After a day off to rest and recover on Wednesday, the team returned to practice on Thursday at Toyota Sports Center, the training center of the LA Kings.
With two days off from game action after dropping their first game of the trip in San Jose, the Black & Gold should be geared up to face the top two teams in the Pacific Division.
“You’d like to think you’re team is capable of rising to occasions and playing well and playing hard,” Head Coach Claude Julien said following practice. “I thought we played decently against San Jose, but still not good enough to win and we could have been better.”
“So I think we can definitely expect more from our hockey club, in order to win these kind of games that we think are important for us.”
Heading into Thursday night’s action, the Bruins are second in the Atlantic Division with 86 points, one point behind Florida and one point above Tampa Bay. Each team still has a game in hand on Boston. Both teams play on Thursday, with the Lightning facing off in Dallas against the Stars, while the Panthers will face the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
At this time of year, the standings can change every day. It’s a situation that adds intensity to nearly every game down the stretch.
“It’s that time of year,” said Matt Beleskey, who will be back at the Honda Center Friday for the first time as a member of the visiting team, after spending seven years in the Ducks organization. “It’s an exciting time where we’re trying to get our game where it needs to be for this part of the season and heading into the playoffs. [Friday’s] going to be a big step.”
The fluidity of the standings places an increased importance on not letting those points slip away, like the Bruins felt they did in San Jose.
With a 2-1 lead after the first period against the Sharks, the Black & Gold’s second period letdown saw them get away from their game.
With the margins small, they’ll need to put forth 60-minute efforts like they were able to do, for the most part, during their 5-0-2 stretch right after the trade deadline. The 3-2 loss in San Jose marked their first regulation loss in their past eight games.
“We’re going to have to get some points out of this road trip and these are two big games,” said Beleskey. “Teams that came into our building and kind of gave us a bit of a beating, so we need to be ready for this weekend and four points would be huge.”
“We talked about before the road trip, that these games were going to be challenging, so the first one, we played a pretty good game, but playing good is probably not good enough at this time of the year,” said Zdeno Chara.
“So [Friday] night’s going to be a big test for us. We’ve got to be more paying attention to the details, playing harder and getting a little bit more out of our comfort zone.”
With that, the Bruins will need an exceptionally strong defensive game.
The Ducks may have dropped four of their past five games, including a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers their last time out, but they also strung together 11 straight wins from Feb. 13 through Mar. 5. Offensive threats like Corey Perry make teams pay — all it takes is one chance.
“Their core group of guys have been there for a while and they do play that heavy game, try and wear you down and they’ve been pretty successful at that,” said Beleskey. “As you see, since Christmas I think they’re the best in the NHL or something like that right now, so they’ve been playing really well, they’ve really turned it on, so it’s going to be a good test.”
While the Bruins need to lock down in their zone, they’ll need to convert on more opportunities at the other end. If they had cashed in on prime chances in San Jose, they would have come away with the two points.
“We can’t be one and done in the offensive zone,” said Julien. “We’ve got to manage the puck a little bit better, spend more time in the offensive zone, be a little bit hungrier and I think that will help us a lot. Right now, I think we could definitely create a little bit more by being a little bit more assertive and that’s what I’m looking for.”
Line Switches for Connolly and Hayes
In an effort to spark the Bruins’ third line to produce more offensively, Julien tried out different lines during Thursday’s practice.
Brett Connolly skated on a line with Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey. Jimmy Hayes joined Landon Ferraro and Noel Acciari on the fourth line (Tyler Randell also practiced with the fourth line).
“I think right now that line hasn’t done much for us,” Julien said of the third line. “There was obviously — you saw a switch today — and we need contributions from everybody.”
“For the most part, the Bergeron, the Krejci line, they produce, and that third line should be capable of producing with guys like Beleskey and Spooner and even Hayes, and they haven’t, so sometimes a little change is not a bad thing, so we’ll see what comes out of that.”
Connolly had been skating on the fourth line with Ferraro and Acciari since the trade deadline, when Lee Stempniak joined Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
“I guess they’re looking for a little bit of a spark out of those two lines, so should be good,” said Connolly. “I think that those are two good players that I can hopefully mesh well with right away. I’ve played with those guys before so I kind of know their strengths and that.”
“It’s not always about the guy changing, more than you’re looking for a change from the line,” said Julien. “So it doesn’t mean it’s Hayes’ fault but we’ve got an opportunity here to maybe put Conns on that line and again, I’m not set in stone as far as it being a for-sure situation [for Friday], but it’s something I looked at today.”
No matter where Connolly will be for Friday’s game in Anaheim, he knows that he and his teammates better be focused.
“We have to be ready — two big teams that are having good seasons and that have beaten us this year, so we’ve got to bring our A-game,” said Connolly. “And hopefully we can scratch and claw some points out of these last two games here.”
Practice Lines 3/17
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand—Patrice Bergeron—Lee Stempniak
White Jerseys: Loui Eriksson—David Krejci—David Pastrnak
Gray Jerseys: Matt Beleskey—Ryan Spooner—Jimmy Hayes
Merlot: Landon Ferraro—Noel Acciari—Brett Connolly—Tyler Randell
Practice Defense Pairs 3/17
Zdeno Chara—Kevan Miller
John-Michael Liles—Dennis Seidenberg
Torey Krug—Adam McQuaid
Joe Morrow—Zach Trotman
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson