Times change. People change. I might be afraid of change, but change is just a fact of life.
The game changes. Players change. Rules change. Now it is time for the system of play head coach Claude Julien has implemented for the Boston Bruins to change.
Might seem like an odd thing to hear about a team coming off a 3-1 win on Wednesday evening against the Florida Panthers, is just three wins shy of being the top ranked team in the Eastern Conference and about a coach just 16 months removed from being named the best coach in the NHL. Sometime between when the Tampa Bay Lightning extended their lead to 3-0 over the Bruins on Monday night and when Steven Reinprecht scored 2:14 into the second period Wednesday, however, I was finally able to figure it all out.
At least I think I have it figured out.
For the past few season I have been clamoring for the Bruins brass to bring in more offensive weapons. They weren’t scoring enough goals and enough important goals because they did not have firepower. This year I keep harping on their slow, sluggish, flat-footed starts to games, figuring their problem was either a general laziness, lack of interest or lack of the necessary intangibles to be a quality team.
I was wrong all along.
With guys like Horton, Krejci, Bergeron, Lucic, Recchi and Savard and Sturm (when healthy), they have more than enough scoring punch.
Intangibles are hard to quantify, but there have been plenty of times this season the Bruins have shown to be a dominant team, so that is not the overwhelming issue.
I am not about to get on this soapbox of mine and declare the Bruins need to fire Julien in order to be successful, but the style of play and the basic offensive system the Bruins have shown me over the past few weeks since I took this gig and started watching their play with far more scrutiny, is one predicated on being passive, making as few mistakes as possible and generating offense off opponents mistakes in light of creating their own. The basic principles of trap hockey and both games in the Bruins’ Floridian road trip are examples of this and of ultimately why Julien and his style will never be effective come playoff time.
On Wednesday night against the Panthers, the Bruins bummed around for two periods, biding their time and allowing Florida to skate all over. Eight seconds into the third, however, Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun misplayed a dump in behind the net, sending the puck right out in front of an unprotected net, giving Brad Marchand the chance to chip it in and tie the game, 1-1. The perfect example of the Bruins offense. The go-ahead goal was similar as the puck was dumped into the corner, pressure by Jordan Caron, sending the puck behind the net to David Krejci, who sent it out front for Mark Recchi, who put it home for a 2-1 Boston lead.
Going into the Tampa game on Monday night I was curious to see what, if anything, the Bruins would do to their own methodology to combat against the Lightning’s upbeat style. Turns out they did nothing outside the norm. They sat on their heels for two periods, watched Tampa outshoot them more than 2-to-1 and build a 3-0 lead. Only in the third period did the Bruins begin to generate offense once Tampa changed their game to a more defensive style and were the ones sitting back. Never once throughout the course of the game did Boston change their style of play.
Yes, it is important to capitalize on the chances an opponent give, but a team needs to be able to create their own offense as well. The Bruins have the ability, they just do not do it.
Julien’s trapping style has been extremely effective at times this season. When Boston can get on the board first, not only are they able to defend that lead with their style of play – the Bruins are undefeated when scoring first and when leading going into the third period – but also increase their lead. A Boston lead forces opponents to be more aggressive, resulting in more mistakes, turnovers and, consequently, Bruins offense. If Boston finds themselves in a big hole as they did in Tampa and have in most of their loses this season, generally their opponent will adopt the more defensive style of play to protect their own lead, making them less aggressive on offense, resulting in more opportunities given to the Bruins, as was seen in comebacks earlier this year against Pittsburgh, Washington and Los Angeles.
So, it is not that the Bruins are a lazy team that lacks the clichéd “winning edge” or have a roster that does not bolster enough talent to win games. Simply put, they just do not play offense and have a coach that is unwilling to alter his game plan to a more aggressive style even when the situation calls for it. It is important to have a game plan to abide by, but a team needs to be willing to change, needs to be aggressive and needs to dictate the style of play in a give game in order to win. The Bruins propensity to let their opponents dictate play is what has cost them plenty of games this season and will be their inevitable undoing in the playoffs.
Unless, of course, they embrace change.
Post-Game Notes: It takes a big man to admit he is wrong. Thankfully, I’m 6’2”… Congratulations to Mark Recchi, who recorded his 1,500th point against Florida in spite of the fact I declared him to be washed up five seasons ago. With four minutes remaining in the contest, Recchi took a shot off the rebound that beat Tomas Vokoun glove side for his 1,500th. Recchi’s point total place him at 13th on the all-time scoring list. It was also the 567th goal of Recchi’s career, putting him 20th on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.