The Bruins are struggling to find consistency in their game right now, and for them, the solution is just about getting back to basics, keeping it simple and trying to find a spark that will help them get on a roll as they prepare to face the Sabres at the First Niagara Center on Thursday night.
“I think the easiest way [to build consistency] is just to keep things simple,” said forward Reilly Smith. “It was tough, the way last game ended. We obviously wanted to kind of build on the little bit of consistency we had going into that game, so kind of just have to bounce back now and keeps things simple.
"It’s going to be a hungry Buffalo team, and you can’t take anything for granted, so we’re going to have to come out with a good effort.”
After putting forth what was perhaps their strongest effort of the season in a 4-1 win at Toronto on Oct. 25, the Bruins took a step back on Tuesday night against Minnesota at TD Garden. For a period and a half, they were able to carry over the things they did well against the Maple Leafs, and they went into the third period with a two-goal lead. In an uncharacteristic turn of events, though, they squandered that lead in the final 20 minutes, allowing three third-period goals and leaving the ice frustrated.
“We’ve shown that we can be good in all the areas [we need to be], and other times, we’ll go flat and struggle in all those same areas,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien following the team’s optional morning skate on Thursday. “There’s no pace. Offensively, we won’t create much, and defensively, we’re loose. When we’re on our game, all those things are the other way around.”
Patrice Bergeron said the key to establishing consistency is focusing on the now instead of becoming distracted by the future — future minutes, periods or games.
“I think it’s about really setting ourselves short-term goals, and even in a game, I think it’s about taking care of the first period and worrying about that only right away,” he said. “Then, once you’re happy with it, you go along and worry about the second, and once it’s over, so on.
“I think it’s about doing that, and once we start establishing some good consistency, I think we’re going to get on a roll.”
In an effort to spark his club, Julien switched the lines for Wednesday’s practice before the team set off for Buffalo. Most notably, Smith was switched from the second line to the fourth line, while Simon Gagne skated on Patrice Bergeron’s right, and Chris Kelly was on his left. The only line to remain intact for Wednesday’s practice was the line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Seth Griffith.
“I think it’s motivating,” said Smith of being moved to the fourth line. “You try to make the most of every situation, and I think it’s a good one — it’s a chance to maybe get back to building on the simpler things. Whatever they ask me to do, that’s what my job is, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Since scoring a power play goal in the first game of the season, Smith has struggled to find consistency in his game. He has tallied just four points in 11 contests this season, and given how significant his contributions were last season alongside Bergeron and Brad Marchand, he is looking to reestablish himself as a premiere scoring threat in this lineup.
For now, he is focusing on creating more scoring chances and being stronger on the puck.
“You take everything in stride, and you try to learn from every scenario,” he said. “Last year, we had so much success and didn’t have to worry about these things, but it wasn’t exactly a realistic year in the NHL, just because it’s so seldom that you have such a great team and you win the President’s Cup.
"So you’re going to go through these ups and down. I had some if last year, and I expect it to build through my career, and just, you’ve got to learn from those things.”
Julien did not say whether the line assignments he used for Wednesday’s practice will be the ones he uses against the Sabres on Thursday, and given the optional skate, pregame warmups will provide the best indication of what the lines and defensive pairings will look like.
Julien did divulge that Niklas Svedberg will get the start in net.
“If I go with those lines and they work well, I don’t want to change them; if they’re just average, do I go back? I don’t know,” Julien said. “Right now, I think we’re in need of a bit of a change, and we did that yesterday just to see what it would look like. I could start with it, it could stay half a period, it could be the whole game.
“I don’t have that answer. I’m not trying to hide that answer; I don’t have it.”
‘Release and Reload’
Mistakes happen on the ice — with veterans, with rookies and with every player in between.
The key to limiting those mistakes, Julien said, is making sure that players are able to learn from them and then forget about them rather than dwell on them.
