The Bruins are in the midst of their worst stretch of hockey this season, and it has come at just about the worst possible time, as they enter the final stretch run clinging desperately to their slim lead in the Northeast Division.
After an embarrassing 6-1 loss in Tampa on Tuesday, when the Bruins matched their longest losing streak of the season with their third straight defeat, coach Claude Julien could have read them the riot act and skated them into the ground in practice on Wednesday.
And while Julien did put the club through an intense workout, he opted to go the way of positive reinforcement to try to build his team's flagging confidence back up rather than tearing them down further by harping on their recent poor play.
Julien even took one for the team, watching the tape of Tuesday's debacle himself and sparing his players from having to relive that nightmare on video.
"After I watched the game tape [from Tuesday] I was down," Julien told reporters after Wednesday's practice in Sunrise, Fla. "It was pretty discouraging, and the last thing you want to do is put those guys through it right now when we have to make things better and create some energy so that we can fix things. And give them some hope.
"So we talked about some things we've done well and showed them," Julien added. "If we can get back to those kinds of habits it will help our game a lot. As a coach you have to find solutions, and this is what we're trying to do right now, working on finding those solutions that will help us."
The biggest area to solve is the club's current issues in net. Tim Thomas has struggled since the New Year, but has especially wilted under the increased workload he's faced since Tuukka Rask was injured. Thomas is just 13-12-0 with a 2.90 GAA and a .900 save percentage since a New Year's Eve loss in Dallas, and is 2-4-0 with a 3.92 GAA and an .839 save percentage since Rask's injury.
Thomas was supposed to get some much-needed rest on Tuesday, but had to come on in relief of Marty Turco after the Bruins' new netminder gave up three goals in the opening 4:31 of his first start with Boston. Thomas ended up playing just 18:35 himself, giving up two goals on just five shots before Turco went back in to close out the game.
Turco had shown promise in a strong relief performance of Thomas on Sunday in Pittsburgh, but got off to a disastrous start on Tuesday and never recovered. With points at a premium as Ottawa is now breathing down the Bruins' necks in the division race, it would be understandable for Julien to be hesitant to throw Turco back into the mix no matter how much Thomas could use the rest. But Julien isn't quite ready to give up on Turco based on one bad outing, dismissing the notion that he would abandon plans to use Turco to spell Thomas when possible.
"I think we've got to move forward in regards to that," Julien said. "You can't just say all of the sudden he can't do the job. Our whole team can certainly be better and we can certainly help that situation as well. Our goaltenders, both of them, know they have to be better for us, but so does the rest of the team."
Julien stressed that while limiting goals allowed after surrendering 15 in the last three games was a priority, the recent struggles don't fall solely on the netminders. Instead, it's been breakdowns in team defense that have been responsible for the uncharacteristic sloppy play of late.
"The one thing we have to do is minimize our goals against," Julien said. "We have to do that by being better positioned and having the right number of people in the right places so that we don't have as many breakdowns."
Julien wouldn't point fingers at any individual players for the current slide, and he doesn't expect individual players to pull the club out of this funk. It's a total team effort that's required; the same kind of total team commitment that's been the source of the team's success in recent seasons.
"Our success is not a secret," Julien said. "We've had success because we've played as a team and we've won by committee. I certainly can't stand here and say one individual won it for us. We've got a lot of good players, but we certainly have to rely on our team more than we have to rely on individuals."
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