With the post-season looming just a few weeks away, head coach Claude Julien took a look at some of the wrong turns his men have taken in recent weeks and what he is doing to bring his no. 1 team in the East back to no. 1 standards.
“I think right from the start, the thing that I noticed [against Philadelphia] is that we didn’t seem to have our legs going, and we weren’t skating, and when your feet aren’t moving, the rest kind of falls apart on you,” Julien said to the press after the loss. “So we weren’t able to make the plays that we normally would make because, again, we just weren’t moving out there and executing properly, so it made for a pretty bad game.”
Idle feet have been the complaint all along with Julien, who has often said that his guys are less willing to get into the corners to fight for possession of the puck. But recently, members of the Boston club have seemed to hit their stride in terms of pushing themselves a bit harder, with the most notable example being defenseman Matt Hunwick, who made a smooth transformation into a B’s forward when the need arose, and used that new placement to put away a goal and an assist.
But not every player has found that same level of comfort on the ice, according to coach.
“We thought we were making some good strides last week in finding our game again, and obviously, tonight I think we might have taken one backwards. This is what this game’s all about,” he said. “You’ve got to kind of try and focus on your next game and make the corrections that need to happen, and hopefully with a solid effort next game, maybe we’ll forget this one.
“You want to find your groove, and I think that’s what we want to find here, but at the same time, those are things that happen during the course of a season. There’s going to be a time where things are going to start falling into place, and we’ll get on a roll again, so it’s just a matter of working our way through it.”
It’s not just Julien who notices the downward trend, either. The men in the locker room are as aware of their past accomplishments as they are of their recent problems.
“We’re a team that thrived on being a hardworking character team and we’re lacking that,” B’s defenseman Aaron Ward said after the game. “It’s not X’s and O’s…We need to pick up our socks and figure out what it is that allows us to be successful.”
And the biggest complaint these guys have has been an inability to finish out 60 minutes of play, to complete checks and to come out with the ferocity of the team they know they can be.
“It’s not hard to figure out,” Ward said. “I know it’s simple, but it’s tough in situations where you get away with it; it’s easy to lose it and hard to turn it back on.”
Forward Michael Ryder had many of the same sentiments.
“Pretty much if you don’t show much emotion out there, it’s in every aspect of the game, you’re going to lose the one-on-one battles, you’re going to be second on the puck, and for us, the whole year those are things –– always first on the puck, we win the battles and right now we aren’t doing any of that.”
Looking toward the old emotions –– and the fundamental character –– of this organization is exactly what many in the B’s locker room have been doing.
“I think it is fair to dip into last year, as to where we are and how we got to where we are in the standings. It was based on our identity, and emotion, and really good character team,” defenseman Andrew Ference
said. “If you are somebody from the outside watching our team right now, I don’t see a lot of character that you can really identify with.
“I think we just need to wake up and snap out of it –– it’s March. I think it is natural for certain periods of slump through the year that is just the ebb and flow. You have to make an effort to get out of it; it doesn’t just happen on its own, so I think that has to be nipped in the bud.”
“A lot of it is confidence; a lot of it is execution,” Julien said. “[The Flyers] won every battle. We had two guys on their one, and they still came out with the puck, so it’s just one of those times where we didn’t do much that was worthy of recognition.
“I think the next game will dictate a lot of what this is all about – is it something that continues to slide, or are we going to turn this around and just make this a bad game?”
But with the playoffs right around the corner, the B’s desperately need to quell those uncertainties and put it all into the last stretch of games of the regular season.
“We don’t start all of a sudden playing great hockey,” Ference said. “It takes a lot of effort, a lot of work. Especially at this time of year, you are playing against the other team’s best, and they are going for playoff points, and if you don’t have your best out there, then you’re going to get embarrassed.”