By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON — The Bruins knew they would hit some adversity this season after the wins, and points, piled up fast and furiously in the opening months of the season.
Well, that extended midseason slump has definitely arrived, and it continued on Saturday afternoon with a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden.
The loss to the Oilers was certainly disappointing as the secondary offense continues to sputter, and a flu-plagued Bruins group didn’t have the usual energy or competitiveness to muster a strong final kick once they fell behind in the second half of the game.
As of late, the Bruins have had enough juice to at least squeeze the “loser point” out of their myriad shootout and overtime losses, but they weren’t even close against an Edmonton group experiencing their own problems as of late.
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The Bruins have now won just four times in their last 15 games spanning the last month of play and a divisional lead that was once in the 15-point range is now down to just six points over a Toronto Maple Leafs team that’s been streaking (9-0-1 in their last 10 games) since they fired Mike Babcock.
The experienced B’s leadership group knows they are going through the winter doldrums right now and that the only way to get out of it is by working harder, believing in each other and paying much closer attention to detail.
“I think we stick with the game plan and trust what we have in here. The season is long. We knew we were going to go through some rough patch at some point this year and seems like we are in it right now," said David Krejci. "We just need to keep working in practices and go back to the little details. Maybe a little bit. But we just need to believe in each other.
“We know we have a good team. We know we can come back in any game in the third period if we’re down. But we’re just in the middle of it now, so just keep your head up, keep working hard and things should turn the other way.”
Certainly, it’s going to take more than good, old-fashioned work ethic for things to get better for the Bruins. There is a problem with consistent offense from anything beyond the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, and even those three are far too reliant on the power play for their offensive production.
The Bruins are averaging 2.6 goals per game over the last 15 games — well below their season average of 3.3 goals per game — and that’s what it really comes down to for a team that’s lost its margin of error.
With all due respect to Krejci, the Bruins are learning that they’re going to come up short offensively if they keep relying on players like Par Lindholm, Brett Ritchie, David Backes, Karson Kuhlman or even Heinen or Charlie Coyle to chip in at a top-6 scoring level.
They need some scoring help outside the organization to truly make themselves into a more dangerous attack, and that comes down to Don Sweeney finding a way to assist a club that’s spinning its wheels offensively right now.
Last season, Marcus Johansson was a missing piece at the trade deadline who helped them get to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Bruins are going to need another hired gun like that to enhance them offensively again this season.
Maybe it’s Chris Kreider from the Rangers, or Tyler Toffoli from the L.A. Kings, or Kyle Palmieri from the New Jersey Devils, but it’s clear the B’s need them sooner rather than later — no matter who they end up being.
“We know the goals aren’t coming easily, so you know it’s gonna be, every goal matters. I think that’s in everybody’s head. It’s just the stretch we’re in right now,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You go through the opposite where nothing seems to faze you, and we went through that and came back every night it seemed in this building for a stretch. Right now, we’ve got to find a balance where we get the lead and play the right way, protect the lead. I think that’s how we play our best hockey.”
Key young veterans like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly haven’t been consistently good for the Bruins this season, and they need to elevate their level of play if the Bruins hope to rip off the kind of winning streak that came easily to them in October and November.
The bottom line with the Bruins: They probably weren’t as good as they looked when they were blowing teams away and running out to a double-digit lead in the division back in the first two months of the season, and they certainly aren’t as bad they’ve been while losing to just about everybody over the last month of hockey either.
The Bruins still have a six-point lead on the division and they will be a playoff team regardless of how bad things get over the next few months, but their cushion is officially gone with the Maple Leafs and Lightning closing on them.
It’s time for the B’s to start playing with a little urgency and shake off the Christmas hangover that’s been dulling their overall game for the last month.