Outside the slot, the Boston Bruins did everything they wanted in the first period of Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Montreal.
The Spoked Ones caught the well-traveled Canadiens on their heels early, accruing so much possession that Nate Newton’s impressed they aren’t due for jail time.
But the time in the offensive zone was almost all for naught. The Bruins scored just once in the first, and that came clean off Montreal center Tomas Plekanec’s stick on a faceoff.
Chances weren’t lacking. Repeatedly, the Bruins forced the puck toward the Hab net. Seemingly every time they did, the puck reacted like one positive magnet running into another, with the same-sided counterpart placed in the blade of each Bruin stick.
The Black and Gold kept the puck below the Habs’ blue line for nearly all of the game’s first two minutes. At the 1:50 mark, Milan Lucic made his presence known with authority, crunching Montreal’s Lars Eller behind the Canadien cage.
Thirty seconds later, Boston went on the power play. The man-up squad moved the puck effectively enough, creating some potential chances left for squandering. Most notably, a Montreal turnover put the puck on Patrice Bergeron’s stick feet from Carey Price’s crease. Bergeron had a few windows to pick from, but instead slid a cross-slotter to Rich Peverley.
Peverley was charging from the left hashes, and flew straight through the slot, past the left post. On his way, he swung and missed at Bergeron’s feed, about three feet from a cleared cage. Peverley, a right-handed shot, said he was expecting the pass, and tried to turn his body to corral it on the forehand. Bergeron fed the pass to where Peverley’s backhand reception would have been.
“I just turned the other way,” Peverley said. “I think he was expecting me to go to my backhand, but I tried to turn, open up for him. I think that’s a tough one.”
Peverley didn’t point to Bergeron’s specific decision when questioned about the team’s pinky-out approach in the offensive zone, but said he thought the team needed to simplify some in close.
“I think we passed up some shots,” Peverley said. “We have to shoot a little more if we want to score goals. Tonight, [Price] did make some good saves, but we have to burry our chances.”
Peverley had a chance at redemption later in the frame, but missed on the latter opportunity just as the first. This would-be setup came from Brad Marchand, who created a two-on-one opportunity with a nifty wedge between a Habs defender and the left boards. Marchand centered for Peverley behind the remaining Canadien defender, but Peverley couldn’t connect.
Of course, Peverley wasn’t the lone, stone-handed offender Thursday. Chris Kelly failed to take a shot on a setup from Lucic two minutes in, albeit on a less-than-routine turn-and-shoot chance.
Adam McQuaid registered six shot attempts in the first –– four of which were blocked and two that missed the net. David Krejci missed from point blank on a rebound from Benoit Pouliot’s stuff attempt.
The troubles continued in the second. Early on, Tyler Seguin used his speed to turn around a Montreal defender and turn a two-on-two rush into a sloppy race to the cage. Seguin had lanes both for shooting and passing, and chose the latter. The puck slid between Lucic’s skates, though, and was harmlessly skated the other way.
Peverley earned yet another chance, but was denied by the butt of Price’s stick from point-blank on a breakaway chance.
Perhaps the most painful missed opportunity wasn’t so much missed as stolen. It was a giveth and taketh away scenario, with Price playing the part of the giver. The netminder turned the puck over to Bergeron while trying to clear the biscuit from behind his basket. Bergeron intercepted the pass near the right hashes, and ripped a shot at the open cage.
When the puck arrived, Raphael Diaz was there to taketh away with a diving save reminiscent of Michael Ryder’s goal-saving effort last postseason.
During the first period, and even at times in the second, the Bruins at least seemed the stronger team. The Canadiens were at times sluggish –– likely from playing a home contest against Philadelphia last night.
But the Canadiens figured things out by the third. Their neutral zone play improved dramatically, and with it, their puck possession time soared.
Boston did get a chance to square the 2-1 deficit late. With just outside three minutes left, Nathan Horton corralled a puck at the doorstep, but threw the puck directly into Price’s shoulder with windows open for the puck.
Bruins coach Claude Julien acknowledged the team’s inability to finish early. For Julien, the missed chances look more like a symptom than a condition.
“I don’t know if I want to attribute our loss to just [not being able to finish],” Julien said. “I think it’s a lot more than that. Number one, the inability to focus for 60 minutes is pretty obvious and apparent.
“When you play the way you do the first period and seem to be heading in the right direction, then come out in the second period and play that way, it certainly shows a lack of focus, and what that translated to was a lack of execution.”