BOSTON (CBS) - The Bruins have lost two in a row and have six goals in their past 13 periods of play after losing 2-1 in a shootout to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday at TD Garden.
Boston's lead on the Ottawa Senators for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference is down to four points heading into a crucial showdown in Ottawa on Thursday.
No one personifies the Bruins' offensive struggles more than center Carl Soderberg, who hasn't scored a goals since Jan. 17 (24 games) and had 12 shot attempts against the Sabres.
Soderberg had four of Boston's 45 shots on net, as one game after failing to score on 32 shots against Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby, the Bruins were nearly kept off the board by Sabres goaltender Anders Lindback.
Soderberg has not lacked for chances during this slump. He had a five-shot game, a seven-shot game and now a four-shot game that also featured four shots blocked and four that missed the net.
In overtime he nearly ended the game twice during a lengthy shift late in the period, but instead his slump continued.
"Yeah, I don't know, it's going to happen sometime," Soderberg said after the Bruins earned one point against the 30th-place Sabres. "We created a lot of chances, our line, today and played a pretty strong game too. So we should've had more than one."
Soderberg's linemate and countryman Loui Eriksson shared the team lead with five shots on net and scored the only Bruins goal. Their third man, Chris Kelly, had five shots on net as well.
The Bruins did what you're supposed to do against the team that's dead last in shots allowed per game by firing pucks at Lindback. But against the 29th-ranked team in goals allowed, they were a major failure.
Too many of the chances were telegraphed or shot where Lindback expected them to be. When there was traffic in front of Lindback, the shots didn't get through.
When there were rebounds, the Bruins lost the battles and races – which is inexcusable for a team in the playoff race against a team in the lottery chase.
Coach Claude Julien's team's psyche has been fragile all season. He declined to give the Bruins a public tongue lashing.
"I think that when you look at what we didn't do was we didn't finish well," Julien said. "So we had lots of chances. I think when you look at the zonetime, you look at the shots on net, there's a lot there. I think we could make better choices on where to put pucks. So many times it was right in his glove, an easy save where sometimes you could have shot for a rebound. Got guys going to the net, and even around the net area. If we're not going to be a little bit more hungry and heavy around that net area, then you know you're not going to get those loose pucks."
Although Soderberg's slump is symbolic of the rest of the team's offensive woes, he is far from the one that deserves the most blame.
Most glaringly, for one, Reilly Smith's post-contract-extension foibles continued in his 11th straight goal-less game. He had three shots on net. Smith's 11-game stretch without a goal feels twice as long because of his lack of chances and engagement at either end of the ice.
Soderberg's slump only feels like one because you can count up the games. He's either on the cusp of something big in terms of a goal barrage, or he's going to make everyone in Boston tear out their hair.
Soderberg says he's been here before.
"Yeah, for sure, I'm not a sniper," said Soderberg, who had 16 goals last season with Boston and 31 the prior season in the Swedish Elite League. "I can score the puck, but I'm not a sniper. I'm more of a playmaker. So of course I want to score, especially I want to get myself going, [score] a couple goals before playoffs, get a little confidence for that. But the most important thing is that we win some hockey games this week."
That's the best part of Soderberg's struggles right now. Despite the depths his production has sunk, he still has a sunny disposition. He doesn't shrink away from talking about the slump or make excuses. He still looks on the bright side of life.
"Because I'm playing a pretty strong game right now," he said. "I think I hang onto the puck, I'm going to the net. As long as I play good, I feel good about myself.
When you're starting to not play a strong game, that wouldn't be good. But as long as I play good, it's going to come."
The Bruins hope that it comes sooner rather than later, though, or Soderberg might not need that confidence boost for the playoffs because Boston will be watching Ottawa or someone else take its spot.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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