Thus far in 2015-16, the Bruins are unbeaten away from TD Garden. They have been stingy with scoring opportunities and punishing on the forecheck, and they have 16 goals in three games to show for their efforts.
Now, they have to bring that same style of play to their home ice.
“I think we’ve had some rough outings here,” said Head Coach Claude Julien following Monday’s practice at TD Garden. “I think our puck management has cost us a lot of games when you look at the goals that were scored against us here in our home building, so we’ve got to clean that up.”
“From the last game, [in] the last two periods, we played more of ‘our game’ — became stingy with not giving that many shots, and we really pushed the pace the other way, and our forecheck and our resiliency was there. So you’ve got to bring that to your home games as well.”
For many of the Black & Gold, the reason for road success has been plain to see: They have been closer to giving the 60-minute effort they need in order to produce a victory. At home, they been unable to get that full three-period effort.
“Although we lost all of the games at home, I felt like we’ve played 40 minutes of pretty good hockey game[s],” said forward David Krejci. “For some reason, the other 20 wasn’t as good. On the road, for some reason, we’ve played really well — a full 60 minutes — without trying to be too cute; just trying outwork the other team, and it’s been working.
“So at home, we’ve got to take the same approach — just outwork the other team and try to play a full 60 minutes.”
Never was that need for the B’s to put in a full 60 more obvious than in their last home game. They took a two-goal lead into the third period only to see it disappear late. That is not typical Bruins hockey, and the B’s do not plan on making it a habit.
“We were close the last couple of times [at home] — had a two goal lead, and somehow we kind of messed it up and lost the game,” Krejci said. “So [Tuesday], we have to put a full 60 minutes in and play just like we’re on the rope.”
On Tuesday, the Bruins will welcome the Coyotes to the Garden for their first and only visit this season. In one game thus far against Arizona, the Bruins have been good, though not perfect. They took a second-period lead but saw it erased in the third.
In that game, though, they were resilient, and they were explosive on the power play. That, more than anything, led to success.
The Bruins know that the closer they come to putting in that full 60 minutes, the easier it will be to get the monkey off their back at home. Lately, they have been headed in the right direction. Now, they need to make sure they stay the course, starting on Tuesday.
“When you look at our record, I think we’re 3-0-1 in our last four games,” Julien said. “So we lost the first three home games that we played, and they were the first games of the season, so you’d like to think that you’re trending in the right direction.
“The last [home] game was kind of one that was a frustrating one, but we’ll hopefully bring our A-game here tomorrow.”
Defense Trending Up
Offensively, it is obvious that the Bruins are clicking. They have scored four or more goals in each of their last three games and have gone 3-0-1 during that stretch.
“Obviously, we’ve been working on some offensive stuff in practices and then we’ve brought it into games,” said Krejci, who currently leads the Bruins and the NHL in scoring. “We have lots of good shooters, guys going in the net, so it’s been going in for us. We don’t want to change that part, but we have to change the other end.”
There, Boston’s game is still coming along.
“It’s a work in progress,” said defenseman Kevan Miller. “I think we’ve had some ups and downs as well with that. We’re only seven games in, but there have been some up and downs that we want to continue to work on and kind of tackle in the defensive zone.”
Given Boston’s youth on the blueline, those adjustments were expected. Even before the 2015-16 campaign began, the Bruins front office has said as much: There will be growing pains to start. There have been. But lately, the Bruins have been working out those kinks.
“I think last game was kind of how we expect to play,” said forward Ryan Spooner. “I think for the most part, we only gave up probably 12 scoring chances, which we’ve talked about as a team and is a good number. So I think if we do that, we should be good.”
As Spooner indicated, the Bruins are trending upward in their own end. Friday’s win over the Islanders is a good example. Though the B’s got off to a rough start, allowing 18 first-period shots, they did a dramatic about-face in the final 40 minutes. They allowed a measly eight shots to the Islanders, spent most of the game in the offensive zone, and not by coincidence, they scored four unanswered goals to claim the victory.
The Bruins weren’t perfect in the final two. They allowed a third goal to the Islanders in the final two minutes of play on Friday night, and though the goal didn’t particularly matter in the end, it was not something Julien ever likes to see.