In the case of defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who had a tough outing against Minnesota on Tuesday, Julien said it’s important to help him rebuild his confidence in the hopes that he rediscovers the form that saw him excel for much of last season, when Boston’s defensive corps was depleted by injuries.
“At one point, you address the areas where you see him maybe struggling, but at the same time, you try and build up his confidence by saying, ‘You just got to go out there and play,’” Julien said. “We all know he’s been that player that was very serviceable last year when a guy like [Dennis] Seidenberg went down. He played in our top four, and I thought he did a good job. Right now, he’s maybe half that player, and I think a lot of it has to do with confidence.
“He makes one little mistake and he gets down on himself, and there’s certain things as a coach you can try and do. I guess the biggest part has to come from him — he’s got to be mentally strong enough to overcome those things and start thinking in a positive way. We always talk about release and reload — release the mistake and the bad shift, and reload with some positive thinking. Go out there and have a good shift the next one.
“Those are things that players have to do for themselves, and you try to help them along, but you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink. He’s the one that’s got to find that confidence that he needs.”
In light of the fact that blueliner Torey Krug broke his finger during his last shift of Tuesday’s game and will miss 2-3 weeks, now is an especially important time for the rest of the D-corps to rediscover its confidence. Joe Morrow and David Warsofsky were called up from Providence on Wednesday and made the trip to Buffalo, and if they get into Wednesday’s game, they must be able to bridge the gap.
“We’ve all had opportunities to play with one another before in training camp and stuff, so there’s a little bit of familiarity there,” said Adam McQuaid. “So we need to focus on that which is positive and build on that.
“We were talking about how much depth we had, and we’re fortunate to have that. We know guys are capable of playing at this level, and I’m expecting guys to just do what they do best, and we’ll be fine.”
Injury Updates on Marchand, Miller
Forward Brad Marchand came off the ice early during Wednesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass. Afterward, Julien said Marchand had “tweaked” something, but the hope was that he would be able to play on Thursday at Buffalo.
After the optional morning skate, Julien reiterated those sentiments.
“He’s here, and our goal is to have him play tonight,” Julien said. “He took his option like everybody else, so I guess I’ll call it a game-time decision, if you want, because I can’t guarantee anything at this point.”
Julien also offered an update on the condition of defenseman Kevan Miller, who dislocated his right shoulder during a fight with Nicolas Deslauriers when the B’s last visited Buffalo on Oct. 18.
“He’s improving,” Julien said. “I can’t tell you when he’s going to be back because I don’t know. But he’s improving, and I think right now, if we gauge ourselves by what we were told, I think he’s on track.”
Julien added that Miller is scheduled to begin skating again on Monday.
The Passing of Mayor Menino
The Bruins received the sad news during Thursday’s morning skate that longtime Boston Mayor Tom Menino passed away at the age of 71.
Bruins principal Charlie Jacobs and President Cam Neely issued statements on Menino’s passing, and after the skate, Julien offered a reflection on the mayor’s legacy.
“I got an opportunity to meet him when we went to the White House as a team [in 2012], and certainly, I think, when you look back at the history of Mayor Menino — which I like to do when I live in the city — I even remember as a player coming to Boston, and the transformation of that city since he’s been around has been unbelievable,” Julien said. “All the things he’s done to transform he city to what it is today, and a real nice gentleman. I had a real good chat with him at the White House, and I think, as a guy who has been around for that long, he was so respected by the people of Boston.
“So no doubt he’ll be missed, and I think he deserves a lot of accolades for what he’s done [for] the City of Boston, no doubt.”
Projected Lineup vs. Sabres**
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Seth Griffith
Chris Kelly - Patrice Bergeron - Simon Gagne
Brad Marchand - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Reilly Smith
Dennis Seidenberg - Dougie Hamilton
Matt Bartkowski - Adam McQuaid
David Warsofsky - Zach Trotman
Goaltender: Niklas Svedberg
**Projected lineup based on Wednesday's practice lineup