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The 2009-10 Boston Bruins haven’t gotten off to the start many prognosticators had predicted them to. Expectations were high after last season, and deservedly so. Last year’s incarnation of the Black and Gold experienced a banner year, finishing 1st in the Eastern Conference and advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. The team dynamic had changed considerably from years past, and the buzz that had been so resonant during the Hub of Hockey’s heyday, days when Bobby Orr, Cam Neely and Raymond Bourque were the faces of the team, had finally returned after laying dormant for most of the aughts. That buzz carried over into this season, and although it still remains, it may be a bit fainter than it was just over a month ago on opening night.
The Bruins have been, for most of this season, mediocre. Hit hard by injuries early on and a sluggish start from many of the team’s go-to players, the team has begun to turn the corner, led by the stellar play of Vezina-winning netminder Tim Thomas, who is sporting a robust .922 save percentage to go along with a sterling 2.23 GAA. The off-season acquisition of veteran blueliner Derek Morris has been a welcome addition, as the 31-year-old from Edmonton has given the Bruins defense a much-needed boost in all facets of the game. Also experiencing a return to form has been Patrice Bergeron, who looks to have put his concussion issues behind him, leading the club in scoring with 12 points in 16 games (all while being one of the premier two-way players in the game).
Still, there remains a few notable exceptions to the recent turn-around. Namely, the missing triumvirate of David Krejci, Marco Sturm, and Dennis Wideman. All three of these players possess tremendous talent and acumen for the game, and Krejci and Wideman experienced breakout seasons in 2009.
Sturm, meanwhile missed the most of last season due to injury, but he has been a valuable contributor at the NHL level, good for 20+ goals annually. With the loss of Phil Kessel this past off-season, many looked to the German winger famous for his “goal face” to help replace the 36 tallies Kessel earned last year. So far, not so good. The speedy Sturm has just three markers to his credit this season, not exactly on pace to help make up for the majority of Kessel’s goals. Moreover, Sturm appears to disappear for games at a time. With a $3.5 million cap hit, he needs to start bringing more to the table.
Wideman’s is a similar story, although as a defenseman it could be seen as a compliment to describe him as “invisible.” So far this season, he has been anything but, and not in a good way. Widely viewed as one of the league’s top young blueliners, Wideman has not enjoyed the success thus far in 09-10 that he experienced last year, when Sports Illustrated’s Allan Muir picked him as his early season Norris Trophy winner. He has been brutal in his own end, and his decision-making has at times been downright atrocious.
One has to wonder if Wideman is playing with an injury, or if his head’s not in it – I can remember multiple instances of a Wideman turnover at the blueline that has led to a quality scoring chance for the opposition. As mentioned earlier, the acquisition of Morris has helped ease the burden on Norris winner Zdeno Chara’s expansive shoulders, but if the Bruins wish to contend for a Stanley Cup, they’ll need a return to form from Wideman in the upcoming months.
The biggest disappointment thus far, however, has come from Krejci. The 23-year-old smooth skating pivot from the Czech Republic had a remarkable campaign last season, totaling 73 points in 82 games while leading the NHL in plus/minus. Over a two-month span, Krejci outscored every single player in the NHL not named Malkin, Crosby, and Ovechkin. Felled by a hip injury late in the season, he was not the same in the playoffs, and underwent surgery in the summer, missing all of training camp. A slow start was to be expected for the cerebral centerman, but the season is now in month No. 2, and with 1-4-5 totals in 15 games, it’s time to start wondering whether The Matrix (NESN play by play announcer Jack Edwards’ nickname for Krejci) will be similar to the movies for which he was named; great to start, and diminishing returns on the sequels. Perhaps it has as much to do with his coming out party as it does with his injuries (Krejci has recently battled H1N1 as well), as defenses are no doubt more keyed on him this season, even moreso with Marc Savard on the shelf. Still, all great players experience tight checking and increased pressure, and if Krejci wishes to join that elite company, he needs to get better.
The Bruins Stanley Cup hopes may just depend on it.