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Bruins Fighting to Rediscover Hunger with Tough Stretch Ahead

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — The Bruins know they have the talent it takes to compete in this league. They know they have what it takes to bring the energy and fire it takes to compete for a full 60 minutes.

They just have to find a way to bring those elements to the ice, night in and night out.

“We just need to be better, collectively and individually,” said Head Coach Claude Julien following Sunday’s practice at TD Garden. “Too much under-performing from our group right now.

“There’s lots of blame to go around, so it’s important for us as a group to be better, as individuals to be better. I think there’s a lot of our guys right now that are performing below the level that we think they could be performing, so that doesn’t help, and as a group, too. We’re second-guessing ourselves out there on the ice instead of being assertive, so we need to work on that part of our game to make us better, and that’s part of my job — to find that assertiveness in our team, and we started working on that today.”

Consistency continues to be the element that eludes the Bruins, who fell to 18-15-3 following Saturday night’s 6-2 loss to Columbus. The Bruins played a good first period, but a lackadaisical second put them in a 5-2 hole that they would prove unable to climb out of.

“I really don’t have a simple answer for it,” said forward Chris Kelly. “We’re obviously putting ourselves in holes in games, and it gets to the point where they’re too big to dig yourselves out of them. That falls on us, as players, and not bringing that hunger for 60 minutes and playing the game the way it should be played for the 60 minutes.”

The Bruins are not normally a team that finds its work ethic and its hunger coming into question. That was not the case on Sunday. The Bruins looked deflated in the final 40 minutes of action against Columbus on Saturday night, and there have been too many spurts of sub-par hockey lately.

That, they said, must change right now.

“We used to be a team that not many teams like to come in this building and play us, and I don’ t think it’s the same thing this year,” said forward David Krejci. “We have to kind of establish our team identity again, play hard, outwork the team every night, and the rest will take care of itself. We just have to work hard, and whatever happens, happens.”

While the drive might not be there for a full 60 minutes every night, the Bruins know they have the talent it takes to win. They know they have the players they need in order to compete.

“I think we’ve put ourselves in this situation as a team, and the way you get out of this situation is as a team,” Kelly said. “That’s always been our strength, that we’ve been a good team. There’s not one guy that’s coming in and saving the day. When we’re playing well, everyone’s playing well, and when we’re playing poorly, everyone’s playing poorly.

“It’s not a couple guys carrying the team when they’re doing well, and it’s not a few guys pulling the team down when we’re not doing well.”

Accountability is something the Black and Gold have always had, and in this situation — when they have been unable to string together a significant series of wins — every single player wearing the Spoked B is holding himself responsible, from top to bottom.

“I know we have the talent in here,” Kelly said. “It’s not too much of an overhaul from since I’ve been here. We’ve kept a good chunk of the guys here, and I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it forever: We have proven goal scorers on this team. We have proven All-Stars on this team. It’s not talent that’s keeping us from succeeding; I think it’s a lot of little things. Winning your battles. Paying attention to detail on a consistent basis.

“We were focused out there today. I thought we had a great practice; it’s just bringing that day in and day out that we need to find a way to do that.”

The coaching staff, too, is holding itself to that same high standard.

“I think the most important thing is that we all take responsibility,” Julien said. “I think as players, they want to be responsible for their play, and they’ve got to be a little bit better. As a coach, I’ve got to find that in my team. That’s my responsibility, and I’ve got to find it one way or another, and I will.

“It started today, working on different things and making guys accountable, and if we’re not going to do it in a game, we’re going to do it in practice. No matter what the schedule is, this is what we have to do. We’ve got to start doing it in games and be better and more consistent and start doing it in games.”

The Bruins have three tough games against divisional opponents awaiting them in the immediate future — against Detroit on Monday night, against Toronto on Wednesday and against Ottawa on Saturday. Those games have quickly become must-wins, and winning those games will require a complete team-wide effort.

There have been spurts over the last two weeks when this team has seemed to rediscover its identity, but now, the B's need to sustain that energy and that compete level moving forward.

Otherwise, a playoff berth could slip away.

“This is the first time [since I’ve been here] that we’re kind of on the outside of the playoffs,” Krejci said. “On the other side, it’s a new season, and we have a little different team, and it’s a challenge for us.

“I feel like we have good enough players to be in the playoffs, so the good thing is, we still have more than half the season left, and we can do something about it. It starts tomorrow.”

Caron Recalled

Forward Jordan Caron was on the ice for Sunday’s practice after being recalled from Providence.

Caron spent the entire 2013-14 season with Boston and has been recalled three times this season. He has played in two games with Boston so far in 2014-15 and has played in 23 games with the Providence Bruins, where he has established himself as a top-line threat.

With David Pastrnak and Alex Khokhlachev serving as his linemates for the bulk of the season, Caron has become one of the P-Bruins’ most potent offensive weapons.

“I think it’s probably the first time that I have a [big] offensive role since I’ve been a pro,” Caron said. “[I’ve been] creating a lot of offense and focusing on my offensive game a lot, and I think that’s helping me with my confidence and stuff like that. Our line down there with Koko and Pasta — we’ve been playing really good, so I felt pretty confident, and I think just the offensive part of my game has improved a lot this year.”

Julien, too, has been impressed with what Caron has managed to do in Providence.

“He’s been playing well,” Juilen said. “He’s been on the top line, been playing well, so we need to maybe give those [players] an opportunity. He’s got some experience, so if he’s deserving, he gets a chance to get called up.”

Caron skated alongside Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell during Sunday’s practice, and if he does get into game action during his recall, he projects to get bottom-six minutes, which will obviously be a departure from what he has become accustomed to in Providence.

“It’s not easy, but I think it’s part of hockey,” Caron said of the adjustment. “You’ve got to make a name for yourself and prove that you belong here, and just do your job up here and try to earn a spot and stick to it.”

Bergeron, Lucic Miss Practice

Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic were not on the ice for Sunday’s practice, and according to Julien, they can be classified as day-to-day.

Bergeron left the bench in the third period of Saturday’s loss at Columbus with what Julien deemed a “very, very minor” injury.

Julien did not rule out either player for Monday’s matchup against the Red Wings.

“All I’ve been told is day-to-day,” Julien said. “I don’t know. I guess day-to-day means tomorrow morning, we’ll regroup on that. So that’s all I’ve been told, anyway.”

Defenseman Adam McQuaid continued skating with the team, but Julien said he is still “not ready” to return from the broken thumb he suffered on Nov. 18.

Fraser Placed on Waivers

The Bruins announced on Sunday that forward Matt Fraser has been placed on waivers.

In 24 gamest his season, Fraser — who earned a spot with the Bruins out of training camp — has registered three goals in about 10 1/2 minutes of ice time per game.

According to Julien, Fraser will not necessarily be assigned to Providence if he does clear waivers.

"Right now, waivers could mean a lot of things," Julien said. "He’s been put on waivers. If he gets picked up, obviously, we lose him. It doesn’t mean that if he clears, we send him down or we can’t send him down. It could be a variety of things, and that’s up to upper management.

"I know that lately, he’s been playing on the right side on the fourth line — probably not ideal for him, but at the same time, that’s the position that was open for him to play in during this last stretch."

Sunday’s Practice Lineup

White Jerseys: Brad MarchandSeth GriffithReilly Smith

Gray Jerseys: Chris KellyCarl SoderbergLoui Eriksson

Gold Jerseys: Matt FraserDavid KrejciCraig Cunningham

Burgundy Jerseys: Daniel PailleGregory CampbellJordan Caron

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Seidenberg, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Zach Trotman, Adam McQuaid

Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg

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