Bruins say their heads are in game

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins haven't looked like the defending Stanley Cup champions for some time now, and while other teams in the Eastern Conference have found their games and are gaining on them in the standings, the Bruins appear to be in cruise mode waiting for the playoffs.

While alternate captain Chris Kelly knows that's how it looks to the media and fans, he stressed Wednesday that is not the case and that the Bruins are trying to maximize their game now.

"It's tough because I understand that it probably looks that way from up top," Kelly acknowledged. "But it's not lack of effort or lack of will. It's more right now lack of execution.

"I think collectively as a group, we wanted to go out there and have our best game [Tuesday] but obviously that wasn't the case. I think we played average at best and we got away from the things that have made us successful in the past. I think we're trying to find that again."

Kelly said that no one on the Bruins, himself included, should think they can just turn the switch on.

"It's a cliché and you've heard it before, but it's not an on/off switch where you can think, we'll turn it on come playoff time, we have before and it will happen again. It's not the case," Kelly said.

"Every year is a different year and I think that now that the trade deadline has come and gone and that so-called distraction is over, I think that this is our team and I like our team. I like it a lot and we have a great opportunity to do well. It's just going out there and executing."

Following the Bruins' 1-0 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night, coach Claude Julien cited the fact that his team was coming off a six-game road trip as a reason it came out so flat in the first two periods. He even said he and his staff expected it.

"I think we kind of anticipated as a coaching staff that it would be a challenge before the game and that was the case," Julien said. "That happens every time and you wish you had the answers to modify that so it wouldn't happen, but it does. Those first two periods were really painful to watch and to see, and our guys just didn't have any legs."

But while the kid gloves were on Tuesday night, Julien put his team through a lengthy and grueling practice Wednesday, sending the message that there will be no more mulligans from the coach and no more protection from the media. Julien even warned that with the recent additions of forward Brian Rolston and defensemen Mike Mottau and Greg Zanon, he now has the depth to take anyone out of the lineup should their play slip.

"If guys are not playing as well as they should be, then we've got some options to put other players in," Julien said. "Everyone's been put on notice as far as that is concerned. There's competition. We've got to do what's best for the team. It's up to everybody to compete for their jobs and try to stay in the lineup."

Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said even though Julien expected the Bruins might stumble out of the gate against Ottawa, that doesn't make it acceptable.

"We all know how we played and even though he said he kind of expected that, we don't want to prove him right, we want to prove him wrong and we just didn't do it," Seidenberg said. "Everybody says that it's tough to come home after a long road trip and we just have to be better in those situations."

Seidenberg believes the Bruins need to regain their focus and approach each game better mentally.

"It's a mindset," Seidenberg said. "Everybody says after a long road trip it's the toughest game to come back. But if we knew that, we should have come out a whole lot different than what we did in the first two periods. We just came out sluggish and with no energy. Coming out and putting 17 shots on net in the third shows that we weren't ready, but we all want to be ready and sometimes it just doesn't reflect on the ice."

At the end of his post-practice meeting with reporters, Julien was told that his players seemed to realize the urgency they must play with going forward.

"That's basically what I told them, so at least they were listening. There's that much going our way," Julien said before exiting.

It's now up to the players to execute and apply that on the ice.

"The next 34 days are huge. Usually we respond well to challenges, so I'm hoping we do," Seidenberg said. "We pride ourselves on rising to the occasion and we need to starting [Thursday] against New Jersey."

James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.