston shots came from the defense, helping explain how just one managed to get past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in a 2-1 loss. The Penguins kept the Bruins on the perimeter most of the day, forcing them to settle for long-range shots from the point that had little chance of eluding Fleury with the Boston forwards failing to create enough traffic in front of him.

"They were doing a good job boxing out and when the goalie can see it coming from the blue line from far away, even if it's a hard shot, he's going to stop it more times than not," said Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who had a game-high seven shots. "On our lone goal, Marshy [Brad Marchand] did a good job screening [Fleury] and that's how we scored the goal. Joe [Corvo] got the shot on net and Marshy did a good job screening."

Corvo pulled Boston within a goal 6:45 into the third with his first tally in 21 games. He and his fellow blueliners were active jumping up into the attack all game long, but the forwards didn't provide enough of the type of net-front presence Marchand supplied on that goal and were too willing to settle for setting up the defensemen with shots from long range.

"I think that's a big part of our game," Corvo said of the defensemen chipping in offensively. "I think maybe tonight it was a little bit too big. I think our forwards definitely have to look us off occasionally. We don't need the puck that often. It's just something that our offense works off of, is those shots from the point."

There were plenty of those in this game. The Bruins defense had 14 of the club's 20 shots through two periods without a goal to show for it.

"Fourteen shots in two periods is a good job from our D's to get those shots through," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Again, we have to do a better job in front of the net. If we're getting shots through, where were the screens, the rebounds and that kind of stuff? We had to do a better job there as well. Those are two areas, I think when you look at tonight, offensively, we'll have to work on that part of our game. Defensively, we were much better. Our backcheck, our D zone posture, a lot of things were very good tonight. Like I said, we have to build on the positive and continue to improve on the areas we thought we could have had more of tonight."

The Bruins did improve their effort considerably from Thursday's disappointing 3-0 loss to last-place Carolina. But there's still a long way to go to get back to the level of play they showed in a 25-4-1 stretch from the start of November through mid-January. The Bruins are under .500 in their last 10 games at 4-5-1 and need to get everyone going — forwards and defensemen — to turn that back around.

"It's still a work in progress, but it's definitely an improvement from last game," Bruins forward Daniel Paille said. "Our effort was there. We're just still a half a second slow on certain steps. We didn't give them too many chances defensively, but offensively it didn't seem like we had too many either. We had a lot of shots from our defensemen."

And not nearly enough shots up front. Only four of Boston's 12 forwards recorded a shot on net in the game. The entire top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Rich Peverley went without a single shot, with Peverley benched for much of the third period.

Patrice Bergeron also didn't have a shot, but at least he helped set up linemates Tyler Seguin and Marchand for three shots apiece, which helped keep that unit together when Julien shook up the lines in the third. Lucic spent some time with Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot, then with Krejci and Kelly. Paille found himself alongside Krejci and Peverley at one point, while also skating with his regular linemates, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.

Campbell had two shots on the fourth line, and Zach Hamill had the only other shot among the forwards, though he too was benched for most of the third.

"We still need more out of certain guys and that same time there were a few guys banged up and guys gone off for a while, so I kind of mixed them up," Julien said of his line juggling. "But I wanted to find some sort of a little spark when we were down 2-0. Our guys, at one point, you could sense it on the bench that the second goal really hurt us a lot. And I wanted to get the team to get another spark and start focusing on battling back."

Still, there wasn't enough battling to get to the net for far too many of the club's forwards for far too much of the night.

"Krejci's line didn't have a shot on net after two periods," Julien said. "Those three guys, and then our other lines, besides Bergeron's line which had four shots [in the first two periods], those other two lines just had one. But we had about 14 shots coming from the point which, two things: We needed to generate more from our forwards offensively, but at the same time, we were getting our shots through from our back end."

Through to the net, but not into the net because of the lack of forwards paying the price to get into position for screens, tips and rebounds. If the Bruins want to snap out of this slump, they will have to get all of their skaters, forwards and defensemen alike, involved in the offense and committed to putting in the effort needed.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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