There have been ups — the win at Brooklyn, the win over Detroit, and of course, Thursday night’s 4-2 victory over Minnesota — but surrounding all of those ups have also been downs. There was the late-game collapse at Montreal. There was the blown lead versus Colorado. There was the run-and-gun loss to the Sharks.
Following Thursday night’s decisive win over the Wild, therefore, the Bruins’ mission is simple: Keep it going.
“For us as a group, we’ve been able to respond, obviously, after losses,” said defenseman Torey Krug following Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “Then after wins, for whatever reason, we kind of have an emotional letdown and all of a sudden, teams come into our rink and they take two points from us.
“The question becomes, how do we respond to that? This group — we have to grow and we have to learn, and I think what we’ve gone through so far has definitely been tough, but we’ll see how we respond [Saturday]. We have a group that’s paying attention to that, and we’ll take it from there.”
Just over a week ago, the Bruins began this five-game homestand with just a single home victory to their names. Four games later, they have added two more to that total, but to them, it is still not enough. They know they need to make their own building a difficult place for opponents to play — not just occasionally, but on any given night.
“It’s about keeping consistency, and obviously preparation,” said forward Brett Connolly. “I think you’ve got to prepare every game the same way, and prepare to obviously go to war and go to battle. That’s just one of the things we’re finding here: If we can consistently show up for games and be ready to go, consistently put in a full 60-minute effort, then we’re going to win more games than we lose.
“We’ve got enough scoring and firepower on the team right now to win games, and it’s just a matter of keeping pucks out of our net and playing stingy defensively and playing for one another. If we can do those things, we should be fine and win more games, like I said.”
For Boston, the next several games will be all about consistency. Can they consistently focus for a full 60? Can they consistently stick to the system? Can they consistently get the offense, the defense and the goaltending clicking at the same time?
Saturday will be the Bruins’ first opportunity to prove that they can.
“We’ve scored a lot of goals now for a while, and I think sometimes, maybe guys get caught up in the scoring goals part of the game, but we realize that our offense comes from playing good defense and playing solid in our own end, and all of a sudden, we get chances going the other way,” Krug said. “So sometimes, it does need to be reinforced, and we were able to come back from letting up five goals against San Jose and knocking it down to two against Minnesota, who’s a talented offensive team.
“We have to keep reinforcing that, and you can’t keep taking one game off in between. We’ve got to keep it going.”
It may be only November, but at this stage, the Bruins are already looking at the standings — not necessarily because of the Thanksgiving benchmark often used to predict the playoff picture, but simply because of the recent past.
Last year, some of Boston’s early-season collapses came back to haunt them in April, when they missed the playoffs by two points.
“There is a sense of urgency because last year, we faced it where we were letting points slip away early on, and it came back to bite us at the end of the season, when we were missing those points,” Krug said. “We understand every game’s important, whether it’s Game 1 or Game 82. We know the points matter, and for us, it’s about having that sense of urgency to respond after a win and hopefully put a couple together.”
Next Up: Leafs
Prior to Thursday’s game against Minnesota, Julien said that no team in the NHL can afford to take any other team lightly. Any team can win on any given night, and it doesn’t do you any favors to relax because of what you see in the standings.
As of now, the Maple Leafs are in last place in the Atlantic Division. But they are a mere three points behind the Bruins. Just three points separate the No. 5 team from the No. 8 team.
Suddenly, Saturday’s matchup — and the rematch that will occur two days later, in Toronto — look all the more significant.
“If they’re going to work their way up, these are games you have to win,” Julien said. “If we’re going to work our way up into the playoff position, these are the games we have to win. How important are those games to both teams? I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s extremely important.”
And despite the story told by the standings, the Bruins certainly aren’t underestimating Toronto. The Leafs have won four of their last five. Two of those wins came on the road against the high-octane Stars and the Predators. Toronto’s goaltending is beginning to stabilize.
Suddenly, the Leafs are looking pretty good, and the Bruins know it.
“We’re definitely not taking them lightly,” Connolly said. “They’ve got a good team. You look at their lineup, they’ve got some good players. Toronto-Boston is going to be a good game. It’s going to be a good energy in the building, so you can’t take them lightly. I don’t think anybody here is taking them lightly.
