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Slump becomes pressing matter.

Byline: Rich Garven


BOSTON - It was not, needless to say, a good week for the Bruins.

Six days, three games and two opponents added up to three sometimes troubling and increasingly frustrating defeats, the latest being a 2-1 setback to the Ottawa Senators yesterday at TD Garden.

Those would be the same Senators who have ripped off six consecutive wins, including a 5-1 romp here Monday, while climbing the points ladder in the Eastern Conference. As for the Bruins, they're officially in a parachute-less freefall.

The battered B's are in a 1-6-1 tailspin and have dropped five straight at home for the first time in 10 years. After last night's games, they are ninth in the conference playoff race.

As a reminder, only the top eight teams are granted admission to Lord Stanley's tournament.

There are, as one would expect, no lack of opinions on what ails this club - chief among them a lack of confidence.

"Well, I mean it's kind of normal that it's not there when you're going through these kind of losing streaks," coach Claude Julien responded. "But it doesn't excuse the fact that you got to play better. Tonight wasn't good enough. I'm not going to make excuses here, we just have to play better."

The Bruins actually didn't play badly yesterday, and they certainly put forth a better effort than during Monday's meltdown against Ottawa.

Goalie Tim Thomas was Vezina worthy while turning aside half a dozen shots, most of them on his doorstep, during Ottawa's only power play, in the first period. But he got beat between the pads by Daniel Alfredsson with 6 seconds left in the first and surrendered the winner on a long - and stoppable - shot by Jason Spezza with 3:21 left in the second.

"You hope as a goalie that one of these days you can steal a game for them and help them to get confidence," Thomas said after making 21 saves.

The Bruins countered with a second-period score by Daniel Paille, who is, at the moment, the team's most dangerous offensive threat with four points in the last five games. Not exactly what you're looking for on a club with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler among others.

The Bruins have been held to two goals or less in six of their last eight games. Getting their motors going might help generate some offense.

But the team's marketing slogan this season, "Big and Bad are Back," leaves it open to charges of false advertising at the moment.

"The effort is there, but it doesn't seem like we are having any emotion right now," Paille said. "One thing we're not doing is hitting. I know from the past, this team is all about intimidation and hitting, but right now we're not really playing that way, and I think it is something that we need to do and show a little bit more emotion."

That emotionless motion was seconded by Julien.

"You play with emotion, you play with attitude, you play with a lot of things, and you've got to find that if you want to really turn the corner," the increasingly irritable B's boss said.

The Bruins did get off 33 shots yesterday and held a 13-2 edge in that department over the final 20 minutes, although one problem was a lack of second-chance opportunities. Those are the gritty kind generated when players fight their way through traffic to the net.

And while the Bruins were credited with 25 hits (to Ottawa's 19), few of them brought the diehards out of their yellow seats - of which there were many empty ones. The lack of oomph is also reflected in the lack of power-play opportunities as of late.

The Bruins' opponents have drawn two or less penalties in seven straight games. Whistle-swallowing refs are easy to blame, but the fact is the Bruins haven't done enough to put their opponents in the kind of retaliatory or comprising positions that lead to tripping, hooking and slashing calls.

Making matters worse, the B's haven't converted one of their meager 12 penalty-play situations during that span.

The Bruins aren't pressing the issue physically. They are, however, on the verge of folding because they're pressing mentally.

"That's just the nature of it," captain Zdeno Chara said. "You want to make it happen, you want to score goals, you don't want to be losing, and then you're pushing, pushing, pushing, and sometimes when you push even harder, it's actually working the other way.

"We just have to relax. We have to relax and find what we know is in there."

The Bruins will undoubtedly continue to dig for answers. Trouble is, they might not like what they find.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 24, 2010
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