The truth is, the reason the Bruins have been so much stronger on the road than they are at home remains a mystery.
“I don’t know what term to use, but it’s disappointing, to say the least,” Julien said following Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. “We definitely need to be better at home.”
On the road, the Bruins are one team. They play a simple game, they play for a full 60 minutes and they are consistent. Their record away from the Garden reflects that at 14-5-3.
At home, however, the Bruins are a Jekyll and Hyde team, strong one night and all over the place the next. Their 10-12-2 record on Garden ice reflects that as well.
“I think we’ve established our away record, but we’ve got to definitely improve our homestand,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “It’s not good enough right now. We all know that on the road we, for whatever reason, play full 60-minute games, and at home, we have trouble maintaining that. So that’s got to be definitely one area that we have to improve, and it starts with all the little things — winning faceoffs, changes, you name it. We’ve got to improve our whole 60-minute game and respect the gameplan.”
The Bruins don’t know why exactly they can play the way they want to play when they’re on the road but not at home. They refuse to chalk it down to distractions that exist on the homefront.
“I say no to that because it wasn’t a distraction the year before, and the year before that,” Julien reasoned. “So probably a little bit more of a mindset right now. We’re very confident on the road, and we need to get that confidence and that determination at home. Simple as that.”
The Bruins have made it clear that when they are a team that plays with confidence, they are capable of beating anyone else in this league. For some reason, though, that confidence seems intermittent when they’re on home ice.
As soon as they hit the road, it comes back. But why can’t they hold on to it once they return to familiar territory?
“I think it’s just a part of the process,” Chara said. “I think it’s part of maturing as a team and trying to figure it out sooner than later. It’s one of those things that you go through ups and downs in the season, and it’s been obviously an issue that we’ve had the first half of the season.
“When you’re at home, you have other things to do besides practicing, but I think that’s part of being a professional. You have to separate those things, and when you come to the rink, you have to be ready to play, perform and work hard, and put all those other things on the side.”
Back on the Horse
The Bruins will get another opportunity to redeem themselves at home when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit them on Saturday night.
In the aftermath of Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver, there was plenty for the B’s to tune up in preparation for their next game. And the No. 1 thing it boils down to is better puck management, which Boston didn’t necessarily have against the Canucks.
The Bruins were good in stretches — particularly in the early going — but they couldn’t sustain that level of play, particularly after the Canucks struck early in the first frame. They didn’t play with confidence, and they didn’t stick to the gameplan.
That, Chara said, is never a recipe for success for this team.
“You have to control the puck,” he said. “I think that last night, we had a great start. We put a lot of pressure on them; we just somehow got away from, again, respecting the gameplan, and we were chasing pretty much the score —a one-goal deficit — the whole game. And then once we evened the game, they were able to score a quick one again.”
The Bruins were resilient — they can, at least, say that. They rebounded from two one-goal deficits, once in the second period and once in the third, but after Daniel Sedin provided the final dagger with a little less than 13 minutes remaining in regulation, the Bruins were out of answers.
The Bruins’ play on Thursday was in stark contrast to the way they played in the three games prior, when they strung together three consecutive wins over Buffalo, Toronto and Montreal.
“We were keeping it simple [during the winning streak],” said defenseman Zach Trotman. “We were getting pucks deep, and we were establishing our forecheck. We got away from that a little bit last night. That’s one of the big pieces of consistency that we have to stick to in order to win games.”
Winning games will be particularly important in the final three contests before the All-Star Break, which begins on Jan. 28. The Bruins have an opportunity in the next week to seize some much-needed points in a division where the top four teams are separated by a mere four points.
“I don’t know how much separation we can get because everything’s pretty tight, but we definitely have a chance to move up here, and for our team, I think that would be a big momentum boost going into the All-Star Break,” Trotman said. “It would be good to leave on a good note like that.”
As significant as every loss is in the standings, every win is equally significant. If the Bruins want to hang on to their precarious position in the standings, they are going to have to keep winning, especially as the teams surrounding them continue to win.
“We should just look at the situation that every team’s in right now in our division: It’s all tight,” Julien said. “Every loss hurts a lot, and every win is a big win. But at the same time, it seems hard to move up when the other teams around you are winning as well. So that’s where the margin is very thin, and we have to live with that.”
It will be a lot easier to live with if the wins keep coming, and the B’s know that. And instead of getting rattled by the implications a single loss might bring, they are choosing to be motivated by the current playoff picture.
And that makes for better hockey — for everyone involved.
“I think everyone in this league and everyone on this team knows you can’t play with the pressure or whatever,” Trotman said. “It’s something that motivates you, something that keeps you going every night. So if anything, it just makes the games tighter. You have to be on your toes at all times, and I don’t think anyone’s really negatively affected by pressure at this point anymore.
“I think it just makes your games a little more intense.”
Sick Day for Beleskey
Forward Matt Beleskey was the only Bruin not on the ice for Friday’s practice, and after the skate, Julien indicated he was feeling a bit “under the weather” and was sent home from Ristuccia.
As a result, Ryan Spooner shifted to left wing on David Krejci’s line, with Loui Eriksson on the right side.
Happy for Piesy
On Friday, Julien had some kind words for former Bruin Daniel Paille, who signed a contract with the New York Rangers on Thursday after spending 31 games this season with Chicago’s AHL affiliate.
“You’re always happy for players that you’ve had, and he brought us some good years here,” Julien said. “He was part of that Stanley Cup run that we had, so absolutely — when you see a player like that get an opportunity somewhere, you’re happy for him.”
Friday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Ryan Spooner, David Krejci, Loui Eriksson
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Landon Ferraro
Gray Jerseys: Brett Connolly, Joonas Kemppainen, Jimmy Hayes, David Pastrnak
Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Tyler Randell
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson