I tried really hard. I really did.
In spite of the early season struggles by the Boston Bruins, I did my best to keep a positive outlook on the team and the season, stay levelheaded and stay objective. It was all of but two weeks ago I was writing how there was nothing to fear while many thought Boston was in flames.
Well, I take it back.
The time has come to hit that big, red panic button.
The Bruins went 1-3 during a four-game home stand over the 14 days between the column in question and this, culminating with a 2-1 loss to tonight’s opponent, the Montreal Canadiens, on Thursday night. By virtue of that loss, coupled with Winnipeg’s victory over the Philadelphia Flyers that same evening, those very Boston Bruins who used to be nothing to worry about fell to dead last in the Eastern Conference.
How could things fall apart so quickly? We are talking about just two weeks of a season that spans seven months and the Bruins are gearing up for just their 10th game of an 82 game schedule. Onto itself, it really is not that significant a chunk of time and the Bruins are still all of four points out of a playoff spot. Things, however, start to get a little scary when you look at the facts, starting with the most brutal fact of all:
In the last three seasons, of the eight teams in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs, seven were ranked in the top eight at Halloween. Should history repeat itself, this leaves the Bruins with something around a 13% chance of making it to the postseason. The Bruins need to turn things around and turn things around in the very near future.
There is too much that is good about this Bruins team for me to completely give up hope and believe they are not a playoff caliber team. Despite their 3-6 record, the Bruins still continue to be a defensive force, ranking eighth in the NHL in total goals against per game (2.33) and sixth in penalty killing (88.6%), while goaltender Tim Thomas ranks 11th amongst regular starters with a 2.14 goals against average. The play of their offense this season, however, is enough to make even the most patient of saints panic and what has driven me over the edge from my worry free state.
Something has to be done.
While I was ready and willing to hold head coach Claude Julien accountable for any ounce of offensive struggle the Bruins had last season because his utter refusal to let the dogs off the leash and shake-up his lines whenever his team’s goal scoring became stagnant, Julien deserves credit for the way he has handled his team this season. From calling out his then top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton early in the season, to the more up-tempo, creative style of offense the Bruins have been prone to playing this season, to his constant juggling of the offensive lines not just between games, but in games as well, in an attempt to get things going, Julien has been anything but the staunch Claude he was a year ago. The coach has done his part. The Bruins are losing because the 20 players that suit up every game in Black-and-Gold are just not getting it done and not capitalizing on the opportunities they have been given.
The Bruins currently rank third in the NHL with 34.0 shots per game, the exact same position they held last year, but more than a shot better (32.9 in 2011). The difference is the Bruins ranked fifth last year in goals per game at 2.98, while they are 26th this season, putting away just 2.11 goals per game. The only times the Bruins have scored more than two goals are in their three wins, one of which gets an asterisk as it was their 3-2, shootout win over the Blackhawks. A major shake up of the Bruins offense is needed and it starts with center David Krejci.
The more the Bruins struggle, the louder the whispers become of trading the Bruins top pivot. Chirps from the Black-and-Gold faithful about trading Krejci, however, should be quelled. He is one of the leading Bruins in terms of trade value, but trading Krejci is not the answer as he is far more valuable to the Bruins than any other team and would never net the sort of return that would correct the Bruins’ offense. He is still, however, the key cog in the Bruins offensive turn around. As Krejci goes, the offense goes and his improved play will provide the needed spark.
As strong and deep as the Bruins may be down the middle, they do not have an elite center. Krejci is the closest to that level. Tyler Seguin may have the makings of being elite one day, but is not there yet. For as dominant a two-way player as he can be and even if he is the most talented hockey player on the team, Patrice Bergeron cannot carry an offense the way a Henrik Sedin, Steven Stamkos or Joe Thornton can. Krejci may not be up to the level of those three either, but he is the closest they have to the elite, #1 center and currently the most offensively gifted of the Boston centermen with great playmaking ability. Krejci is the kind of center that creates opportunities and raises the play of those around him. A perfect example is the play of Lucic, who went from being a near bust following the 2009-2010 season to scoring a team leading 30 goals in 2010-2011 playing alongside Krejci, and has similarly struggled along with the Czech so far this season with just two goals in nine contests.
Worry has befallen Boston, the panic button has been pressed and the Bruins need to turn things around and fast. With three straight games against division opponents, starting tonight in Montreal, the time to act is now. The time to act, however, does not mean it is the time to be rash as the answers still come from within for the Boston Bruins and their struggling offense. The coach has tried to shake things up, but it is the horses at the top of the stable that must liven themselves, and quickly. Aside from his poor start this season (one goal and team worst -5 in six games), Krejci has driven this offense since injuries beset Marc Savard two seasons ago, most notably last postseason when he led the NHL in points, and must continue to do so in order for the Bruins to once again be successful.
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.