The Boston Bruins have been playing mediocre hockey for the better part of a month, but their most recent game fell far below that description.
A dismal result may be just what they needed.
Coach Claude Julien hopes his team has gotten a wake-up call in time for Saturday's matinée against the Nashville Predators, who visit Boston looking to bounce back from their own subpar performance.
Another loss Wednesday was nothing new for the Bruins, who are 5-6-1 over the past four weeks. But the way this one - a 6-0 drubbing at Buffalo - was delivered may have gotten the attention of the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Julien held one of his tougher, more physical practices of the season Thursday, hoping to give his team a jolt following its most lopsided defeat in nearly four years.
"I think that's certainly the start to what should be a wake-up call," the coach said. "Obviously our guys have enough character in there. Just because you're going through a tough time doesn't mean you second-guess your team. We certainly don't. Everybody in that room cares. Right now it's about righting the ship with some better play from everybody."
Boston (33-17-2) still has a comfortable lead in the Northeast Division, but Nashville (32-18-5) has a much tougher task if it hopes to capture the Central.
The Predators, chasing Detroit and St. Louis, have dropped three of four since a 13-2-0 surge. They never led in Thursday night's 4-3 loss at Ottawa.
"We didn't play well at all," said center Mike Fisher, who was held without a goal after scoring seven in his previous six games. Linemate Martin Erat remained hot with a goal and an assist, giving him 19 points in his last 15 games.
Pekka Rinne has allowed seven goals while losing back-to-back starts following a personal 11-game winning streak, and Nashville is struggling to kill penalties. Opponents are 5 for 13 on the power play since the All-Star break after the Senators went 2 for 6.
That hasn't affected the Bruins' respect for the Predators' defense - especially defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, who bring a shutdown element similar to Boston's Zdeno Chara.
"They're both top-notch Ds, and they play together a lot," Julien said. "That's where you rely on your depth as a team. If they're going to shut down certain players, then other players have to step up and do their share. This is something that we do a lot to other teams, and this is one team capable of doing it to others as well."
Perhaps in part because Nathan Horton remains out with a concussion, the Bruins haven't had much scoring depth lately. With the line of Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand generating the bulk of the chances, the club has two shutout defeats and a 2-1 loss in its last four contests.
It likely won't be easy to score on Rinne, who has won both of his previous starts against Boston. Rinne was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season before Boston's Tim Thomas claimed the award.
The Bruins are 2-4-0 since Thomas skipped the team's White House visit, and their netminder continues to get attention for political statements on his Facebook page. He deflected repeated questions about the topic this week.
"That's my personal life, it has absolutely nothing to do with the Bruins or hockey," Thomas said. "I'm going to use my right to remain silent."
- Boston Bruins
- Nashville Predators
- Claude Julien