Busted up, but not broken
Bruins keep it together with patchwork lineup
Does it get any better than this? Probably not. Stitched up like crash test dummies, with wrist tendons torn, abdominal muscles bulging out of place, hands chopped up like apprentice butchers, and heads concussed, the Bruins won’t be much better stocked than they were last night (a 3-1 win over the Sabres) if they do survive the weekend and make it into the playoffs.
“What we’ve got right now,’’ noted coach Claude Julien, his squad inching ever-so-delicately into sixth place in the East with the blowout (hey, it was a two-goal spread!) victory over the Buffalonians, “I think is what we’d end up going with.’’
Not the least bit pretty. So many parts busted, so many wins needed. Provided they live to see Monday morning, the Bruins, like the rest of the pack of 16 Stanley Cup qualifiers, will stand 16 victories away from a championship. For a squad that now has won only 37 times in 6 1/2 months, and typically struggles to score more than once, that’s an order as tall as Zdeno Chara.
All the injuries aside, the greatest ailment of all continues to be the red cell count of the Bruins power play. It is subanemic. They logged yet another .000 efficiency rating last night, posting an 0 for 5, leaving them 0 for 17 over the last half-dozen games. They have gone without a power-play strike in 14 of the last 15 games, dovetailing quite tellingly with the loss of top pivot Marc Savard to the Grade 2 concussion that Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke branded him with March 7.
League disciplinarian Colin Campbell thought Cooke’s hit was legal. Someone in the Boston front office should forward Campbell the stat sheets from the 14 games the Bruins haven’t posted a power-play goal. They went 0 for 39 on the man-advantage in those games. Al Capone finally went to jail, not because of alleged murders and various gruesome acts and mayhem, but because back-room government bean counters connected the financial dots and grabbed him for tax evasion. To figure out what ails the Bruins, look at that power play, then connect the dots directly to the blatant cheap shot Cooke put upside Savard’s head.
As bad as the advantage has been, it actually was worse last night. Yes, worse than .000. Not only did they fail to put a puck in the net, they barely could get it over the offensive blue line. Step No. 1 on most successful power plays is to get the puck somewhere in the general vicinity of the 24-square rectangular opening that that is trimmed by three red pipes. Early on, the Bruins barely had the puck in the same zip code.
“We have to relax, settle down . . . we’re forcing plays,’’ said top remaining pivot Patrice Bergeron. “We are not getting it in the zone with authority. We’re running around.’’
“We had a tough time getting in the zone,’’ agreed veteran winger Mark Recchi, who tipped home the final goal off of a Chara slapper. “That hasn’t been our problem all year. We’ve shot when we should have passed, passed when we should have shot. But we’ve been able to get it in.’’
Without Savard, whose guile, puckhandling, and general spatial awareness often lead to myriad options on the man-advantage, the Boston power play is cooked. Perhaps Cooked would be more apt?
Savard is doing better, and that’s a good sign, but he’s not yet exercising or even light skating. He’s probably at least a month from returning, which, all things considered, would put him on target to return for mid-September’s training camp. That math is based on general observation and not hard numbers.
Julien, a professional optimist like all coaches, said after the win that he has seen some promising signs when his squad practices the power play. They worked on it for a half-hour before Wednesday’s workout and then again after the practice. Julien believed he saw some flashes of competence.
“Then we get in games and it was like our start [vs. Buffalo] . . . we get tight,’’ he said. “So hopefully we can find that part of our game, because the way we struggle to score goals, our power play could be huge for us.’’
The Bruins can win in the playoffs. For all their maddening incompetence when it comes to scoring, they have gone 6-3-1, a winning percentage of .650, over their last 10 games, which is why they have hung on to a playoff spot these last three weeks.
They can win without Savard, even without a semblance of a power play, by gumming up the middle, trapping like 18th century Quebec frontiersmen, and leaving it to Tuukka Rask to brick up the net.
Exciting? Hardly. Total snoozefest. But winning is its own excitement, and the Bruins will go into the postseason most likely second only to New Jersey for goals allowed. It usually takes three things to win a Cup: a power play, real defense, and strong goaltending. No one’s going to make the Bruins a favorite, but they have two of the three essentials. Although, with backliners Andrew Ference (hernia), Dennis Seidenberg (torn wrist tendon), and Mark Stuart (ailing pinky finger) out of the mix, real defense could be more in peril than even a legit power play.
Does it get any better than this? No. But it could be worse, just as there are times when things can be worse than .000.
Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com.