Why Montgomery thinks Bruins aren't playing very good hockey right now

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The Boston Bruins have won three of their last five games and took a point from another, and yet head coach Jim Montgomery doesn't feel too good about how his team is playing of late.

He's absolutely right.

"I don’t think we’re playing very good hockey. We’re not," Montgomery told reporters after the Bruins' 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets this past Saturday. “I don’t think we’re checking well enough. I don’t think we’re playing fast enough, with or without the puck. It’s leading to us spending more time in our own end.

"It’s been leading to us getting on the wrong side of pucks, so we’re taking a lot of stick infractions, especially in the offensive zone, where our forwards have been very good all year at being over the top of people. We’re not there right now, and that’s leading to us leaking oil a little bit in how we want to play."

The Bruins had the No. 1 penalty kill over the first 19 games of the season. That unit ranks 14th in the last 11 games. They've also taken the ninth-most penalties per 60 minutes (4.25) over that span. The Bruins were the fifth-highest scoring team at 5-on-5 with 46 goals in those first 19 matchups. Over the last 11, they rank 23rd in 5-on-5 goals with 19. 

Blown leads also have been an issue.

The Bruins coughed up a 2-1 lead to the awful Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 9 and lost 4-3. They had 2-0 and 3-2 leads over the New York Islanders last week and still needed a shootout to win. Boston gave up another 2-0 lead to the Los Angeles Kings last week and lost in a shootout.

And even though the B's were never really threatened by the Blue Jackets on Saturday, they committed six penalties and gave up two power-play goals. 

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Some of the Bruins' depth forwards have also seen their offensive production run dry. Nick Foligno had a hot start to the season, but he has scored only one goal in his last 11 games. A.J. Greer hasn't scored since Oct. 18, a drought of 18 games without a goal. Craig Smith has zero goals in his last 11 games and was waived Sunday. First-line left wing Brad Marchand has tallied just five points (two goals, three assists) at 5-on-5 in 22 games.

So, what's saving the Bruins during this stretch?

Well, the goaltending has been pretty solid. Boston has a .938 save percentage at 5-on-5 during the last 11 games, which ranks third in the league. Linus Ullmark remains the Vezina Trophy favorite and leads the league with a 1.83 GAA and a .938 save percentage. Backup Jeremy Swayman has underperformed overall, but he's shown some improvement in recent games, including an impressive 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 29 (one goal allowed on 28 shots) and a strong performance versus the Blue Jackets on Saturday (31 saves on 33 shots).

"I thought he was our best player, and I think he needed to be," Montgomery said of Swayman on Saturday.

The Bruins' power play has been red-hot, too, with 12 goals in the last 11 games. 

On the one hand, it's encouraging for the Bruins that their play has slipped a bit, particularly at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill, and they're still picking up points at an impressive rate. 

But there are areas that need improving. The Bruins must be more disciplined, and when they do take penalties, the PK has to be more effective. Scoring goals more consistently at 5-on-5 should be another priority because relying on the power play too much never ends well.

The Bruins' schedule is not easy over the next few weeks. They play the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils (twice), the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Winter Classic, the Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings between now and Jan. 5. 

The Bruins lead the league with a 24-4-2 record and 50 points, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are just six points behind them in second place in the Atlantic Division. There is still much work to be done for the Bruins in securing home ice throughout the playoffs and fixing some areas lacking in sharpness and production.

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