Bruins fans will always remember 2010 for the proverbial sucker punch to the gut dealt to their team when they blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in last season’s playoffs. While it was not as epic in nature, the Boston Bruins closed the calendar year in similar fashion as they turned a dominating performance against the Atlanta Thrashers into a 3-2 shootout loss on Thursday night in Atlanta.
The Bruins came into the night on a three game win streak to face a slumping Atlanta squad they had pummeled, both literally and figuratively, just one week prior to kick start their winning streak. While it took a little longer for the Bruins to get going compared to the two seconds it took to get on the Thrashers last week, once the Bruins were able to tie the score 1-1 on a Patrice Bergeron backhand with 5:51 to go in the first, the game was theirs for the taking. Unfortunately, Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who had given up 13 goals in his last three starts, shut the door on the Bruins as he turned in a stellar 42 save performance, which included stopping 18 in the third period.
Following the game, Bruins head coach Claude Julien was noted as saying, “We played good enough to win. Unfortunately, we didn’t burry our chances that we had. You got to be able to burry those chances.”
Julien’s words lead to a very important question that hangs over the Bruins as they head towards the second half of this season: Who will carry this team?
Tonight, we call out the Bruins top winger tandem of Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.
On paper, the two wingers represent a dynamic force that, following the first month of the season, were proving to be a duo to be reckoned with around the NHL. Not only are they physically imposing in size – Lucic comes in at 6’4, 220lbs, and Horton 6’2, 229lbs – but through the first five games of the season they demonstrated a worthy scoring touch that combined for seven goals and six assists in carrying the Bruins to a 4-1-0 start. Of late, however, the two have been nowhere to be found, combining for a grand total of one assist (a secondary assist by Horton last Tuesday in Tampa) in their last six games.
Lucic and Horton, along with Marc Savard as Boston’s top offensive line, need to carry the offensive load if the Bruins are to have any sort of success this season.
Lucic does not deserve all of the blame in this equation. Despite going six games without a point, he still leads the Bruins in goals and points and is tied for 13th in the league with 16 goals, just one off his career high. After an injury plagued 2009-2010 season, Lucic is starting to round out into the kind of player many hoped he would become when made the Bruins roster as a 19-year old rookie in 2007. Lucic had also been consistent in his point scoring prior to this current stretch. Only one other time this season has he gone multiple games without recording a point, and that was a mere stretch of just two games. Lucic also leads the team with 94 hits. To do his part, however, Lucic needs to leave an imprint, whether physically or on the score sheet, every time the Bruins take the ice.
Horton, on the other hand, has been far more disappointing in a season that started with some much promise. Acquired from the Florida Panthers in a June trade, the 25-year old Horton came to the Bruins as the third leading scorer in Panthers history and represented the fix to the Bruins’ anemic offense that finished last in the league in goals per game (2.38) in 2009-2010. In his first six games wearing Black-and-Gold, Horton tied his career high for consecutive games with a point, recording five goals and four assists in that span. Since that time, however, he has been almost non-existent.
Twice this season Horton has bested that six-game point streak with six-game scoreless draughts. He has streaks of eight and nine games without a goal. In the past 30 games, he has just one more goal (6) than the five he scored in those first six contests. Horton’s stats do rank him as the Bruins’ third leading scorer and his +15 rating is good enough for eighth highest in the NHL, fifth highest amongst NHL forwards, but games will pass without his presence being felt, particularly in the more important situations. Just three of Horton’s 11 goals have come on the power play, despite leading Bruin forwards in power play time, and not a single one has counted as a game-winner. Horton has not seemed to gel with any center he has been paired with and ranks near the bottom on the team with just 30 hits on the season.
The Bruins have been good this season, but are not yet good enough to be considered amongst the elite teams in the league or a serious Cup contender. As beneficial as it can be for a team to have its scoring balanced throughout its lineup, a successful team needs to have that one line they can count on when needed. If the Bruins intend on making any real strides this season and put serious chase to that elusive Stanley Cup, Milan Lucic will need to break out of this slump and continue to progress as he has this season, while Nathan Horton needs to be the player to burry those missed chances Julien was talking about on Thursday night.
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.