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Having played their 41st game of the season – a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers – the Boston Bruins are now halfway through their regular season and currently stand at 21-13-7, for a total of 49 points. Despite a sluggish start during which they alternated wins and losses (until they hit two three-game losing streaks), they currently stand in second place in the Northeast Division, behind the Buffalo Sabres by only seven points, and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
While they are not performing as well as they were last year – 64 points from a 30-7-4 record – midway through their schedule or up to pre-season expectations, they have still managed to maintain a playoff spot despite prolonged and/or multiple injuries to leading players, like Marc Savard and Milan Lucic, and the absence of last season’s leading goal-scorer, Phil Kessel. Here is the team’s mid-season report card to evaluate where the Bruins have been excelling and where they still need work.
Without saying the Bruins have been missing Kessel, it would be nice to have his 21 points in 22 games (which he had before he hit his cold streak of only one goal in eight games). The Bruins offense has generated only 107 goals, which ties them with the New York Islanders for the third-worst offense in the entire NHL. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning (10th place in the Eastern Conference) and the Carolina Hurricanes (last place in the entire league) have scored fewer goals. That is not company the Bruins want to be keeping. In fairness to them, head coach Claude Julien runs a “defense-first” system, which explains a fair amount of the lack of scoring (and how they’ve managed to do so well in the standings).
The remaining lack of goals can be explained by injuries to Savard (9 goals, 13 assists, 22 points in 26 games) and Lucic (2-3-5 in 10 games), two of last season’s top scorers, and a lack of offense from center David Krejci (7-14-21) and right wings Mark Recchi (8-15-23), Blake Wheeler (8-13-21), and Michael Ryder (10-7-17). Fortunately for the Bruins, recently-named Olympians Patrice Bergeron (11-20-31, best on team) and Marco Sturm (14-8-22, team’s leading goal-scorer) have been performing well above expectations and turned into the offense’s saviors. However, the Bruins won’t be gaining hockey’s heaven without more offense; hopefully the signing of Slovak Olympian Miroslav Satan and the return of Milan Lucic will bring stability to the four forward lines and, eventually, goals.
If it weren’t for the defense, the Bruins would not be in a playoff spot through 41 games. With 98, they have allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the league (the league-leading New Jersey Devils have only allowed 89), while at the same time offering their aid on offense. Three defensemen – Olympian Zdeno Chara (3-22-25), Derek Morris (3-15-18), and Dennis Wideman (2-11-13) rank in the Bruins’ top ten scorers and Chara’s 22 assists lead the team. As long as they avoid injuries and maintain the pressure on their opponent’s offense, the Bruins’ defense will ensure that the team will continue to do well. It won’t be enough to win the Stanley Cup (see “Forwards”), but it will be a key factor.
It’s hard to blame Tim Thomas, who was named to the United States Olympic squad following his 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Winter Classic, for the nine regulation losses for which he’s been in net. Here’s why: he has a 2.36 goals against average and his save percentage is .920, both of which are good enough for eleventh in the league. Last season – his Vezina Trophy-winning season – he held opponents to 2.10 goals per game and saved 93.3% of the shots he faced, so Thomas clearly hasn’t quit after receiving his raise. A bigger explanation might be the players in front of him: when Thomas is in net, the Bruins average 2.16 goals per game, as opposed to the 2.81 goals they score when his backup, Tuukka Rask is in net.
Ironically, Rask doesn’t need the extra offense: he currently leads the league with a 1.92 GAA and .934 save percentage, stats that have helped him to steal a bit of the spotlight from Thomas. He’s even thrown in two assists to spark the offense. With such a tandem, the Bruins once again needn’t worry about their last line of defense. Thomas is earning his off-season raise and Rask will easily keep the pressure off of the starter without worrying his teammates.
Oh, the power play. Two minutes with more guys on the ice than the other guys. Most teams enjoy it. Most Bruins fans dread it. The Bruins still aren’t good at playing a man-up, never mind anywhere near mastering it. After Monday’s 0-for-3 effort, the Bruins are now 25-for-143 (17.5%) on the power play, bad enough for eighth in the Eastern Conference and 18th in the NHL. That’s not all that bad, some might say, until you look at who’s better: teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs. Wouldn’t you like to have a better everything than the Toronto Maple Leafs? Again: the Toronto Maple Leafs have a better power play unit than the Boston Bruins. Name a player on the Maple Leafs besides the guy who can’t pass to Kessel (Tomas Kaberle, who happens to have 32 assists this season) and Kessel himself. Exactly.
It gets worse: the only Canadian team to have a worse power play than Boston is the Ottawa Senators. Nothing against the guys to the north, but only two of them (Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks) have better records than the Bruins and they’ve both played in more games.
Once again, the defense is what has been keeping the Bruins in the top-half of the Eastern Conference. While faltering slightly in Monday’s game, allowing one power play goal on five penalty kills, Boston remains the league leader in penalty kills, knocking off 87.7% of them. Instead of keeping company with the Maple Leafs, the Bruins are now ahead of the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks, who sit atop the Western Conference. What more can you ask of one of Boston’s most under-celebrated group of players?
Head coach Claude Julien has done everything possible to get the Boston Bruins motivated: given them days off, chewed them out in the press, mixed-up the lines, and brought in extra competition for positions. While the results have been mixed, it’s far from being Julien’s fault. His “defense-first,” rolling four-line system has proven effective in creating some of the NHL’s best two-way players, notably Patrice Bergeron, which has translated into a strong position in the standings. As one of only two Bruins head coaches with winning records in the last decade, Coach Julien is doing his job; it’d be nice if his players did theirs.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli was one of the best things to happen to the Boston Bruins since the Jacobs family bought the organization. His summer dealings with Kessel certainly upset a number of fans, especially with the injuries with which the Bruins have had to deal. Unfortunately for those fans, those injuries are not Chiarelli’s fault and he has done his best to fill the gaps with moves like the Satan signing. While Satan is not a replacement for Kessel on offense or newly-injured Bergeron on defense, the move barely dented the salary cap space. Assuming Satan can generate some offense – a goal would be beneficial – Chiarelli’s genius will shine through once again. It may not outshine the Kessel fiasco, but it’ll brighten some people’s moods.
Jeremy Jacobs has owned the team since 1975. The Boston Bruins haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1972. Coincidence?
You’re going to try and tell me that Lauren needs to work on something? Let’s see Marc Savard shovel slush between neuroscience exams.
The Boston Bruins are once again perennial contenders for the playoffs. Without an offense, they won’t be able to make a run at the Stanley Cup, but the defense will be able to get them very close. With the exception of the forwards, everyone has performed well, and perhaps the forwards just need to find the right mix of lines or have some semblance of stability in their lines. Once the team begins to score goals, the team will be one of the best in the entire league, perhaps even worthy of drinking from Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Tags: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman, Derek Morris, Ice Girls, Jeremy Jacobs, Marc Savard, Marco Sturm, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Milan Lucic, Miroslav Satan, Patrice Bergeron, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel, Report Card, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara