What separates the good teams from the rest of the pack are the teams that respond properly to those mistakes.
In Kelly’s eyes, his club did not do that in a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Monday afternoon.
“The amount of goals we’re giving up is uncharacteristic of this group,” Kelly said. “Regardless of how many new faces there [are], Boston has always been a good defending team. But right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
What was once the foundation of the Bruins has now become a glaring area of improvement. Boston’s defense, once stout and powerful, has struggled through three consecutive games, allowing 16 goals in three losses.
“Obviously, you play the game to win, but you play to play the game right, and we’ve been losing by a large margin,” said defenseman Adam McQuaid. “We’ve been close at times in games, but in three games, giving up 16 goals against is not acceptable. It’s a lot of goals to give up, and usually we’re a lot more stingy than that.
“We’ve always taken pride in that being a strength of our team, and we realize how important it is.”
Yes, the Bruins are young. Their roster is composed of a handful of players who are still adjusting to a new system.
But as this team forges ahead into the 2015-16 season, it has become evident that the issues on the blueline must be rectified — quickly — in order to salvage the near future.
“We’ve just got to put together 60 minutes,” said Zdeno Chara, who returned from an upper-body injury to make his season debut on Monday. “We always say that we have to respect the gameplan for a full 60. You can’t be just playing 20 [minutes] or whatever. You’ve got to be focused on what’s the right play, the right time, and you have to make the right decision.
“I feel that we mean well, but we are not always making it easy on ourselves.”
Once again, the Bruins started strong, this time against a Lightning team that came out of the gates disjointed and sluggish. They capitalized early, as David Krejci struck 18 seconds into Boston’s first power play — which came 2 1/2 minutes into the game — for the 1-0 lead.
“Definitely, the power play was good tonight,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “I thought [Tampa] had been a tough team to penetrate, and I thought our guys did a good job of getting some speed through the neutral zone, putting pucks behind them, getting in on the forecheck.”
The Bruins looked crisp for the first 15 minutes of the game. They were aggressive and focused and strong on both the forecheck and the backcheck, and they were rewarded for it, extending their lead to 2-0 on a second power play goal at the 11-minute mark, this one courtesy of Loui Eriksson.
Eriksson camped out by the far post and waited for a cross-crease pass from Torey Krug that he buried past Lightning goalie Ben Bishop.
But as expected, the Lightning woke up. With just over four minutes left in the game, Brian Boyle got Tampa Bay on the board, taking a feed from a streaking Victor Hedman and beating Tuukka Rask from the slot.
The Bruins responded with a strong shift from the Bergeron line, but this time, their aggression got the best of them. Bergeron was sent to the box for goalie interference. One minute and nine seconds after scoring their first goal, the Lightning had completely erased their deficit, as Ondrej Palat registered the power play goal.
“At some point of the game, we stopped respecting the game plan and we got into trouble,” Chara said. “That’s when teams will take advantage, especially when you play good teams like Tampa and so on. You’re going to be paying a price for that.”
The Lightning registered their third unanswered goal about five minutes into the second, when Boyle picked off David Pastrnak at the defensive blueline in the waning seconds of a Bruins power play and struck for his second of the day.
Boston answered back in their fourth power play of the day, as Krejci’s blast from the high slot deflected off Eriksson and in. Temporarily, the B’s had worked themselves back into a tie game.
But the tie was short-lived. Steven Stamkos’ power-play bomb from the left circle eluded Rask gloveside, and the Bruins entered the second intermission down 4-3.
“You have to make good saves at the right times,” Rask said. “And then you can’t afford mistakes. Today, I made maybe two good saves right at the beginning of the third, and that was it for the whole game. I had a chance to make a couple more, I didn’t, and that’s just how it goes. So I just have to get better than that, and we’ll be fine.”
In the eyes of Julien, that goal served as the turning point of the game because of what he felt was an ignored penalty on the opposition.
“I think we all looked at the game, and we all saw the goals — some of it, there were bad goals, and some of it, there’s the odd mistake,” Julien said. “We got ourselves in a 3-3 hockey game, and they scored their winning goal on something that should’ve been called interference before they scored on that faceoff. So it kind of takes the momentum away from us.
“But it doesn’t matter what the situation is — we’ve got to be better defensively. The amount of goals — from the goaltender on out, defense, the forwards coming back — we’ve just got to be better. It used to be our strength, and right now it’s our weakness.”
The Bruins could not come back from that fourth dagger. The Lightning would strike twice more in the third period — they got one from Jonathan Drouin and another off the skate of Valtteri Filppula — and Boston fell for the third consecutive time in this young season.
“We’ve been here together for three and a half weeks now, and at some point, it’s mental mistakes,” Bergeron said. “At this level, it’s going to hurt you if it happens.
“Of course, the effort it there, but at the same time, mentally right now, we have to be better. We have to be sharper and more confident to make plays. Yes, the effort is definitely there, and that being said, we have to be better.”
The mistakes this team is making do not resonate with the long-standing Bruins identity, and the identity with which this team entered the season.
“In the past, we used to be able to win games when we scored two or three goals,” Krejci said. “But 16 goals in the last three games — that’s not how we pictured it. Obviously, we believe in this group, but as for right now, it sucks losing, so we’ve got to do something about that.
“We want to come out hard in the third period. That was our team. We used to be good in third periods, and before you know it, they put the fifth goal in the net and it’s 5-3. It’s frustrating, so we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and kind of think it over, think of what you can do better for the team.”
Now, the Bruins have no choice but to eagerly anticipate an upcoming two-game road trip that will take them through Colorado and Arizona. They will welcome the opportunity to get away, to grow as a team, to face the next challenge head-on.
As Kelly said, this team does have what it takes. It just has to figure out how to shot it for a full 60 minutes.
“We need to really concentrate and be professional and realize that we need to come prepared to play 60 minutes, and there’s a system put in place,” Kelly said. “We need to know the system, regardless if you’ve been here as long as Patrice has, or as short as the new guys. You need to realize that we have a system here.
“In the first period, I thought we showed we knew how to play the system, and we were working together and it was great to see. It’s just, we need to find a way to be professional and play 60 minutes of Bruins system hockey, and I think we’ll be alright.
“I really have a good feeling about the group we have in the room, and there’s just maybe some gray areas that we just need to correct.”