One version focuses for a full 60 minutes and tends to come away with victories. The other version has trouble maintaining that focus for a full game — particularly at home — and it costs them.
As Boston prepares to face Minnesota on Thursday night at TD Garden, Head Coach Claude Julien is hoping he will see Version No. 1 of his team come puck drop.
“I don’t think the guys have shown a real poor effort; we’ve been inconsistent with our game,” Julien said on Thursday morning. “Sometimes, when you don’t play well, it doesn’t look like you’re working hard; I think it’s just we need to work better. We need to make smarter decisions.”
Most of the mental mistakes Boston has made have come on defense — a bit surprising for a team that has traditionally prided itself on its play in its own end.
“I think we have to really get better with our game without the puck, which used to be our strength — there’s no doubt about that,” Julien said. “But right now, we’re giving up way too many goals.
“I think 60 minutes of better focus — this is the NHL, and there’s parity in the NHL, so I don’t think there’s any reason why we think we should walk all over certain teams. It’s always going to be a decent game. And when you say effort — sometimes an effort is, you have to backcheck a little harder to get there. But certainly, I don’t think our team has been lackadaisical; it’s been more about the defensive miscues that have really cost us.
“We’re scoring at a good pace; we’re just not defending really well right now.”
This year’s Bruins certainly have had no problem putting the puck in the back of the net — something they struggled with last season — but in their own end, their game is still coming around.
Part of it is simply being invested in every minute of every game, which can be a difficult feat during the course of an 82-game season. The playoffs seem so far away when you haven’t even reached Thanksgiving.
Still, there can be no excuses for the B’s as they approach Thursday’s game. That compete level simply must be there, night in and night out, whether there are 10 or 50 games left on the docket.
“You look at the standings, and you see that there’s teams ahead of us; you’ve got to continue to put yourself in that playoff spot,” said forward Jimmy Hayes. “People say it’s a really long season, but these are the games you look back at at the end of the year, and you’ve just got to continue to move forward and continue to get wins and put ourselves in a good position.”
The vast majority of the games the Bruins have won have either been won by a fairly large margin, or they have been low-scoring defensive battles. The common theme, obviously, is that the defense and the goaltending have been strong in all cases.
That, in essence, is the core of Boston’s long-standing game plan: strong defense and strong goaltending. That is what they have been missing in many of their losses, especially at the Garden.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot, but now, we’ve got to go out there and show it and prove that we can play 60 minutes,” Hayes said. “When we’ve done it, we’ve proven that we’re an effective team.”
K. Miller Out; C. Miller In
On Thursday morning, the team announced that defenseman Kevan Miller will miss Boston’s next four games and will not travel for an upcoming two-game road trip through Toronto and Detroit.
Miller sustained an upper-body injury during Tuesday’s loss to San Jose and remains day-to-day.
As per usual, it will be next man up for the Bruins.
“I still feel we’ve got enough depth there to fill that roster and still be a team without saying, you know, ‘He’s the reason why we’re not winning right now,’” Julien said. “I think it’s a lot more than that. So unfortunately, those [injuries] are part of the things that we face as players and as teams, and we’ll wait and see when [Miller] is available again.”
In this circumstance, Julien confirmed that the next man up will be Colin Miller, who has missed Boston’s last two games, initially with an undisclosed lower body injury.
On Thursday morning, Miller said he probably could have played on Tuesday against the Sharks but still respected the decision to hold him out of the lineup.
“It was kind of up to Claude what he wanted to do,” Miller said, “and that was fine. The team won the [game] before, there, so we’re going to try to keep it going. Hopefully, I can come in and help tonight.”
Miller entered this season with zero games of NHL experience and has shown marked improvement over the 14 games he has accumulated thus far with the Bruins. Julien made it clear that the 23-year-old has not been kept out of the lineup due to anything performance-related.
“This young player has been improving all the time,” Julien said. “It’s just the rotation of D’s right now, and he’s very deserving to be in there. He moves the puck, and he’s a guy that’s, to me, willing to get into the dirty areas of the ice with no hesitation. So he’s certainly improving as a young player.”
Taming the Wild
The Bruins may not have considerable experience facing the Wild, but entering Thursday night, they do feel prepared to contend with aWestern Conference foe that has gotten off to a good start in 2015-16.
“Obviously, we know they’re a great team and they’re playing well, but we’ve got to focus on ourselves and we’ve got to play our game — full 60 minutes and take it shift by shift,” Randell said. “Just pay attention to detail, be strong in the D zone, and we should be alright.”
The Wild currently sit in fifth place in the West with 23 points, and though they have dropped the last two games of this four-game road trip, the Bruins know they will still pose a challenge on Thursday.
The feeling is mutual among members of the Wild as they prepare to end their trip in Boston.
“The Bruins are a good team — I remember when I played in college here, I watched them really closely, and they have a lot of big bodies and a lot of skilled players as well,” said Wild defenseman and UMass-Lowell product Christian Folin. “So it’s going to be a fun game, and we’ll be ready for tonight.
“You obviously want to end on a good note and go back to Minnesota [happy], but we’re just going to try to focus on our game and play our style of hockey, and we’ll be fine.”
Kelly Addresses Media
Bruins Alternate Captain Chris Kelly spoke to the media on Thursday for the first time since sustaining a fractured femur on Nov. 3 against Dallas.
Kelly underwent surgery on Nov. 4 and was projected to require 6-8 months to recover. He met with his surgeon on Tuesday, had the staples in his leg removed and saw his X-rays, and all things considered, his recovery is progressing well. Kelly said he should be able to get on the bike next week.
“Obviously, everything runs through your mind when you get hurt, regardless of what stage in your career [you’re in] or how old you are,” Kelly said on Thursday. “I’ve just tried to handle it the way I’ve approached other injuries: I’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of me, which I don’t mind, and we’ll see what happens.
“I can’t predict the future; all I can do is worry about rehabbing and getting my leg to where it needs to be, and feeling good. I’m extremely confident that I’ll get there.”
You can read more about Kelly’s recovery here. http://bruins.nhl.com/club/blogpost.htm?id=42961&navid=DL|BOS|home
No Morning Skate — Again
In the last couple of weeks, the Bruins have held very few morning skates prior to home games, and the case was the same on Thursday. Only Randell, Joe Morrow, Tuukka Rask and Jonas Gustavsson took the ice.
“I like to go out there and get my legs going, and obviously, it’s good,” Randell said. “Some guys like to stay off and stretch out and rest for the game, but I went out there, got Gus some work, took some shots, worked with Mo and Tuukka. So it’s good to get out there. I like getting my legs going before a game.”
Gustavsson was the first goalie off the ice and is expected to start in net for the B’s on Thursday night, taking on Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk.
Projected Lineup Thursday vs. Minnesota
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Jimmy Hayes
Frank Vatrano — David Krejci — Loui Eriksson
Matt Beleskey — Ryan Spooner — Brett Connolly
Zac Rinaldo — Joonas Kemppainen — Tyler Randell
Zdeno Chara — Zach Trotman
Dennis Seidenberg — Colin Miller
Torey Krug — Adam McQuaid
Starting Goalie: Jonas Gustavsson // Backup: Tuukka Rask
Projected Scratches: Joe Morrow, Kevan Miller, David Pastrnak