The Boston Bruins ended their season against the Ottawa Senators. Some, myself included believe they never should have made the playoffs. Given their lack of quality even taking a team that left them sitting on their Bettman with a fat lip at the end of every meeting in the regular season is an accomplishment. There are a couple reasons they lost, and no, the officiating in the playoffs isn’t it.

5:  Balance

The bottom three were an issue because it should really be a bottom six on a team like this. The MAN line of Moore, Nash, and Acciari was very good. Tim  Schaller was variable, Krejci was useless before he went down to injury, and Spooner was well, Ryan Spooner. The only real strength shown in the depth on the blueline, McAvoy looked as good as anyone could reasonably expect, probably better, Morrow looked like the guy who they hoped he’d be when they traded for him. Cross looked good, and I have to wonder where he’ll be playing next year.

4: Inconsistency

This team was held to less than five shots on goal more than once, including a period without a single shot on goal. They took stupid penalties, like the three delay of games over the board in less than half a period to start game six. Their goaltender had three games with a save percentage under .900.

3: Speed

The speediest players didn’t do much with their speed. The rest of the players weren’t fast enough to break through the slopfest of a neutral zone created by Guy Boucher and the Senators trap. Pastrnak was ineffective, Marchand was largely invisible, Vatrano didn’t make a splash. Colin Miller who was the fastest skater in the AHL a couple years ago was invisible even before someone tried to end is career.

2: Shooting

They barely did. They had the second fewest shots on goal per game of any team in the playoffs. They allowed the Senators the same number of shots per game as in the regular season where Ottawa beat them  each time, and finished ahead of them. You don’t consistently beat a good goalie with low shot totals, you don’t support your own goaltender with very few goals.

1: Communication

I have never seen a team with such bad communication and awareness on the ice. There were collisions between players who have been on the roster for years. There were more passes to no where than to other players. How in the world were there yet more two many men on the ice penalties? Even Bergeron and Marchand who have played together for hundreds and hundreds of games could be seen crashing into each other once below the circles, and Marchand being on the receiving end of a Bergeron blueline check. We know some of the injuries guys were playing through, maybe they were addled by pain killers, but this was not a team in sync.

Last nights Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators was an exciting affair. Seven goals, some tussles, and even bonus hockey. Some people have thrown the young defensemen under the bus already. I’m not sure that’s useful or even viable. The Senators beat the Bruins soundly and consistently all season, and they did that with the Bruins top six defensemen intact. In Game 3, they went to overtime with four regular defensemen out of the lineup. Krug was the highest scoring defenseman on the team by more than a little, and one of the top scorers in the league. Adam McQuaid who owned an on ice save percentage higher than any other defenseman on the team. Brandon Carlo who has turned in a very, very solid year playing against the best of the NHL. And Colin Miller who has spelled Krug on the powerplay, and performed solidly.

What they got Charlie McAvoy who has now played nearly 100 NHL minutes total, Tommy Cross who has played all of four total NHL games, and Joe Morrow who now has two who playoff games to his name after playing just 20 total games all year. The Bruins defense, highlighted by Morrow in this regard blocked eight shots. They only allowed one more shot than the Senators season average, and that is even taking into consideration the overtime.

Some people have blamed the last goal of the night on Tommy Cross. It is almost a logical conclusion. But if you watch closely, Cross is doing everything he can not to take a penalty, and maintained contact with Bobby Ryan all the way in. If there are two guys in the AHL who can make the shot Ryan did I don’t know who they are, and I doubt most team scouts do either. In the NHL, there maybe 15 guys who are as good at shooting the puck as Ryan. That’s it. Without taking a penalty, there isn’t anything else he could have done.

Why did the Bruins really lose the game? If you don’t believe the Senators are a better team despite the regular season record and the series lead, then there are only two options to consider. The first is that Tuukka Rask turned in his second straight game with a SV% of .875 or lower.

The other option, may just be more palatable to many of the Rask’s defenders. A casual look at one of the stats mentioned above shows an even greater issue than any of the issues with the defensemen. The truth is the forwards were not good in this game. Only two forwards had more than one shot on net.  Riley Nash and Patrice Bergeron. That is it. Stafford and Moore didn’t even have shot attempts. Over 27 minutes of ice time and not even an attempt.  The team put just twenty shots on net in a game that went into overtime. Over the regular season they had more than 32 shots on net per game. You can’t get winning results on low effort.

Just days ago I wrote a piece on Torey Krug and how he should absolutely not be exposed at the expansion draft. Today we learn he is day to day heading into the playoffs. He is not expected to play in the season finale. Of the teams defensemen, no one does anywhere near as much to generate offense for the team. His penalty kill time this year is even contributing to better play in his own zone.

While the compact Michigan State alumni is hardly likely to turn to the dark side, his absence does indeed cast Vader’s shadow on a team where scoring among defensemen is pretty rare. At this point in the season Krug is tied for 5th in scoring among defensemen with 51 points, next is Zdeno Chara who with 29 points owns the 53rd rank. None of the other blueliners even make the top 100.

A next man up approach might slide Colin Miller into slot and bump him up a pairing. He’s a great skater, he’s a solid passer, a willing shooter, and already used to the NHL. Unfortunately those attributes haven’t combined to make him a good NHL player. He has less points than the other Miller who no one confuses with an offensive dynamo and who has played less games. For all his defensive prowess, Adam McQuaid has never gotten his point production into get close enough to his jersey number to be intimidating, so he’s probably not the answer. John Michael Liles has burned 52 games in a Bruins uniform, and racked up exactly the number of goals that the front office should spend in seconds deciding if they should offer him a net contract and giving him a line of 0-11-11 6PIM -6.

Joe Morrow has apparently been written off entirely by the organization. Which is sad, but not anything fans or writers will be able to do anything about. That brings us to guys currently in the AHL, and maybe players leaving college or aging out of juniors. Given the depth of defensemen in the system, I really can’t see an outsider being brought in. Sherman is unlikely to leave Harvard early, and isn’t an offensive guy. O’Gara did start the year with some time in the spoked B, but was eventually sent down for more minutes. Alex Grant is leading all Providence Bruins in scoring, but at 28 years old, the odds he’s even strongly considered are pretty slim.

Next up is Tommy Cross. At 27, he’s probably been consigned to the ranks of permanent AHL players. He did get a recall last year. He’s 2nd on the team in scoring for defensemen, with much of it at even strength. With 12 goals on the season and his well known mental acuity, even with less speed the Colin Miller, I can see him being at least as good offensively, and easily better defensively. Having played in the NHL already, I can see him handling playoff hockey better than most.

The player most similar to Krug in offensive abilities and projection is almost certainly Matt Grzelcyk who has 11 powerplay assists, perhals the area most likely to suffer without Krug. He’s speedy, he can handle the puck well in motion or holding a position, and can pass better than most. He’s nearing the end of this first professional season and aside from his offensive prowess can inject both speed and reasonable hockey sense into the backend.

While McAvoy is undeniably talented,  even if you’ve been there before. Making the jump when you won’t have the practice time to get comfortable with how other players communicate and play, or adjust to the pace of the game, sounds like a recipe for disaster at the toughest position to play.

Torey Krug get’s a lot of criticism. Much of it is undeserved, and a lot of it is built around the most mutable, and occasionally meaningless statistics, the plus minus. Today at Blogpolooza, I was asked “Would you expose Krug in the expansion draft?”Before I take a look at that, let’s look at some of what he’s doing well by anyone’s standard.

Through seventy four games played Torey Krug has 48 points, that entitles him to a share of the logjam from fifth to ninth place. Who is he tied with? Dustin Byfugelin, Dougie Hamilton, Justin Schultz, and Kevin Shattenkirk. For those who have forgotten, Shattenkirk is probably going to be the free agent who gets paid the most this off season. Schultz was part of the cup winning Penguins last season, the other two guys are NHL All Stars. Yes, this is a new career high for Krug, and he still has games left to play.

To break the points down further, the next closest defenseman in terms of scoring is Zdeno Chara who has 24.  With just three more assists, he’ll match his career total for points. He has more assists than all the other defensemen put together. With 23 powerplay points he’s one short of matching the total points for Chara, but is still getting most of his own points off the powerplay.

Take a look at the save percentage relative to team to get a good idea on what the team is like when a player is on the ice. You’ll find Adam McQuaid is a hearty +1.0, you’ll likewise see Kevan Miller at -1.7, Colin Miller at -1.0, and Torey Krug at -0.4. Not great, clearly not the worst on the team. When you remember that not only does his twenty three powerplay points laps the rest of the defensemen combined, not just leads the team, but is fifth for NHL defensemen it’s hard not to like his game. There’s only one real surprise in the names above him; Erik Karlsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Kevin Shattenkirk. That’s a Norris winner, a Finn with about eight inches of height and reach on him, and as mentioned above, a UFA that’ll likely get well over six million per year this summer.

 

Stick tap to Puckalytitics & Hockey-Reference

We are 10% into the season, and it is time to take a look at what is going on with the organization.

Heading into today’s games the Boston Bruins are:

  • 5th in the division
  • 3rd in the East’s wild card race
  • 16th in goals for
  • 15th in goals against
  • -5 in goal differential
  • 30th on the pp with 7.1% success rate
  • 10th on the PK with an 85.3% success rate
  • tied for 5th in faceoff win percentage at 51.7%st

They have used four different goalies, and 22 skaters.

By salary the top forwards without goals are:

  • David Krejci $7.25m
  • Matt Beleskey $3.8m
  • Jimmy Hayes $2.3m

The three together are a minus 18, $13.35m in salary, 56 shifts of hockey a game, and just 33 shots on goal through eight games each.

So what do we know now that we didn’t know September first? We know Brandon Carlo has shown himself to be a pretty solid NHL defenseman in this small sample. We know that Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey on the same line still doesn’t work. We know that despite the extraordinary (for him) trust Julien has put in Carlo and earlier in O’Gara, he’s still not ready to shelve Liles for Morrow or one of the other youngsters in need of ice time. To date, Liles appears to have been the most culpable defenseman on the ice for a greater number of goals against than any other blueliner. Honestly, this is starting to remind me of Hnidy’s second tour through Boston. If Morrow, O’Gara, or Grzelcyk, can’t handle the time in what is clearly a bridge year, they’ll probably never handle it.

Liles plays third pairing minutes, and has averaged less time than Colin Miller this year. His powerplay time could easily be handed out among Krug, Chara, Morrow, or O’Gara who are all left handed shots as well. And as effective as the current powerplay isn’t you can make the argument putting a goalie out their in his place would be more effective. The most dispensable part of his game is his PK time, where the team is doing above average if not well, and even there in the time he was in Boston rookie Rob O’Gara averaged more shorthanded time. I don’t know how much say Julien has over who is on his roster and in the locker room, but for the long term good of the team developing a quality defenseman over allowing an aging veteran to playout their contract should win every time. That’s a call management should make, and should make firmly.

In summary:

Problems on defense that aren’t quite as bad as I feared coming into the season. Problems at forward that are worse than I feared, and a lack of health and experience in net. Not a compelling total, but this is just 10% of the season.

No team in the east is more changed since the end of the regular season than the Boston Bruins. Gone is the General Manager who broke the cup drought. Gone is the hulking left winger who made the Causeway crowd scream. The one eyed Swede who took half a decade to don the spoked-B wore it for less than half that time. Riley Smith, one of last falls holdouts is gone as well. Greg Campbell one of the glue guys who came in and made it possible for Julien to roll all four lines is gone as his partner on the Merlot Line Daniel Paille. Gone, and largely forgotten are Matt Bartkowski and David Warsofsky.

Now manning the helm is the aggressive, at least comparatively, Don Sweeney, former Boston Bruins defenseman. He’s brought to the ice Jimmy Hayes an imposing Hub native. Standing squarely at the other end of the size spectrum is perhaps the player with the most reckless disregard for his own health and safety of any Bruin since PJ Stock, former Philadelphia Flyer Zac Rinaldo. The blue line is lightly augmented by former San Jose Shark Matt Irwin and Manchester Monarch’s alum Colin Miller. The brain trust has also brought in Jonas Gustavsson on a PTO.

The only forward pairing likely to start the season intact from last year is Bergeron and Marchand, which have become something of an institution. Unless there is a big trade involving the removal of the supposedly healthy David Krejci from the roster we are highly unlikely to see Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak reunited any time soon. There is the possibility that Eriksson and Kelly will play together again, but I doubt the season hangs on the success of these to working as a cohesive unit.

What’s hopeful about this year:

Bergeron, Chara, Marchand are all healthy and seem to have their heads in it right now. The new blood, and the young guns pushing for spots last season all have more visible strengths than weaknesses, even if none of them have the look of a burgeoning all star. Lastly the east, despite huge improvements Buffalo, is largely no stronger than last year.

What’s worrying about this year:

There is a strong possibility the Bruins will end up playing Loui Eriksson on the right side. If this is happens, the Bruins might be better off just buying him out and moving on. They won’t get to the playoffs with him running full time on the right side unless he suddenly at age 30 plays better there than he ever has before. The right wing is still questionable from top to bottom. Last year they added Brett Connolly to the mix to cover up the flailing of Seth Griffith and Riley Smith, who at least was playing through injuries, to little impact.

The blueline is a bleeding mess. After the 38 year old captain, and the 34 year old German, you have 24 year old offensive leaning defenseman who is still half a season short of his 200th NHL game. Behind them you have a grab bag of proven 5-7 guys and ones with ‘potential’. A heady Tommy Cross is three full seasons out of college and yet to make his NHL debut. Zach Trotman looks to be leading the pack with potential, as he did last year. I wouldn’t rule out Chris Casto or Linus Arnesson even if both have an up hill climb. While it’s hard to dislike the work ethic of Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller, neither one is a guy you can pencil in to play 22 minutes a night in 75 or more games a season, and that makes both in jeopardy of having their job taken.

And then there’s the situation in net. I strongly believe both Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre can play in the NHL. There is a solid chance one or both will be an NHL starter for several seasons. Right now, I don’t see either of them being up to the challenge of being a backup who plays 30-35 games and gives the team a chance to win on the nights Rask needs off. Jeremy Smith isn’t even a consideration at the NHL level, and Gustavsson is someone I’ve seen enough of to say he doesn’t have a job with any cup contender that involves him putting on pads every practice.

Season Outlook:

As currently constructed the Boston Bruins are a bubble team.