BOSTON — The Bruins are a team built to get a lead and protect it. They’re built to get out in front and use a defensive-minded style of play, sucking the life out of their opponent on the way to victory. That works really well when they actually have that lead. When they’re playing from behind, however, it’s a totally different story.
That’s been the case lately for the Bruins, who have hit a rough patch. That bumpy road continued Tuesday night when the B’s dropped a 4-3 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the loss, the Bruins have lost three of their last four games and five of their last eight.
One of the big issues facing the Bruins right now is that inability to come from behind. Despite taking two leads in the first period, the Bruins could never stretch the lead to more than a goal and allowed the Leafs to take a 3-2 lead in the second period. Lately, that’s been a death knell for Boston. The B’s are now just 1-7-0 in the last eight games they’ve trailed. The team’s only come-from-behind win in that stretch was an overtime win over the Nashville Predators on Dec. 23.
“I think it’s hard to play in this league when you have to play from behind all the time,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “That’s the biggest thing for me right now. We’re not great at playing catch-up hockey. We’re a team that’s pretty good playing with the lead, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that tonight.”
The biggest reason the Bruins are playing so much catch-up hockey is that their special teams are struggling like they rarely have under Julien. While power-play slumps are nothing new during the Julien era, the penalty kill has been solid pretty much throughout his tenure. Rarely have both units struggled at the same time, which is the case during this funk.
Those issues continued Tuesday night against Toronto, as the Maple Leafs scored twice on the power play while the Bruins were 0-for-3 with the man-advantage.
“It’s almost impossible [to win when the special teams are struggling],” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said. “No matter how good your five-on-five is, your penalty kill has to be there. It has to give your team a chance, and lately, it hasn’t been there as good as it’s been before. Then the power play — we’re getting chances but just not bearing down on those. It’s tough, but you go through those struggles, and it’s a matter of how you recover and come back from that.”
The biggest problem in the last couple of weeks certainly seems to be the penalty kill. The B’s PK has dropped out of the top 10 in the NHL with its recent struggles. The Bruins have allowed goals on 12 of their last 29 penalty kills after the Leafs were successful on two of five power plays on Tuesday night.
“It’s not the system. The system that is in place has worked for years, and it’s been able to put us at the top of the league,” Bruins center Gregory Campbell said. “It’s something collectively as a group that we have to look at. Like I said, it’s not the system — it’s us as players. The ones that are given that responsibility have to do the job.”
Of course, it all starts to snowball after that. When a team starts to give up power-play goals, it puts itself in a hole. Players try to get those goals back on the power play, a unit that up until recently was a clear strength of the club. Now the Bruins have gone 16 straight power plays without a goal.
That’s not usually going to get the job done.
“It’s hard,” Campbell added. “There’s a lot of games that are won with either a power play goal or a penalty kill being solid. Again, it’s an area that the individuals put in the situation have to take pride in. It’s a privilege to be on the power play and the penalty kill. In my case, I’m on the penalty kill, and we just have to do a better job.”
If the Bruins don’t start doing a better job, they’re going to be playing from behind, and they have proved that style of hockey is not winning hockey.