Takeaways: Bruins’ ugly habits return in loss to Capitals

Bruins

“I don’t have answers. If I did, I would have given it to them,” coach Jim Montgomery said.

Jeremy Swayman made 25 saves in Saturday’s loss. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

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Just as they took a step forward with a statement win over the top team out west, the Boston Bruins encountered another setback against another likely Draft Lottery-bound squad.

The Bruins hung around after watching Jeremy Swayman do yeoman’s work in the opening 20 minutes. The Boston netminder stopped all 15 shots he faced against a Washington Capitals squad that entered Saturday’s tilt ranked 30th in average goals scored per game.

Matt Grzelcyk put the Bruins in an even deeper hole late in the first period. The seventh-year blueliner earned a game misconduct for spearing Caps winger Max Pacioretty below the belt, forcing Jim Montgomery and his coaching staff into a rotation with his five remaining defensemen.

T.J. Oshie took advantage of Brandon Carlo breaking his stick at the beginning of the second. Yet, even as Swayman continued to bail his team out during another lackluster effort, the Bruins remained within striking distance entering the third.

The boo birds continued, as did the Bruins’ poor effort.

Dylan Strome created an insurance tally after capitalizing on a 2-on-1 on the heels of a Charlie Coyle turnover 3:24 into the final frame.

Alex Ovechkin put the finishing touches on Washington’s 3-0 victory, surpassing Wayne Gretzky’s record with his 57th career empty netter.

Here’s what we learned as the Bruins suffered their first shutout in nearly 13 months.

The Bruins had no answers for their efforts against Calgary and Washington.

Perhaps the Bruins could’ve chalked Tuesday’s loss to the Calgary Flames as a blip in their first game coming out of the all-star break. 

If anything, however, this week provided an instance of Jekyll and Hyde. 

The Bruins established a building block with one of their complete 200-foot efforts of the season in their bounce-back win over the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks. But their ugly habits from their 4-1 setback against the Flames returned a few days later against a Caps bunch on the fringe of a rebuild.

Within moments of Saturday’s ugly loss, Jim Montgomery took the podium for his postgame press conference. His concerns weren’t about the structural breakdowns defensively or another slow start but rather the overall 60-minute effort or lack thereof.

“I don’t have answers. If I did, I would have given it to them,” Montgomery said. “But it’s not acceptable. And we’re not going to accept it. We will change, or things will change.”

On the surface, the Bruins’ Saturday effort mirrored Tuesday’s porous outing. While Montgomery noted the opening 20 against the Caps looked a tad better, the Bruins put themselves in catchup mode from the get-go.

Simply put, the Bruins need a collective buy-in from everyone during the final stretch of their season-long seven-game homestand.

“Pretty much birds of the same feather,” Montgomery said of the similarities between Tuesday’s performance against Calgary to Saturday’s outing. “Played a little bit better bit in the first together today believe it or not, but it got worse.”

The Garden faithful let the Bruins have it.

Playing in front of a passionate sports hub like Boston can make or break any athlete. No matter what, however, the fans won’t hesitate to share their feelings positively or negatively.

Some diehards will call into 98.5 or WEEI or head to social media to air their grievances. Others will pay good money to watch in person to cheer or boo at any given moment.

Against the Flames and Capitals, the Causeway clad dressed in black and gold had every reason to boo and hit the exits early.

“I love our fans. That’s what I think,” Montgomery said after hearing the recent chorus of boos. “They’re hockey-knowledgable. They’re not wrong.”

The booing, however, can leave a bitter feeling, but it’s not something the Bruins will run away from.

“You don’t love it,” Carlo said. “I have so much respect for this organization and the Spoked B. We all do in this room. I think the culture that’s been established here in years past — especially since I’ve been here — is we come to work every day. I love that the fans and the organization holds us accountable when we don’t come to work to be at our best. That’s what you want in a fanbase, and there’s no better fanbase to win in front of. I respect it, obviously, but it’s something I don’t want to hear because that means we’re not doing our job as well.”

“They’ve got a short memory, but that’s their right. They pay for tickets to come watch and they can cheer if they like what they see, and they can boo if they don’t. So, that’s up to them,” captain Brad Marchand said after completing his 999th career NHL game. “Obviously, we know we have a very passionate sports city and very passionate fans, and they expect us to win every game. It’s not gonna happen, but they’ve gotta see the effort, and obviously they didn’t like it tonight.”

The Bruins performed poorly against a pair of teams facing some uncertainty leading up to the trade deadline. But perhaps another matchup against a playoff-caliber opponent in Tampa Bay will provide some sort of cure come Tuesday.

Boston’s search for a remedy begins with better work habits.

From a personnel perspective, the Bruins could use a defensive upgrade and an increased physical presence to fill a bottom-six role. For now, Montgomery will try to make the most of his current lineup, hoping to find stability within his four forward trios and three D pairings.

Judging from the two brutal outings this week, Montgomery may very well schedule a bag skate when the Bruins return to practice on Monday. Currently, Boston’s primary concern doesn’t stem from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Instead, their will and desire have come into question over their latest round of no-shows.

Perhaps the effort against the Flames and Capitals are just outliers. Until then, they’ll at least work on re-establishing their forechecking and blue-collar identity.

“You just keep working on the habits and the details, and you keep getting better,” Montgomery said. “If you’re not going to compete, then it’s problematic.”