MONTREAL - People in the U.S. can blame President Barack Obama for a lot of things, like high unemployment and a miserable economy, but when it comes to the Boston Bruins' slumping offence and a rise in their goals against-average, they're talking out their back end.
The Bruins improved to 4-5-2 since goaltender Tim Thomas passed on a visit to the White House with a 4-3 shootout win Wednesday over the Montreal Canadiens.
The Commander in Chief honoured the Bruins in January for their Stanley Cup championship, but as far as B's defenceman Andrew Ference sees it, his club's struggles have nothing with the ultra-conservative Thomas standing apart.
"I don't think anybody on our team associates any of that stuff with on-ice activity. Obviously there is going to be people in the media that will connect (them), or fans for that matter. You can't blame them," said Ference, who is a left winger when it comes to politics.
"Everything that goes on in a locker room isn't known to people on the outside and that's why assumptions are made. To people in the locker room and people that are close to the team, I think that it's a pretty clear distinction between what goes on on the ice and what goes on off it. There's really no correlation."
Still, people will connect the dots, though you could make a case the Bruins' current issues had come to roost before Thomas' no-show.
Thomas is now 4-2 in the seven games he's played since he gave Obama the hand, with a save percentage of .904. His save percentage before the White House snub was about .940.
The fact is Thomas' performance lately is more a reflection of a Bruins team that has lost its way lately.
"Our identity is being a much better team without the puck than we have been lately," said Boston coach Claude Julien. "We're a checking team that scores and when we don't check well, we don't score as much. When we don't check well, teams score on the rush. We're an easier team to play against. When we're tough to play against, we always have layers and teams have a tough time scoring goals on us. We frustrate teams."
In what turned out to be yet another emotional meeting between the two clubs, the Bruins -- and rightly so -- weren't happy with Canadiens fans cheering when Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara, who's always going to get a rough ride here since the Max Pacioretty incident, took a puck in the face and needed stitches.
That's embarrassing. It's very classless, said Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who also raised the ire of the crowd when he dropped Montreal defenceman Alexei Emelin with a low hit.
I can't control what the fans are going to do, but I'm disappointed, I guess, said Chara, who visited the doctor again after the game for another couple of zippers. It's not sports-like. It's very disappointing. A guy lying on the ice hurt and there's a standing ovation for that, what can I say? Nothing much.
Thomas dismissed the reaction: Z is pretty much booed the whole North America over, he said.
The Bruins were coming off another loss to the New York Rangers Tuesday night, which looks like it put the Rangers in control of the Eastern Conference.
The Blueshirts played the way the Bruins would like to be playing these days.
"Our guys kind of saw our team in theirs," said Julien.
We needed a big effort tonight. We knew that, said Thomas. We haven't played with great consistency lately. We wanted to come in and have a strong game, get some pride back.
The Habs were having their own drama going into Wednesday's game.
Winger Andrei Kostitsyn, who played just four minutes Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, made a rare appearance before the media and made his discontent clear. He wasn't happy Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth is making it sound like he's the only guy turning the puck over or making bad decisions.
Cunneyworth wasn't making any apologies.
"Let me put it this way and I'll be clear. We need 20 guys playing the kind of hockey at this time of year that allows us to win games, OK? That's desperate at both ends. If we can see the desperation in their game, we know mistakes are going to be made. They're made all the time. It's how you correct them that's important," he said.
Sadly, Wednesday's was the last meeting of the year between the Habs and B's.