Stating it right up front on Bruins
Krejci, Horton, Ryder are keys
OTTAWA — By 3:01 p.m. yesterday, the Bruins’ roster had the same names that were on it over the weekend, the same cast of characters that clipped victories Saturday and Sunday nights in Vancouver and Edmonton. For another year, the NHL trade deadline came and went, and this time Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli felt the wisest thing to do was to be wise enough to do nothing at all.
“We’ve done three deals where we’ve added three good pieces,’’ said Chiarelli, noting trades the last couple of weeks that netted Tomas Kaberle for point duty and Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley for essential, experienced depth up front. “There has been some subtraction. But we felt the net benefit was very positive. There wasn’t anything that, when you look back in hindsight, that you say, ‘Wow, that would have been a good one to do.’ There wasn’t anything like that.’’
Which brings us to the obvious question: are the Bruins of 3:01 p.m. Feb. 28 good enough to bring the franchise its first Stanley Cup since May 11, 1972?
And the response is an emphatic, resounding, effusive . . . maybe.
They are by no means Cup favorites. But, yes, they are decidedly in the hunt, perhaps more so now than they have been since Chiarelli was handed the Black and Gold keychain and clipboard in the summer of 2006. And that’s the feeling despite the fact that No. 1 pivot Marc Savard won’t be seen again until perhaps, well, September. Not many NHL teams would be gushing about postseason prospects with their top playmaker and point-getter designated for extended R&R, maybe even retirement, but the re-tooled Bruins are playing with confidence, speed, poise, and success, all of which rightly has them feeling very good about themselves.
Obviously, the fan base wants more conviction than “maybe’’, especially given that this is a club that hasn’t lost since the additions of Kaberle and Peverley 10 days ago and last fell Feb. 15, the night Kelly was acquired from the Senators. No question, things are trending the right way as the postseason approaches. The Bruins are fun to watch. They move the puck efficiently and with speed, the two most remarkable upgrades since the additions of Mssrs. Kaberle, Kelly, and Peverley. What was too often a station-to-station team now looks capable of playing a flowing game and, best of all, dictating play instead of retreating and reacting.
“The games out west — the Calgary and Vancouver games — really showed how important the additions are on a number of different fronts,’’ noted Chiarelli. “I think you saw the skill from Peverley, scoring or not scoring. You saw the versatility of Kelly and Peverley on the faceoffs and forecheck. And of course I think Kaberle has changed the dynamic of our back end. I know our power play hasn’t produced, but I like the plays we are making on the power play. What we set out to accomplish by acquiring those players, I feel we’ve accomplished it. Chemistry now has to fall into place. And the drive to the playoffs has to fall into place, and have success in the playoffs.’’
The power play will improve. Guaranteed. It’s a delight to see Kaberle back there, controlling the puck, effortlessly working the blue line, looking to laser his passes for Zdeno Chara to hammer on net. Dennis Wideman (dealt again yesterday, from Florida to Washington) was often effective at the point, but he never had Kaberle’s presence, assuredness, brains. The Boston power play now feels like a threat, like it really does have an extra body on the ice, rather than just a team that happens to have the puck in the offensive end and is trying to figure out what to do with it.
Once the entire power play gets in synch, it’s a group that, even without Savard, is capable of delivering some fireworks, the likes of which we haven’t really seen since Ray Bourque left town, perhaps since even as far back as when Bourque and Cam Neely were on the same unit. Or better yet, maybe not since Al Iafrate’s brief tour de force. For those who have forgotten, or never witnessed that sweet bit of science fiction, The Planet left our orbit after the spring of ’94 (Neely wasn’t available for that postseason).
So where’s this team short? Well, the good news is that it isn’t so much short as it is suspect, in the form of three key forwards — David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Michael Ryder. Not all of Boston’s playoff hopes and dreams are pinned on them, but a lot of them are, and the play of those three thus far has been, shall we say, not quite ready for the prime time that can last as long as eight weeks from April to June.
Right now, those are the names to circle in red felt-tipped marker. All three are paid and positioned to deliver points. If they aren’t scoring in April, May, and June, this will end up another season to nowhere.
Kelly and Peverley are support guys — very valuable support guys, a nice lift of the tide across lines two, three, and four.
Patrice Bergeron is that all-purpose pivot who, even if he isn’t scoring, can profoundly influence a game with his intelligence, grit, faceoff work, penalty killing, and buttoned-down five-on-five play.
Milan Lucic right now looks the best he’s been since being handed a varsity sweater. Looch is officially at edge of being a B-E-A-S-T.
The rest of the forwards, some of whom are very valuable (particularly rookie Brad Marchand and center Greg Campbell), have their ups and downs, and the range they are expected to play in really shouldn’t be the difference of winning playoff series. Important, sure, but not critical.
But Krejci has to prove he can play through the heavy beatings that a No. 1/2 pivot is guaranteed to face night after night in the playoffs. In a seven-game series, he has to deliver 5 or more points. Ryder and Horton, both of whom have proven they can score, both in Boston and elsewhere, first and foremost must maintain focus, and then finish their chances. They too often allow their minds and games to drift, even disappear, which translates to 0-0—0, and who’s kidding whom?
All in all, we have seen a very nice couple of weeks of on-the-fly shoring up by Chiarelli and Co. Impressive work.
The Bruins are a team positioned to produce, one that could make a strong postseason run even with the key missing piece that is Savard. If those other three key guys miss, then it’s just another club without a Cup.