“They’re only a few points behind us, so it’s going to be a hard game. They’re going to come hard, and they’ve been playing some good hockey as of late, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”
In the immediate math of Thursday’s win, the Bruins had already moved on. They were already thinking about the preparation required to turn one win into two in a row. A single win was not enough to pacify this team, and that must continue to be the case in order to ensure this season has a happy ending.
“The biggest thing is taking it one game at a time, one day at a time,” said defenseman Zach Trotman. “When you start to kind of look ahead five, 10 games into the future is when you kind of start to get a little overwhelmed or maybe a little unfocused. I think [it’s] just taking it day to day now, and taking every game by itself, and then worry about the next day when it comes.”
Update on Vatrano + Morrow’s “New” Role
Forward Frank Vatrano left Thursday’s game against Minnesota in the second period after taking a hard hit into the boards. He left the ice favoring his shoulder and did not return. On Friday, Julien announced that Vatrano has been termed day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
That left Boston with just 11 forwards available for Friday’s practice. Enter Joe Morrow.
With defenseman Kevan Miller also dealing with an upper-body injury, Morrow remains the lone extra D on the active roster. Therefore, he was the natural choice to don a red sweater for Friday’s practice and try his hand at playing forward.
“It was fun; it was really fun,” Morrow said afterward. “Give me another practice or two, I’m probably comfortable enough — throw me in a game. No, I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t know what to do out there.
“It was fun, though, for practice — playing with different guys, get a different aspect of things, see how forwards see the game, and it was pretty cool.”
Morrow said he has never played forward — not ever. He has always been a defenseman. There was a time in junior when he was relied upon for occasional faceoff duties — an area in which he was “actually pretty good,” by his own estimation — but playing up front is completely new territory for him.
So new, in fact, that he tried to get some pointers from coaches prior to practice. Unfortunately, no one obliged.
“I even asked the coaches for some help and he just said, ‘It’s pretty easy,’ and kind of skated away,” Morrow joked. “I don’t know; maybe that was the plan, to just leave me out there and see how I did, but you had to use your brain to try to figure it out and watch everybody on the line before you. It was fun.
“The last thing I wanted to do was mess up the drill and be known as the guy that can’t figure out how to play forward.”
If it was any consolation, Juilen noted that the defenseman “didn’t look bad” in practice, skating on the fourth line alongside Zac Rinaldo and Tyler Randell. Julien indicated we probably won’t see Morrow suit up at forward in a game anytime soon — but if he is called upon, Morrow said he is more than willing to accept the challenge.
“If they needed it and I was the only guy available, I would 100 percent be fine with it,” Morrow said. “But I don’t know. It’s not up to me to decide.”
As he sat in his stall following practice, Morrow was somewhat astounded by how much more freedom he had as a forward — and how much help the back end really does provide.
“The biggest difference is that you have just a tad more leniency with the puck,” he said. “If you lose it, or you try and make a play and it doesn’t work out, you have somebody behind you. If you’re a defenseman and the only guy behind you is the goalie, I don’t think he’s going to be too impressed if you lose the puck.”
Maybe someday, he’ll get his shot at playing forward in game action. Until then, though, he’ll stick to keeping his defensive game sound.
Loui’s Biggest Strength
One day after Loui Eriksson notched the third hat trick of his career and his first since 2009, Julien was still perfectly willing to rave about the critical role Eriksson plays on this team.
Yes, Eriksson can score goals. He’s proven that. But often, his biggest asset is the fact that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make sure those pucks hit the back of the net, particularly on the power play, where he mans the front of the net.
“He’s just so smart,” Julien said. “You’ve got to be brave to get to the front of that net — that’s one thing about players. You’ve got to be brave. Those pucks are coming fast and hard, and that’s why goaltenders have that kind of equipment and not forwards. Bravery is certainly one of those things, and timing is the other.
“He really stood out for me the year before last at the Olympics, when he’s doing it for Team Sweden and had a guy like [Erik] Karlsson on the back end just loading up and shooting pucks; he never budged. It didn’t seem to faze him at all, and that’s when it really, I guess, got my attention as far as this guy can really do the job up front, and being a smart player, he’s able to move around.
“That’s been a big asset for our power play.”
Friday’s Practice Lineup
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand— Patrice Bergeron — Jimmy Hayes
White Jerseys: Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — Loui Eriksson
Gray Jerseys: Ryan Spooner — Joonas Kemppainen — Brett Connolly
Red Jerseys: Tyler Randell — Zac Rinaldo — Joe Morrow
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson