The Boston Bruins are broken. They may not be as badly off as the Columbus Blue Jackets or The Montreal Canadiens but like those teams they need someone to reach under the hood and switch out a few parts. The Bruins problems come under three main categories. None of the categories is all that deep, but they are all enough to damage the Bruins system and momentum.
Below peak performance:
The two players this is most true of are notable here simply for what they are capable of put haven’t done this season. The first is Nathan Horton. Unfortunately as we’ve seen with other concussed players there is no magic pep talk you can give to make the recovery go faster. How long it takes to recover both physically and mentally varies widely based in part on how severe the injury was, how it was suffered and the mental and physical health of the player. Before Tom Sestito hit that put Horton out we had started to see him climbing back into the top of the form that made him and Lucic such a scary combination to deal with. As of now it is unknown when Horton will play again which unfortunately waters down the Kelly line as well.
Johnny Boychuk is the other player failing to thrive. In his rookie season he played fifty-one games. As a rookie he averaged a shade over seventeen and a half minutes a night and pulled down 15 points or .29 points per game. This season, while playing as much even strength as he did total that year, he’s totaled nine points in 49 games .18 PPG which puts him on pace for a total of 13 should he play every game the rest of the season. That represents a 30% swing in productivity. Worse, he’s making the same poor choices he did as a rookie. One of those is dumping the puck into the offensive zone on an offside instead of retreating to the neutral zone and retaining control of the puck, he can be counted on to give up control of the puck.
Reversion to normal:
Benoit Pouliot had a couple magical weeks that made you see why he was drafted so high. It was fun to watch. You could see why teams keep hoping they have the magical coaching to turn him into a legitimate top six forward and consistent threat. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that’s happened. Despite half of his eight goals being game winners, and a couple of them just plain pretty, and a better shooting percentage than last year, Pouliot is on pace for less points this year than last. Despite half a minutes more ice time, a better offensive team than last years and a strong two months span, he’s playing here about like he did everywhere else.
Joe Corvo is the other player who is depending on your point of view either returning to form now or still playing the way he always has. Defensively he absolutely is worse than Kaberle. He turns the puck over at least twice a game regular as a metronome regardless of what the real time stats say. He’s aggressive enough in the defensive zone in any category that doesn’t count attempting to force bad outlet passes. His body and stick don’t do much to move the puck out of danger areas, nor does he attack the opposition attempting to pry the puck loose or force them to go around him. His shot is impressive when he uncorks it, I just don’t see the total package justifying playing time.
With the Pouliot experiment, and the issues with Horton, Corvo and Boychuk other players have been forced into roles that are clear as mud. For Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill, the constant in and out of the lineup, or trips up and down the roster can’t have helped them adjust. During one two week span Hamill for example played fourth line center, first line left wing, second line right wing and bounced through all three positions on the third line. Caron who broke camp with the team was flipped in and out of the lineup for Pouliot a number of times when arguably he was the better player but the distinction was clearly a very fine one. To date, Caron has played as many games in the AHL as the NHL, and spent just nearly as many in the pressbox. One can’t help but wonder how much further along these two would be if they played consistently.
Less noticeably, but just as perplexing is Steve Kampfer’s for the most part non-play. He did injure himself early in the season but was skating with no limitations long ago. With the inconsistent play of Corvo and Boychuk (among others) it seems odd it would take a suspension to Ference for him to get into action again. While neither has been exactly impressive offensively, in half the ice time and spotty play Kampfers points per game is slightly higher than Boychuks. In a lineup with Shawn Thornton, Adam Mcquaid, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and several others it’d be hard to put either Kampfer or Corvo into list of most intimidating players, Kampfer is more likely to throw a good hit, and turns the puck over less. He may or may not be as offensively gifted but he’s clearly more active and more aggressive defensively, more importantly he shows his hunger to be on the ice every night when he laces the skates up.
None of the Bruins problems are insurmountable. Equally true none of them will fix themselves. You can’t expect to win consistently with two thirds of your defense playing erratically, and while trying to use a marginal third line player as a key component on the powerplay. That is not how this team is built, it is not how they win. No further proof is needed than a look at their record of the last ten games: 4-5-1. Three of those regulation losses have come to the basement dwelling Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and the Ovechkin-less bubble team Capitals.