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Is the Ice to Blame for Bruins’ Scoring Woes?

Ice-to-Parquet Transition (Globe Staff Photo/Matthew J. Lee)

On Friday’s team practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, the Boston Bruins began to discuss a topic they felt had gone unaddressed for too long. The topic didn’t concern Phil Kessel’s departure to Toronto, nor did it have anything to do with the absences of Marc Savard and Milan Lucic. It also had nothing to do with stupid penalties, team unity, or unruly fans. The players wanted to talk about the ice at the TD Garden.

Often using adjectives unfit-for-print, each Bruin agreed that the ice in the Garden was atrocious.

“I’m not ripping anybody and I’m not saying that somebody’s not doing a good job. It just needs to be better, it could be better,” an anonymous Bruin said about the ice.

Another chimed in, “It is something that definitely can be improved and we’re hoping it can be getting better. And we understand that the schedule of the Garden is busy with concerts, circuses, Celtics. We totally understand that, but…”

According to reports, the Bruins decided that it was time to address the problem following Thursday’s 1-0 shootout loss at home to the Florida Panthers, during which a goal wasn’t scored until the fourth round of the shootout. Players cited in-game examples of the poor, snowy conditions of the ice, which caused pucks to bounce unpredictably, particularly when the pucks would come off of the boards.

Many fans (and haters) of the Bruins have wondered if the timing of such a discussion is meant to be an excuse for the poor play of the team. Currently, the team is 8-7-4, awful enough for ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They are ranked 11th in scoring in the conference and 13th on the power play. This time last year, the team was 12-3-4 and near the top of the Eastern Conference. Despite the Kessel’s permanent absence, many prognosticators picked the Bruins to perform well, usually winning a high-playoff slot. So, are the Bruins trying to make an excuse for their poor play, notably their inability to score?

It’s possible, but unlikely. The statistics in the situation are fairly inconclusive.  Listing every single stat concerning a goal scored in a Bruins game, like the fact that they score 10% more at home than on the road, would do little to help find answer because of the variables of the problem. The Bruins don’t play the same team every game and they don’t play on the same ice every game. Factoring in practically unquantifiable variables, like the talent of another team, their arena’s ice quality, or home-ice advantage is nearly impossible.

[For those interested, however: Boston has played at home in 12 of their 19 games thus far, amassing a 6-4-2 record and scoring on 7.4% of their shots for 29 goals, an average of 2.41 goals/game. Their opponents (who have an average of 20.5 points on the season, just above the Bruins’ 20) have scored 26 goals in the Garden, an average of 2.1 goals/game. When following a Celtics game or another event (a Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert in this case), the Bruins have actually scored more (18 goals in seven games). In their seven road games (2-3-2), the Bruins have scored on 7.6% of their shots for 15 goals and an average of 2.14 goals/game. Their opponents (who have an average of 22.3 points), meanwhile, have scored 19 goals at home, for an average of 2.7 goals/game.]

Why, then, is it unlikely to be a factor in the Bruins’ scoring? The strongest piece of evidence is that not one Bruin said they were concerned about their scoring or even trying to make an excuse for the lack of it. Instead, they were worried about injuries.

“If the ice is soft, you’re digging so much deeper. And obviously, if you have to dig deeper it’s harder for your groins and hips,” said one Bruin, who estimated that approximately half of the team (ironically) ices their groins and hips following every game.

While no Bruin has gone down with a groin or hip injury this season, such an occurrence – God-forbid – could adversely affect the team’s scoring, as has been seen with the absence of last year’s top line of Savard, Kessel, and Lucic. Missing a key-scoring piece, whether it be Savard, Lucic, or a currently uninjured player like Patrice Bergeron, could be the difference between playing hockey in May or playing golf in April.

Now that its players have brought the problem to its attention, the NHL needs to solve the problem of the TD Garden’s ice quality. (For once, Jeremy Jacobs is not the villain.) For all they know, it could be something as simple as lowing the temperature of the TD Garden a few degrees or keeping the pucks on the ice for shorter periods of time. (During the playoffs, pucks have an ice-lifespan of no more than three minutes before they are switched out for still-refrigerated ones.) The NHL does make a confidential ranking of the best and worst ice surfaces in the league, but not until the end of the season. Playing 29 more games in the dangerous working conditions is begging for an injury and, potentially, a lawsuit.

For those looking for an answer to the Bruins’ scoring woes, the ice isn’t it. There are an endless number of possible explanations for the problems the team has experienced this year, but cross this one off your list. You might have better luck by examining roster, paying particular attention to the Lost Boys on the Bruins.

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One comment for “Is the Ice to Blame for Bruins’ Scoring Woes?”

  1. Is the Ice to Blame for Bruins’ Scoring Woes?: On Friday’s team practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, the …

    Posted by Sports of Boston | November 15, 2009, 9:35 am

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