Four games later, they can consider that mission accomplished.
On Monday night, Boston closed out its homestand with a 4-2 win over New Jersey to bring its record to 10-6-0 before it set off for a two-game swing through Toronto and Montreal.
Now, with two divisional games looming, there is no room to taper off.
“I think those are obviously two divisional games, and they’re fun teams to play against as well, so it’s important that we keep things going,” said Head Coach Claude Julien following Tuesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “But at the same time, I think we’ve just got to focus on what we’ve done to have some success — and that’s not to say we’re really happy with our game; I think there’s still lots of room for improvement — but we’re happy with the fact that we’re playing well enough to win games right now. Got to keep going in that direction.”
It was not that long ago that the Bruins were toiling under .500, that they were desperately trying to achieve some consistency instead of winning one and losing the next. Since their last loss — which came on Oct. 28 at home at the hands of Minnesota — the Bruins look like a different team.
Still, though, they aren’t satisfied. They are never satisfied. As always, there is room for improvement.
“I think our starts have been pretty good; I think our second period isn’t there yet,” said forward Matt Fraser. “We definitely could improve upon [that], whether it’s five minutes, two minutes or the whole period. We seem to kind of fall into a little bit of a lull there for a little bit, but for the most part, I think it’s just making sure that we play for a full 60 minutes.”
Julien added that the B’s must focus on staying tight in the defensive zone. It’s something that has improved dramatically over the course of this homestand, but he would like to see continued improvements.
“Overall, I think our five-man unit has done a better job, and you’re right — our back pressure has been better, too,” Julien said. “For example, last night, I thought our third guy did a great job of being in good position where our D’s were allowed to pinch, and if he didn’t, we were in a position where we still had three guys back. So that’s important for our game.”
Since their loss to the Wild — when the B’s uncharacteristically allowed three third-period goals and fell 4-3 — Julien has seen his club limit quality scoring chances, another trend that must continue if the Bruins want to be successful during this upcoming road trip.
“If you give up 10 scoring chances [in a game], it’s not a bad thing, and we’ve been on the positive side of for and against, for the most part,” Julien said. “But it is going down. They’re not the quality chances. There’s been some games that — I forget which one it was — we gave up a lot; that was not that long ago, and I don’t think I’ve seen that many scoring chances again. That was a bit of an eye-opener, I guess, but since, we’ve been a little bit tighter.”
According to Milan Lucic, Toronto -- like the Bruins -- is a different team than it was the last time it faced Boston on Oct. 25. The Bruins decisively won that matchup 4-1, and Lucic is expecting to face a hungry Maple Leafs team on Wednesday night.
“Toronto's playing much, much better,” Lucic said. “You know, it seems like since the last time we played them, they definitely turned things around. Whenever you lose a game like that at home, you're ready for the next time you play them. The game we lost 4-0 at home this year — obviously, we've got the next one circled for the next time we play them, so you know that [the Maple Leafs] want to have a good effort heading into that one. And it's a divisional game. With the way the standings are set up now, divisional games mean that much more, so like I said earlier, it's our last time in Toronto, so we want to make it a good one.”
Krejci Staying Back; Miller Making the Trip
After Tuesday’s practice, Julien announced that center David Krejci, who has been dealing with an undisclosed injury for the last couple of weeks, will not make the trip to Toronto and Montreal.
“He’s definitely out for the next two,” Julien said. “What I’ve been told is he’s still day-to-day.”
Julien declined to comment on the nature of Krejci’s injury. After missing the first three games of the season, the center played in nine straight and put up nine points before missing another two. He returned for last Thursday’s win over Edmonton and has not practiced with the team or played since.
“I’m not going to comment on that injury, but there’s a lot of speculations out there,” Julien said on Wednesday. “I can say that the speculations that are out there are wrong.”
Defenseman Kevan Miller, who practiced with the team on Tuesday for the first time since sustaining a dislocated shoulder versus Buffalo on Oct. 18, will be making the trip to Canada. The blueliner also participated in an optional morning skate on Monday.
“He’s still no-contact, but he’s getting better all the time, and I think right now, it’s better for him to practice with us in the team concept,” Julien said. “He can do all the flow drills that you saw this morning, but staying out of the battle ones for now.”
Young Players Continuing to Step Up
The Bruins have won five straight despite several key injuries on the back end, and despite being without one of their top forwards.
That, in large part, is a credit to the young players who have stepped in to bridge the gap, and who have done so admirably.
Julien has continuously sung the praises of defenseman Joe Morrow, who has predominantly skated with Adam McQuaid on the second pairing ever since being recalled following the injury to Krug. Five games later, he has proven to be one of Boston’s most reliable young D’s.
“I don’t think much rattles him,” Julien said.
Morrow said the key to his game is keeping things simple and never trying to over-think anything. He considers himself an offensive-minded player, and though he has yet to score his first NHL point, that is the least of his worries.
“The less the puck’s on my stick, the more it’s on the forwards’ hands, and that means it’s going in the offensive zone,” Morrow said. “So yeah, I mean, I’m sure the offense will come the more I play and the more I get used to it and the more comfortable I get up here. The points are always going to be there, and the offense-minded personality that I have will eventually come out. But as for now, I think I’ll just keep it simple and keep just trying to contribute the way I am now.”
That means primarily focusing on playing a tight, fundamentally-sound game.
“Coming into this situation, you just try and put yourself in a position to not upset anyone and not be a disappointment,” he said. “You just kind of keep your nose clean, I guess, and just keep it easy, and once you start complicating things is when you get in trouble.
“So there’s not much else I can do. It’s just, try and break the puck out and try to play defense.”
Up front, Matt Fraser is another young addition to the B’s who has stepped up — in his case, in Krejci’s absence. Fraser slotted in for the first game that Krejci missed, and he hasn’t been taken out of the lineup since, which is a credit to the way he has played.
Fraser scored twice in his first game since being reinserted in the lineup and has proven to be a reliable addition to the third line alongside Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. He has prided himself on being just that — reliable — in the wake of so many injuries to key players.
“I think for a young guy, the biggest thing is just injecting some enthusiasm into the lineup,” Fraser said. “For myself, I’ve always said that I wanted to be an impact player, and whether that’s a hit, or getting a shot on net, or doing something to get myself in the game and keep myself in the game is definitely something I need to do whenever I step on the ice.
“For the young guys on this team, it’s sometimes difficult to be an impact [player] or try and be an impact [player], and when you do get out there, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Wednesday’s Practice Lineup
Milan Lucic — Chris Kelly — Seth Griffith
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Reilly Smith
Matt Fraser — Carl Soderberg — Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille — Gregory Campbell — Simon Gagne
Dougie Hamilton — Dennis Seidenberg
Joe Morrow — Adam McQuaid
Torey Krug — Zach Trotman
Matt Bartkowski — Kevan Miller
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg