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Signs of B’s fatigue in OT loss to Flyers

It hasn’t happened much this hockey season and the Bruins weren’t really making their statements in the form of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” excuses after the game, but Boston’s 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers  [1]in overtime had all of the clear signs of a fatigued hockey team in need of a few night’s respite.

The Bruins jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead after the first twenty minutes of play in Saturday afternoon’s matinee performance, and appeared to have all the requisite jump and energy levels when they outshot the Flyers by a 15-8 margin and saw Marc Savard [2], Byron Bitz and Chuck Kobasew [3] all pot early goals — including the rookie Bitz’s first NHL [4] goal on a “garbage man-type” tip in at the goal mouth.

But there were also warning signs all along the way: lackadaisical and careless hooking, holding and tripping calls throughout the game including a late second period infraction by Blake Wheeler [5] (2 penalties and one shot during his limited time on the ice) that capped off possibly his worst night as a pro thus far in his young career. Wheeler was pretty much a non-existent presence at the end of the B’s bench in the third period and had only 7:30 of ice time in the entire 63 minute hockey game — a screaming neon sign that the coaching staff felt they needed to back off a 22-year -old forward that’s been incredibly good and effective this year.

“[Wheeler] wasn’€™t very good for us tonight.  I didn’€™t think Krejci was very good for us tonight either, compared to what we’€™re used to seeing,” said a franker-than-frank Julien after the game. “They’€™re no different than anybody else.  I’€™ve said all along, you earn your ice time, and I didn’€™t feel those guys were good enough to have the amount of ice time they normally have.”

It may be that the grind of the schedule 54 games into the season is beginning to chip away at the buzz of so many of the young and exciting B’s, and a few days rest is all it will take to get them back to full Black and Gold power.

“It’€™s been a tough stretch of games for us,” said winger Shawn Thornton [6], who took the place of injured winger Michael Ryder [7] on the second line Saturday afternoon. “I think for the most part our guys battled pretty hard, but we’€™re just going to think about it and refresh, day off tomorrow, I think, and come ready, hopefully with some pop in our step Tuesday.”

It wasn’t just Wheeler alone, however, displaying signs of fatigue over the last stretch of three games in four nights, all of them highly competitive contests against Eastern Conference foes in Philadelphia and Ottawa that are clearly playing some desperate hockey. David Krejci [8] has also seen his minutes peeled back in recent games as he’s been seemingly lost at times as the physicality in games is increasing, and teams begin hoarding points like buried treasure. Phil Kessel [9] is working on the longest goal drought of the season, and hasn’t lit the lamp since returning to the lineup from mononucleosis.

B’s head coach Claude Julien [10] and GM Peter Chiarelli were both curious to see how the team would respond in the current nine-game meat grinder that they’re in against playoff competitors, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

“(The penalties) are fatigue.  There’€™s no doubt that certainly most of the calls that were made tonight were right calls, and maybe the too many men on the ice was a little suspect, extremely suspect, but other than that, I think we deserved those penalties,” said Julien, who seemed to understand the lethargy was at least partly attributed to the heavy post-All-Star break schedule of games. ” Some of that is due to fatigue; when you start hooking and taking those kind of penalties, certainly it’€™s a sign that you have some tired players, at least for us anyways.”

The players weren’t using fatigue as a ready-to-go excuse for the defeat — and something needs to be said for the Black and Gold taking points in each of the highly-charged eight games played since the All-Star break leading into Tuesday’s “The Best Vs. The Best” matchup against the San Jose Sharks [11] — and instead implied they were lacking in the magical buzzwords like “jump” and “jam”. Eyes across the TD Banknorth Garden [12] will be the judges on Tuesday night as to whether the recent downturn in play is simply tired skating legs after three games in a short period of time, or if the B’s are simply beginning to fall back to the rest of the NHL [13] pack.

“We haven’€™t had a consistent full game of jump for a couple of games,” said B’s defenseman Andrew Ference [14]. “I don’€™t think that it’€™s a secret in the locker room that we’€™re not satisfied.  We’€™ve set the bar pretty high of where our play should be and our work ethic, winning battles and holding on to the puck, winning races to the puck.  I don’€™t think anybody’€™s satisfied with the consistency of that over the last probably couple weeks.”

Julien pointed to signs of puck fatigue during the waning moments of Boston;’s shootout win over the Ottawa Senators [15] on Thursday night — a game they were able to pull out when they held on for overtime and then rode P.J. Axelsson’s shootout bid to victory. It’s been plain as day to him, but that doesn’t mean that he thinks it will linger beyond this weekend. It certainly doesn’t mean this Bruins team isn’t ready for Jumbo Joe and the Sharks to strike out onto the Garden’s frozen sheet in a game that all eyes around the NHL will be fixed on.

“I don’€™t think (this team) is any more tired than any other team in the league.  That’€™s kind of a cop out.  So I think you want to stay pretty far away from starting to feel sorry for yourself because you have a bunch of games,” said Julien. “This has been a tough stretch for quality of opponents. We’€™ve played some very good teams and had some really good tests.  So yeah, you’€™re going to be tired, but I don’€™t think that other teams are feeling fresh or like they just came out of training camp.  I don’€™t think you want to go there.”

Bruins Nation won’t be go there just yet; just as long the B’s don’t go from tired to “in the tank” with the hungry Sharks waiting for them next week.