Aside from that, though, Boston was solid defensively, and that does suggest a move in the right direction.
“That third goal at the end of the game really honestly bothered me because we had kept a pretty good team to two goals,” Julien said. “You wish you could have kept that, especially when you’re trying to keep the goals against down. But what I saw is that we gave up two in the first and we were really, really good [afterward]. I think we gave up 8 shots in the last two periods.
“So you’d like to think you’re trending in the right direction as far as your play defensively. We’ve got to keep working on that.
Spooner Thriving on the Wing
It’s a small sample size, to be sure. But the 40 minutes Spooner has spent on the wing this season have certainly been promising.
In the second period of Friday’s win over New York, Julien adjusted his lines, moving Spooner down to the fourth line left wing, shifting Chris Kelly to center the third line and moving up Zac Rinaldo to Kelly’s left side.
The adjustment paid dividends, as both Spooner and fourth-line center Joonas Kemppainen led Boston to victory with a goal and a point apiece.
Those line adjustments held for Monday’s practice at the Garden, but Julien cautioned against over-analyzing.
“I think the bottom line is, we’re trying to do the right thing for the team,” he said. “What you see today could be different from what you see tomorrow. That’s all I can say about it. It’s one of those things that we’re just moving bodies around for no other reason than to make things work.”
That being said, Julien didn’t deny Spooner’s success on the wing the last time out, but the success isn’t confined to Spooner. There are several players on Boston’s roster that provide versatility, and that versatility can prove critical at any time throughout the season.
“I think the main thing is, I’ve said all along: Centers can play wing,” Julien said. “I’m not sure how many wingers can play center. So that’s the luxury that we’ve always had. Kelly’s played the wing for a long time; [Max] Talbot was basically a centerman as well. So we’ve got a lot of those interchangeable parts. We’re trying to take advantage of it.”
So, too, is Spooner.
The 23-year-old has admittedly struggled in his own end at times this season, and he said that playing on the wing allows him more opportunity for creativity offensively without sacrificing defensively.
“I haven’t been the best in my own end, so to get moved to the wing, it takes a little bit of stress off of me,” Spooner said. “This is my fourth year that I’ve been with this team and I’ve played with tons of guys. We’re all skilled, all skating and all that kind of stuff, so I’m just going to go out there and try to help out.”
Beleskey Practices Again
Winger Matt Beleskey has not seen any game action since suffering an undisclosed upper body injury sometime after an Oct. 21 matchup against Philadelphia.
But Beleskey has only missed one full day of practice. He traveled with the team for their game against the Islanders on Oct. 23, he skated with the group that morning, and he has practiced with the full group twice since.
Whether he is a possibility for Tuesday night against Arizona, however, remains to be seen.
“Right now, he’s practicing, so any time a guy starts to practice, he does become a possibility,” Julien said. “I haven’t talked to the trainers as far as [Tuesday]. He was a possibility last game, too, and it didn’t happen. So we’ll probably make that decision [Tuesday].”
Beleskey said that Monday’s practice was the best he has felt since suffering the injury — “A good sign,” he said, — and while he wouldn’t speculate on whether or not he’ll play on Tuesday, he certainly hopes he will.
“It’s no fun watching your own team play,” he said. “You always want to be out there. So I’m working hard to be back in the lineup.”
When Beleskey does return, he could be in a different spot than the one he left. In each of the six games he has played this season, he has skated on Krejci’s left, but in Monday’s practice, he skated on the third line with Kelly, Rinaldo and Jimmy Hayes.
Wherever he slots back in, though, he is confident the chemistry will come quickly.
“I’m used to switching lines all the time,” Beleskey said. “It’s good that I’ve got a couple practices with those guys — kind of like-minded players. So we’ll see what happens.”
Julien also said that defenseman Dennis Seidenberg — out since Sept. 23 with a herniated disc in his back — continues to progress, though he is still not able to practice with the group.
“He’s skating right now,” Julien said, “so he’s trending also in the right direction.”
Monday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Loui Eriksson, David Krejci, David Pastrnak
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Brett Connolly
Gray Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, Zac Rinaldo, Chris Kelly, Jimmy Hayes
Red Jerseys: Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen, Tyler Randell, Max Talbot
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, Kevan Miller, Zach Trotman
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson