The Bruins had their final NHL exhibition tune-up on Wednesday, and failed to take advantage of it as they turned in a flat performance and fell to the Capitals 4-1 at the Garden.
That leaves plenty of work to do in the coming days to prepare for the games that do count, starting next Saturday in Prague against Phoenix.
"There’s a lot of things here that we have to do in this next week," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after Wednesday's loss. "Put the group together, put the lines together, and have some real quality practices so that these guys can start working together and be in sync."
The Bruins didn't look sharp on Wednesday against a Washington squad that sat Alex Ovechkin and most of its top stars. Now the Bruins will have to find their rhythm against even weaker competition as their only remaining exhibition games come against a pair of European clubs with somewhat shakier credentials.
The Bruins face a Belfast Giants squad bolstered with players from around the United Kingdom's Elite Ice Hockey League on Saturday, then play HC Liberec in the Czech Republic on Tuesday. Can the Bruins be ready for NHL action with just those two games left on their schedule before facing Phoenix next Saturday?
"With all due respect to the teams that we're playing, there has been that concern," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "It's about maybe preparing in a little different way. Claude and I have talked about maybe preparing a little different for those games, like maybe, 'Let's focus on these three things' instead of having an overall game plan to win."
The Belfast Giants select squad features just four players with NHL experience, the most recent being forward Rob Globke, who played 46 games with Florida over three seasons from 2005-08. Fellow forward Ben Simon has logged the most time in the NHL with 81 games for Atlanta and Columbus between 2001 and 2006, while Colin Hemingway played three games for St. Louis in 2005-06 and Owen Fussey was up for four games with Washington in 2003-04.
Combined, the four forwards managed four goals and three assists in 134 games between them. No one on the Belfast blue line and none of the three goalies on the roster for this game has any NHL experience.
HC Liberec does have Petr Nedved on its roster. He boasts an impressive resume with 310-407-717 totals in 982 games in an NHL career that began in 1990. But he's also 38 and last played in the league in 2006-07, when he managed just 1-4-5 totals in 19 games for Edmonton.
Andrej Podkonicky is the only other Liberec player to see any NHL time, playing eight games with Florida and Washington in brief stints in 2000-01 and 2003-04. Few of the other players on the squad have ever played professionally outside of the Czech Republic.
"I saw the Belfast roster and it's OK," said Chiarelli diplomatically. "I haven't seen the Czech roster yet, but if I can recall I think some of the other teams that have gone over there in past years for similar types of games and they were OK.
"It's your mindset going in, it's maybe a little different preparation, but you make the best of it," added Chiarelli. "You don't want to get into bad habits. That's the thing that maybe you worry about."
Those bad habits can include taking an opponent lightly, but the Bruins seemed determined to avoid that despite the European clubs' lack of NHL-caliber players.
"You're definitely right," said Bruins goalie Tim Thomas when asked if it was important for him to play against Washington so that his only preseason game action wouldn't be against these European teams. "But I don't want to underestimate anybody. I don't want to be that guy."
Bruins forward Blake Wheeler also wasn't willing to write off the Belfast and Liberec clubs, which will surely be motivated to put up their best performances in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test themselves against current NHLers.
"It doesn’t matter the competition," said Wheeler. "You’ve seen in years past, these are no cupcake exhibition games. I think teams have even lost to some teams over there in their exhibition games, so there’s nothing to take lightly over there. This is going to be just as good of a tune-up as anything else, so we’re prepared to have a couple good tune-ups, and like I said, as long as we’re hitting the ground running in Prague, we’re going to feel good about ourselves."
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