BOSTON — The Bruins knew they weren’t going to have an easy time this year with every opponent gunning for the defending champs. And they certainly haven’t made things any easier with what has become a disturbing trend in the early going.
Boston surrendered the first goal for the sixth straight game Saturday night against the Sharks. The Bruins actually fell behind 2-0 before coming alive in the third to pull even, but they didn’t have enough in the tank for a second comeback and ended up falling 4-2 at the Garden.
The Sharks struck just 1:12 into play when Joe Pavelski converted a feed from old friend Joe Thornton after a turnover by David Krejci in the neutral zone, with Thornton swiping a pass intended for Johnny Boychuk.
“The way we started was not the ideal start,” Bruins center Chris Kelly said. “It’s not the way we play. I thought we were maybe trying to make too many plays early on and their first goal was kind of a turnover in the neutral zone that they capitalized on. That’s not the type of hockey we play.”
It’s become the type of hockey the Bruins are playing all too often in the early stretches of games. They’ve been able to overcome early goals by Chicago and Toronto, but a strike by Carolina 2:47 into play set the stage for a frustrating loss on Tuesday and Tampa Bay, Colorado and the Hurricanes in the first meeting in Carolina each scored first en route to wins over the Bruins.
“Obviously it’s always difficult to play catch up,” Bruins forward Tyler Seguin said. “It’s something we need to change. But it’s still only eight games into the season so hopefully we don’t make this a pattern.”
The Bruins can’t afford to be playing catch-up on a regular basis. Last season, they were 30-6-6 when scoring first and 24-4-2 when leading after the opening period. But when they gave up the first goal, they were just 16-19-5 and they won just four of 21 games when they were trailing after the first period. This year, they are already 2-4-0 when allowing the first goal and 1-3-0 when trailing after one period.
“Obviously we don’t want to start the game off down a goal,” Boychuk said. “The first couple of minutes it seemed like we weren’t even there. They came out and scored the first goal and that kind of woke us up a little bit and we started to play better and had plenty of chances.
“We’ve just got to be sure to be ready right off the hop,” Boychuk added. “That will give us a better chance to win. If we come out strong, it usually sets the tone of the game. [Saturday] after the first couple of shifts we didn’t come out strong and they took it to us.”
There’s a strong psychological advantage to striking first, and the Bruins’ style of play is best suited to playing with a lead. They had some chances in the early going to get that first tally, but couldn’t convert. Then they got caught flat-footed and let San Jose grab that crucial first goal.
“It’s always nice when you get that first one,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “You start feeling better about yourself and you start making plays and building that momentum. We’ve got to find a way to get that first one. I think we had that 3-on-1 early on when it was nothing-nothing and it was just kind of an overpass from Marshy [Brad Marchand] to Kreech [Krejci], and those are two really skilled forwards who don’t miss those usually.”
Lucic doesn’t see the glass as half empty, though. He feels the Bruins have come out with enough energy, but they simply haven’t been able to convert the chances they’ve created.
“I don’t think our starts have been bad,” Lucic said. “We’ve just got to find a way to bear down on our chances when we do get them, especially in the first period.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien agreed with that assessment and sees the slow starts as a reflection of their overall offensive struggles, not a matter of coming out unprepared.
“That’s because we’re not scoring,” Julien said. “We had two great scoring chances in the first minute that we didn’t bury. We had good starts. It’s just that we don’t bury our chances, and then the other team comes back and scores a goal. I don’t know that we’re having bad starts, more than, again, going back to not capitalizing. So again, that’s the biggest thing that’s hurting us right now.”
The lack of finish has been prevalent throughout games for much of the season. While Boston broke out for six goals in Thursday’s win over Toronto, they’ve managed just 12 in their other seven games. With goals that hard to come by, falling behind early can be even more damaging.
“We got off to a bad start in the first minute and got ourselves behind the 8-ball, but the rest of the game, I thought we played well, and we had our chances,” Julien said. “Again, [we had] probably more scoring chances than we’ve generated in the past. Right now, as you know, we’re not burying our opportunities. Even if you score two goals, a lot of times, it’s not enough. I think that’s probably one of the biggest issues.
“It’s a challenge for us right now, and it’s frustrating because if you look at the whole game, it wasn’t a bad game from our part of it,” Julien said. “We had lots of chances, and at the end of the night, we didn’t capitalize enough.”
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