Putting the best start in franchise history aside, are the Boston Bruins really this good?
Can they be this good?
At 8-1-2, the Bruins lead the Northeast Division by one point over the Montreal Canadiens, the same amount they trail the New Jersey Devils for the Eastern Conference lead. Both Tuukka Rask and Anton Kudobin has been solid, if not spectacular at times, in net, Brad Marchand has emerged into a possible 30-plus goal scorer, and Doug Hamilton’s young coming-out party has been nothing less than elation for the franchise. Nearly every game of this sprint season has been a nail-biter, reminiscent of the heart-stopping stretch that led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011.
And therein lays the problem.
If we’re going to consider the Bruins serious Cup contenders in 2013, a number of roads need to come to a crossroads, or this team will be no different than the one that fell to the Washington Capitals in the first round last year.
– The power play (duh) needs to improve, which is being kind because it at the very least it needs to be raised from the dead. The Bruins are dead-last in the NHL in efficiency with the man-advantage, scoring a dismal 9.3 percent of the time. To put that in perspective, St. Louis nets on the power play an astounding 34.7 of the time, the best in hockey. Claude Julien’s approach to the advantage is mind-numbing, and Tim Thomas isn’t around to perform miracles anymore in the postseason. It came back to bite them last year, and it’s going to come back to bite them this season. The only way to fix it seems a time machine, and going back to the day Matt Cooke laid out Marc Savard. Any other solution seems foolhardy at this point.
– When the Bruins score first, they are undefeated, a stat they share with Chicago and Anaheim. Nice, right? Trouble is, the Bruins have scored in the initial period about as many times as Greedo shot first in 1977, and when they trail after the first, they are 0-for. Boston has scored only six times in the first, nine times in the second, and – get the smelling salts – 15 times in the third period this season. Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers was a thriller, with Boston scoring two late-period goals to tie it up and eventually salvage a point, but those treating it like some sort of victory have to have their hockey heads in the cooler. It is exactly those sorts of games that Bruins fans should fear, a lackadaisical start only to turn it on when the pressure mounts its greatest. Fine entertainment, but there’s going to come a point when a final flurry doesn’t justify a conservative approach over the first two periods.
– Did Tyler Seguin lose his game under some dirty pasta dish in his Swedish apartment? Through the first 11 games, the former No. 2 pick has just six points – two goals (one empty-netter), four assists – during a season expected to be his breakout year. The now-21 Seguin has spoken of an adjustment period to the NHL since playing overseas, where he thrived during the lockout, but his regression is a major concern on a team desperately needing that bona fide top line forward. After all, the Bruins have won a total of zero, as in zero games this season by more than two goals. Five of their eight wins have been by one goal. They need Seguin’s presence, and they are not getting any semblance of it.
Disney on Ice invades the Garden over the next stretch of days, leaving the Bruins with a five-game road trip through Buffalo, Winnipeg, Tampa, Miami, and Long Island. In their five games on the road this season, the Bruins have scored 14 times, including four – count ‘em – four power play goals. Those are the only four power play goals of the season, which means we may be able to expect one, maybe two on this trip.
Joking aside, it’s a concern that hasn’t gone away, even on a Cup run. I still have visions of Kaberle dancing in my head, playing with the puck like one of those latex tubes filled with water. But let’s not kid ourselves that the Bruins’ most glaring weakness is the only thing keeping them from being considered the odds-on threat in the Eastern Conference. A fun team to watch, but the more we do so, the more its holes begin to appear with greater frequency.