When the puck drops this evening in Winnipeg, it will be the start of the second quarter of the season for the Boston Bruins. Despite coming off a tough loss on Friday night to the Buffalo Sabres, at 8-2-2 and one point back of the Montreal Canadiens for the Northeast Division lead, things have gone fairly well for the Boston Bruins through their first 12 games.
Outside of their anemic power play, there is not much to argue about when it comes to how the Bruins have played thus far this season. This most recent loss to Buffalo marks the first time the Bruins have lost consecutive games, after falling in a shootout to the New York Rangers earlier in the week. Their record has them as the seventh best team in the NHL, while their defense is once again proving to be among the league’s elite. Boston’s defense ranks sixth in the league, giving up just 2.33 goals per game coming into Sunday, while allowing the fifth fewest shots at 26.7 per game. The Black-and-Gold also boasts the league’s best penalty kill, killing off penalties at a rate of 93.9%.
With both of the Bruins’ regulation losses coming against the Sabres, who used Friday’s win to move out of last place in the Eastern Conference, an optimist might see it as a fluke, a case of one team having a familiar opponent’s number. Taking things a little further, however, examining all four losses, and it is possibly the beginning of a disturbing trend.
Boston is struggling to beat good goaltending.
Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist are the only two goaltenders to record victories against Boston this season and also two of the most talented goalies in the National Hockey League. Miller essentially won Friday’s game for the Sabers by keeping his team in the game through two periods before the Sabres exploded for three unanswered goals in the third. Outshooting the Sabres 29-16 through 40 minutes, Miller shut Boston down and all the Bruins could muster up was a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame. It was something of a microcosm of the first part of this season.
The Bruins offense just is not getting the job done.
Despite averaging the third most shots per game (32.8), Boston is only scoring at a rate of 2.67 goals per game, just inside the bottom half of the league. Yes, this does have something to do with their 29th best power play, but generally among the league’s best 5-on-5 teams, the Bruins are 15th in the NHL in even-strength offense, and they have yet to win a game this season by more than two goals.
“As far as scoring chances go it’s not so much that our lines aren’t working,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien after Friday’s loss to the Sabres, “it’s that we’re not finishing.”
They are still winning games and they are still getting plenty of chances to score every game, but the Bruins are going to have to be better outside of their own end if they have any aspirations of a championship season.
Power play aside, a bulk of the Bruins scoring woes currently falls on the shoulders of winger Tyler Seguin. Coming into the season, many were expecting Seguin to take another leap in his young NHL career after team-high 29 goals last season and then dominating overseas during the lockout. The opposite has taken place, however, as the third-year forward is mired in the first real scoring slump of his NHL career with all of one goal while facing a goaltender through 12 games, despite taking the second most shots on the team. (Seguin also has an empty netter for a total of two goals on the season.)
Seguin has not been pitiful this season, however. He does lead the team with a +8 rating and has contributed five assists while line mate Brad Marchand has carried the offense with a team-leading seven goals. Seguin and his line mates are still producing and creating offense, as well as doing their job in the defensive zone, but will need to more consistent scoring as the season progresses.
The Bruins can win without a power play, but they cannot win many games with just one offensive line and on defense alone.
One thing the Bruins offense seems to be lacking this season that has been something of a hallmark in recent years is scoring depth and balance. Currently, the team’s top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton is the only set that can claim to be contributing with any regularity, combining for 11 goals and 16 assists. The second group of Seguin, Marchand and Patrice Bergeron does have the team’s goal scoring leader, but Marchand is the only member of the trio not having trouble finishing, as Seguin and Bergeron have managed just two goals apiece, despite leading the team in shots taken. There is an even more significant drop off moving further down the roster.
After last season’s regular third grouping of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Benoit Pouliot combined to average 0.57 goals per game, this year’s group of Kelly, Peverley and Chris Bourque have contributed all of three goals to the effort. That averages out to a rate of about half of what it was last season and equals the current output of the team’s checking line of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton.
Though it can be said that if the only thing to complain about is a team’s third line, that team is probably in pretty good shape. For the Bruins, however, the blame cannot all fall on the shoulders of Seguin. The third line will need to carry more of an offensive load, and the longer the team continues to struggle, the more it becomes evident the answers will not come from within for the team.
Jay Pandolfo will make his debut for the Bruins in Winnipeg after signing earlier in the week. Injecting new blood into the lineup can always spark something, but it is unlikely the 38-year old is the answer to the Bruins woes, projecting to see little more than time with the fourth unit, though a good depth signing by general manager Peter Chiarelli. Nor does help seem to be coming anytime in the form of Jordan Caron, who continues to struggle in the AHL after a midseason injury forced him to relinquish his projected third line spot to Bourque as the lockout ended.
Unless there is a dramatic turnaround for the Bruins offense over the second quarter of the season, Chiarelli is going to have to get to work using his newfound cap space to acquire a proven, veteran presence to kick-start the Bruins offense.
It is not time for the Bruins brass to start hammering any panic buttons with just a quarter of the season in the books, but it has been a good enough of a sample size to get a good read on what kind of team with which they are working. They have championship potential, but are not yet championship caliber. The good news is it is easier to retool an offense than have to worry about a weak defense, so the Bruins have the easier problem to fix and the next 12 games will tell how the roster will look when the curtain finally falls on the 2013 season.
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.