BOSTON -- The success of the Boston Bruins is built on defense.
When that defense falters, as it has in the first four games of the season, wins will be tough to accumulate. That was the case again Monday when the Colorado Avalanche took advantage of a last-second defensive breakdown and scored with just 0.4 seconds remaining in regulation to post a stunning 2-1 win at TD Garden.
After a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the season opener, the Bruins have lost three in a row and have been outscored 8-2.
“A lot of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot by making bad decisions. We’re just not playing the way we usually do,” Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “But today I think we had a good game. We had a few hiccups here and there, but overall everybody worked hard and we played a decent game.”
It was an improvement over Saturday’s embarrassing 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals, but more defensive breakdowns led to Boston’s demise on Monday.
In final seconds, Colorado gained control of the puck after Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda took a shot from the left point. Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski was too high in the slot, covering Colorado’s Alex Tanguay. Meanwhile, the Avalanche had two players low, including forward Daniel Briere, who created a net-front presence, screening goalie Niklas Svedberg.
Hejda’s shot got through and Svedberg made the initial save, but with Bartkowski out of position, Briere jumped on the rebound and scored the winning goal. Seidenberg had his man covered on the off post, but Bartkowski was caught out of position.
“I didn’t see the guy behind me, so I just got too high and they got a shot through, and what happens, happens,” Bartkowski said. “I should have been lower there.”
“Everyone has a task to be in position, to be with their guy and it was just a scrambly play and blown coverage, and they scored,” Seidenberg said.
Even with the clock winding down, Briere had plenty of time to knock in the rebound becasue no one was covering him.
“It’s certainly a good feeling to find a loose puck like that late in the game and get a big win, especially after that start that we had,” Briere said. “It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster to start the season, but we are hoping this game will get us on our way.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien is satisfied with the team limiting the opposition’s quality scoring chances to start the season, but the number of mistakes the team is making in the defensive end is alarming.
“It’s not as bad as maybe it looks,” Julien said. “It’s just that the mistakes we’re making right now, a lot of them end up in the back of the net. So it’s not the amount, it’s the type of mistakes that we’re making that’s got to be better. On that last goal, there’s no time left, you can’t lose track of somebody behind you. We did, so it’s in our net.”
After Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli traded veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders at the conclusion of training camp, everyone wondered how it would affect Boston’s blue line. Due to salary-cap constraints, Chiarelli gambled on the team’s defensive depth and moved Boychuk.
The early returns haven’t been good and the Bruins players are noticing.
“I think it’s a matter of confidence right now,” Seidenberg said. “It’s just us believing in ourselves that we can win hockey games. Right now we’re kind of gripping our sticks a little tight and that’s not the way you want to start, but I think we played a good game today and we have to take that positive out of it and build on that.”
Even though Bartkowski blew his coverage, he agreed with Seidenberg’s assessment of the team’s overall defensive play to start the season.
“I kind of agree with him there,” Bartkowski said. “We’re known to be a pretty steady defensive team, so when we’re losing games like this -- one-goal games where we normally win -- maybe we do tighten up a little bit.”
The Bruins uncharacteristically are losing puck battles in the corners and along the walls in the defensive zone.
Since Bartkowski, who was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season, was in the lineup for the first time, fellow defenseman Kevan Miller watched from media level.
“I felt all right,” Bartkowski said. “Minor adjustments need to be made, that’s about it.”
If those so-called minor adjustments are made, it shouldn’t take long for defensive partners to click.
“It’s pretty easy playing with [Seidenberg], so it just kind of depends on the guy. All the D [players] here are easy to play with, especially being here this long, you know their tendencies, so it’s a little easier,” Bartkowski said.
“I think it was all right,” Seidenberg said of his comfort level with Bartkowski. “It was a decent game. It could have been better, yes. Overall, I think we played a strong game.”
As tough as a three-game losing skid is this early in the season, Svedberg did a solid job in his first start of the season -- and only his second career NHL game. He made 28 saves, including a few timely stops, but he was left to fend for himself on Colorado’s winning goal.
“He played good,” Seidenberg said. “He kept us in the game, made great saves, but we just didn’t help him out in the end.”