There is not much in this world that comes with a sense of complete certainty. Death. Taxes. And maybe the excitement of a struggling Boston Bruins team when they see the Toronto Maple Leafs coming up on their schedule, as was the case Thursday night in Boston.
The Bruins took to the TD Garden ice on Thursday losers of two straight, blowing third periods leads in both for just the second time since Claude Julien took over as head coach in 2007. Boston was, however, able to put their losing streak behind them and run their record against Toronto to 8-0-0 since the start of last season as they notched a 4-2 win.
Things started slow for the Bruins against the Maple Leafs, but as the league’s #1 penalty kill killed off back-to-back power plays to Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille just after the midway point of the first, momentum began to swing in the Bruins favor. With the turn, Boston found themselves up 1-0 heading into the first break as Patrice Bergeron put home his sixth of the season off a Tyler Seguin rebound with just 0:52 remaining in the period.
Nazem Kadri brought things back to even in the opening minutes of the second, tipping his 11th of the season past Bruins netminder Anton Khudobin off a feed from Clarke MacArthur, extending his point streak to seven games 2:32 into the period. Bergeron and Seguin combined with line mate Brad Marchand for the trio’s second goal of the night at 7:11 to reclaim the lead for the Bruins, while David Krejci poked home his sixth of the season off an Andrew Ference rebound at 18:03 for a 3-1 Boston lead going into the third.
A collective breath was being held as yet another third period Bruins’ lead was cut into when a blind toss to the net by Mikhail Grabovski was put home by Jay McClement, cutting the Bruins lead to one with less than five minutes to play in the third as the game began to trend back in the Toronto direction. Seguin, however, was able to seal the victory with his second goal of the game, dumping it into the net for 12th point in the past 10 games.
With the win, the Bruins were able to keep pace with Montreal for first in the Northeast Division, remaining just one point behind as the Canadiens recorded a 4-2 win of their own against the Carolina Hurricanes.
While the losing streak may be over, the win should not alleviate the sense of urgency that should be pulsing through the Bruins’ dressing room and front office. The time to make a change has arrived for general manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins brass.
While it could be somewhat ignored earlier in the season as the wins piled up, the backend of the Bruins lineup has been a glaring weakness all season. Management took their first steps prior to the Leafs game when they put Chris Bourque on waivers, paving the way for a new winger to complement Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly on the third unit, both of whom are still warming up to the new contracts they signed prior to this season. It was also announced prior to the game that Carl Soderberg, Bruins prospect and leading scorer in the Swedish Elite League, would most likely be making his way to the Hub at the conclusion of his SEL season. Paille and veteran Jay Pandolfo will plug the third line hole for the time being.
Though there are a number of prospects in the system worthy of a shot, for a serious championship run, however, Chiarelli might be better served looking for an answer outside of the organization. Prices may be high with many teams across the NHL still in the hunt for a playoff berth in this shortened season, but with such a wide gap in production between the top and bottom six forwards, it is a price that may have to be paid if the Bruins want to make a deep run, sooner rather than later.
There is just under a month until the April 3 trade deadline, but there is also just under a month between the deadline and the end of the regular season. For a team like the Bruins struggling to find consistency, might be wise of Chiarelli to start pulling the trigger on trades now, giving his roster more time to gel prior to a hopeful postseason run.
And it is not just up front that Chiarelli should be looking to make real improvement. While the numbers might look good for Ference and the rest of the Bruins defensive corps, their performance on the ice is not quite what it has been in recent years. As a team the Bruins are fourth in the league, giving up 2.24 goals per game, while Ference himself has five points (all assists) and a +3 rating, averaging 17:55 per game. The pending unrestricted free agent, however, has often been the crux of defensive breakdowns on key goals throughout the year, including McClement’s goal on Thursday. Despite the numbers, the alternate captain has visibly been the weakest of the Bruins defensemen this season.
Chiarelli should not, however, need to make overly dramatic changes with his defense. Unlike Bourque, a career minor-league, Ference, who is hoping to stay with Boston beyond this season, should be given the benefit of the doubt and much more time to turn his game around. Yet, a veteran upgrade over Aaron Johnson, currently slotted as the Bruins’ seventh defenseman, should be sought after, just in case Ference continues to find himself in the wrong place at key moments.
A postseason trip is not yet in jeopardy by any means, but given the recent struggles with consistency and results, Chiarelli should be making the changes he has planned to make all season in the next few weeks. The team has held pat to this point, but recent events have proved the answers are most likely coming from outside the organization rather than the unproven commodities within, and the more time to develop roster continuity prior to the playoffs, the better.
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.