The Bruins came into the Bell Centre riding a hot streak. They were 3-0-1 in their last four games, and 6-2-1 in their last nine. But the Canadiens officially own the Boston Bruins, acquiring them lock stock and barrel from Jeremy Jacobs for $100 (Canadian) just before the season started.
The Montreal Canadiens continued their utter domination of the Bruins, winning their 10th straight against Boston. Montreal got on the board 0:14 into the game, scoring their first of four opening period goals against Alex Auld. Seven different Canadiens scored goals, and thirteen players had at least one point in Montreal’s 8-2 thrashing. Montreal has outscored Boston 32-12 in their six meetings this season.
After watching this game, one may think it was lost in the first period. This is wrong. The game was lost much earlier, at the morning skate when Alex Auld led the Bruins onto the ice as the starting goalie for the game later that night.
Why was backup Alex Auld starting as opposed to All-Star and NHL Save Percentage leader Tim Thomas? That’s a good question. And I don’t think Bruins’ coach Claude Julien has a good answer. The last time these two teams squared off, Boston played with so much emotion that it seemed as if their lives depended on winning. This time around, Julien’s selection of Auld was almost as if he felt the game meant nothing. The Bruins need to make up their minds and decide how much they actually care about beating Montreal.
Montreal went ahead by two goals 3:12 into the 1st when Auld over-committed to a shot from the left hash marks, extending all but his toes outside the crease, which left a wide open net for Michael Ryder after he received a pass in the right slot.
Claude Julien then called his timeout in an effort to slow things down, and it appeared to work. A few minutes later, Phil Kessel got in on Huet, banged a shot off his pads, and Marco Sturm slammed in the rebound to make it a 2-1 game.
But Auld just wasn’t up to the task of keeping the game close. He allowed another easy goal to make it 3-1.
The game all but officially ended with 0:03 remaining in the 1st. Cristobal Huet had just made a brilliant save, denying the Bruins a chance to turn it into a 3-2 game going into the intermission. The Habs stormed up the ice. Maxim Lapierre embarrassed a poorly positioned Auld, and a potential 3-2 contest turned to a 4-1 blowout in a matter of moments.
Auld was pulled in between periods. He saw seven shots and stopped three of them. Since his impressive debut with the Bruins, Auld has regressed to his mean of below average goaltending.
After that, the only Boston player on the ice giving a constant and concerted effort was Tim Thomas. Bryan Smolinski scored Montreal’s 5th goal after a statuesque Zdeno Chara allowed a puck to bounce around his legs in the crease.
Mike Komisarek scored the 6th goal as the Bruins defense stood back and watched in an unchallenging umbrella type of penalty kill defense. The problem was that Montreal wasn’t on a power play. Huet made a few nifty stops on high slot opportunities by Marco Sturm and Glen Metropolit, but these goals would have done nothing except make the score a bit more dignified for the Bruins.
To Tim Thomas’ credit, although he allowed four additional goals, he played very well, making some tough stops as his defense played at half speed. Had he not brought his A game, the Canadiens would have put up at least 12.
Boston’s inability to beat Montreal is seriously holding them back. At the moment, the Bruins uneasily sit 8th in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Rangers for the final playoff spot. This season, the Bruins have earned 53 points in 48 games, or 1.10 points per game. In the 42 games they’ve played against teams not from Quebec, they’ve earned the same 53 points, or 1.26 points per game. This rate multiplied by 48 games results in 60.6. Only one team in the East (Ottawa) has more than 60 points. That’s how much Montreal has affected the Bruins this year.
But let’s think positively here. The Bruins host the Islanders on Thursday, and could go into the All-Star break in 8th place. This is nothing to sneeze at. Patrice Bergeron is apparently out for the year, Thomas missed a few weeks, Glen Murray’s hip has caused him to miss time just as he was heating up, ace penalty killer P.J. Axelsson has been out; yet the team is still chugging along at a respectable pace. The Bruins have had 189 games missed due to injury. They only had 162 missed last season.
One bright spot to emerge as of late has been the Kid Line, consisting of Vladimir Sobotka (20 years old), David Krejci (21), and Pascal Pelletier (24). Over the past 10 games, this line has probably been Boston’s most consistent line.
The Bruins will also be sending three players to the All-Star Game. Chara will be starting at defense, Marc Savard will be making the trip to Atlanta, and Tim Thomas was recently named to the Eastern team as the replacement for Martin Brodeur.
Hopefully the Bruins can take some lessons out of Montreal. Hopefully Claude Julien will only start Alex Auld when Thomas needs a break. Hopefully the Bruins can at least force overtime and get a point in one of their remaining two games against Montreal. They have until late March to figure these guys out.
Sources: Versus, BostonBruins.com, ESPN.com, NHL.com
Photos: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson