The stage was set. The game was back outdoors in the league’s annual contest. In arguably the most anticipated regular season matchup, the Bruins had every reason to be amped up for the renewal of their historic rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens.
That simply wasn’t the case on New Year’s Day.
The Bruins came out flat in a 5-1 beat down in Friday’s 2016 Winter Classic in Foxborough with more than 67,000 fans at Gillette Stadium. It was a complete and utter manhandling on the national stage. The loss is now the fourth in five games for the Bruins, who find themselves three points behind Montreal in the division.
With only two points on the line, the game always seems to bring out the best in the two teams vying for supremacy outdoors. That simply wasn’t the case for the Black and Gold. The Bruins are now the first team to lose the game by more than two goals.
It was a game that went downhill from puck drop for the Bruins. While the Canadiens seemed determined and focused, the Bruins appeared as though they never made it through Route 1 traffic. More importantly, as defensemen Torey Krug put it, the 2016 Winter Classic will always be looked back on as disappointing and embarrassing for the Bruins.
“We didn’t represent the Bruins or the city of Boston very well today,” Krug told The Boston Globe. “It’s always what-ifs, I mean forever now it’s going to be a game we’re not very proud of and we’re always going to look back and be embarrassed about.
“We just didn’t do a good job of responding. I thought emotionally it was there for them and it wasn’t for us, and when the other team scores a goal or a big play happens, we need our best players to step up and make something happen for us and unfortunately we were just waiting around tonight and it’s not acceptable.”
Such a degrading loss grants skepticism, but not towards the head coach.
Coach Claude Julien can take fault for his team’s performance, but is not the one to blame. His troops couldn’t find their game for the entire match. While the team was emotionally invested in the game, they were never actively present. The Bruins lost nearly every battle. They allowed the Canadiens to dominate the pace of the game. Montreal controlled the neutral zone. They were first on every puck.
— NHL (@NHL) January 1, 2016
The coach can only do so much.
When players need to step up, such as Seth Griffith and Alexander Khokhlachev – who were promoted up to the varsity squad to replace injured David Krejci and suspended Brad Marchand – they’re presence must be felt.
Both Griffith and Khokhlachev were virtually invisible in the Winter Classic. Neither forward could make something happen on their adjusted lines. On the man advantage, Griffith had big shoes to fill in place of the skilled Krejci, a task that simple couldn’t be done.
Bruins assign Alex Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith to the JV. Colin Miller back up.
— Fluto Shinzawa (@GlobeFluto) January 2, 2016
While injury and suspension called for revisions on the forward lines, the Bruins needed to adapt. Julien, who is in the mix for the Jack Adams Award, needed his men to play big and a 200-foot effort. He needed his call-ups and his veterans to step up. The result was a losing effort.
The game had a losing taste to it for Bruins fans after one period, in which the Bruins only recorded 3 shots to Montreal’s 14. Montreal was playing the outdoor game against traditional methods. When teams enter an outdoor game, they typically resort to conservative play due to ice conditions and sun glare.
There will be more chipping up the boards, more dump and chases, and more neutral zone battles. The Canadien’s didn’t bother to shy away from their game. They stuck to what they do best: be fast and be aggressive. While the Bruins tried to chip pucks in and out of their zone, a Canadien was right there to match them and win battles.
While the Bruins can’t allow such a loss to fester, they also can’t look past their mistakes. Julien and company will have their hands full with replacing Krejci and Marchand, who will miss the next two games due to suspension.