BRIGHTON, MA – Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery insisted several times on Monday that the B’s would have won last weekend’s game against the Washington Capitals if it was played a month ago.
There wasn’t a doubt in the B’s bench boss’ mind that the 2-1 loss to the Capitals, where the Bruins started slowly and didn’t have an extra gear in the final period, was about teams like Washington beginning to elevate their game as the league enters the final few months of the regular season.
A team like the Caps is playing for their very playoff existence right now with Washington, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers all slugging it out for just two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference.
Coming off a stretch where they hadn’t played a game in 10 days over the NHL All-Star break and their bye week, the Bruins were reactive rather than proactive with their play. They were passing up quality shooting chances, retaliating to the Capitals upping the physical play and generally not being the aggressor out of the starting gate.
— Capitals Replays (@capsreplays) February 11, 2023
It’s something Montgomery took note of in Saturday’s game and didn’t expect to see become a pattern given Boston’s body of work this entire season.
“In general, I did not like the way our team responded to the physicality of Washington,” said Montgomery, who was initially responding to a question about the low ice time total for Jakub Lauko and the fourth line in the loss to the Capitals. “All year we’ve been a close-knit group and we’ve backed each other up. All year when we’ve been pushed, we push back. We usually are a team that initiates and doesn’t retaliate.
“I thought our team was in a retaliatory mood. We weren’t initiating. The temperature around the league has gone up. There are teams that are desperate. I don’t think it was just the last time, but the last game is the one that bothers me the most. Before break, people were playing with more desperation than us. I think the game on Saturday we win a month ago, but teams have upped their intensity because they have more desperation and they have more on the line.”
It all begs the question as to how the Boston Bruins manufacture that kind of fighting-for-your-life intensity when they wield an 11-point advantage in the Atlantic Division, and a seven point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes for the President’s Trophy and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
That commanding cushion stands even after the B’s lost four of their last five games coming in and out of their break.
“We need to realize that we have more on the line and we need to match that [intensity] so that we can keep having success right now. You can’t just go from average temperature with intensity, desperation and urgency and then go into the playoffs. We need to catch up to the rest of the league there,” said Montgomery. “This group, every time we’ve addressed an issue then they go out and rectify it. So I have confidence that they are going to raise their temperature.
“It’s the daily habits of how we play where offensively it’s getting to the hard areas and defensively making teams earn every foot against us. It’s just getting back to the way we play. There’s a reason why we were having the success we were having, and I think it’s because our temperature was higher than others as far as playing as five guys together. We’ve lost that a little bit and we need to get it back consistently.”
While it’s not the end of the world to lose four out of five games during a stretch against all playoff caliber teams with circumstances like midseason breaks also thrown into the mix, the veteran Boston Bruins players realize the specific time it is in the regular season and the “attitude” adjustment that needs to be made.
“You could see it right from the drop of the puck with that last game against Washington. I think they kind of caught us a little bit with their intensity level and we just have to realize that is what it’s going to be every night,” admitted Brad Marchand. “We can’t wait for other teams to show what they’re going to bring. We need to have that internal compete and he’s trying to bring that out in practice right now. He’s bringing a lot of high intensity drills and battle drills and that is really good for the group and will prepare us for playoffs.
“But it’s tough to win in this league, hard to do it consistently and even harder when it comes to playoff time. If we want to get used to that it needs to start now that the temperature is rising, and we need to take it to another level. Teams that are typically able to do that will go on a good, long run and that’s what we need to do.”
It’s great that the Boston Bruins are recognizing it and addressing it internally, but something like that is easier said than done when rectifying it as the NHL’s front-runner. That kind of cushion can breed complacency in the NHL’s best teams as it’s done in the past, and it will be up to the Black and Gold to back it up with actions on the ice to meet the league’s rising temperature readings.