The season is over. In the wake of a hard fought series against a team that had the Bruins number all season, it’s hard to see how anyone can be devastated. This isn’t the loss to the Flyers after going up three games to none. It’s not a loss to a truly hated team like the Canadiens. It isn’t even loss where there was a complete breakdown and most of the team didn’t show up like in the last playoff tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The top players could have been better. Marchand had one impact game. Krejci as was the case all season showed up when he wanted too. Lucic was limited in impact. But as a whole the top six were not effective, and the defense was lacking in consistent physicality. Denying that Adam McQuaid is both more physical than Corvo, Mottau or Zanon is just silly. He’s also better equipped to deal with hits and drives of the large aggressive forwards of the Capitals.

For that matter, as much as the top nine forwards tried, only Lucic is over 200lbs and aggressive. Rolston is listed at 215lbs but not exactly going to make anyone cower in fear, Jordan Caron is 202lbs and has a bit too much puppy bounce to scare anyone. That’s it for 200lb plus forwards other than Shawn Thornton on the entire roster. The Capitals on the other hand had only two forwards and one defenseman on the whole roster listed below the 200lb mark.

In goal, the series saw Tim Thomas allow one less goal than last years first round series against the Montreal Canadiens. He turned in a more than reasonable 2.23Sv% and 2.14GAA. The issue was at the other end of the ice where shots on goal came from the blueline or the wall. The powerplay was again a wasted two minutes. Only two players had more than one goal. The Bruins, and likely no NHL will ever go anywhere when the top two scorers in a playoff round are Rich Peverley and Andrew Ference. The two are good soldiers, but they should not be leading the army.

Was uneven and curious officiating an issue? Yes. There were calls that should cost people jobs. They were about even in which team they put at a disadvantage, but the Bruins powerplay was worthless and they didn’t capitalize on the chances to put the puck in the net, on the ice at least, it comes down to the teams failure to execute.

The Long View

When you look at some of the other teams to win the cup recently and what they did in their next year, most of it isn’t pretty. Duncan Keith had a bad year after the Cup win, by comparison Chara’s average to slightly above year is pretty nice.  Zetterberg played two more games, and scored 20 less points they year after winning the Cup, Lucic has 12 games left to the season and is only 9 points off of last years total.  Marc-Andre Fluery’s save percentage took a tumble  year over year, oddly enough he started off the year strong, and had a stumble with a train wreck of a month towards this time of year  and then bounced back in his post-Cup year. Even Nicklas Lidstrom had a down year in the post-Cup year.

With all the travel that the Bruins saw for the Eastern Conference finals schlepping back and forth from far north to far south in the US, not to mention a seven game series started without their best forward, then added to the cross continental 3 time zone shift four times and seven games and losing a top winger its not surprising they are having issues even this long later. Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh all had much shorter trips between home and away. Chicago played Philly, Pittsburgh and Detroit played each other both years and none of those cities are all that far apart. The year after their Cup wins, Detroit finished with less points, Chicago finished not just with less points but made the playoffs on the last day.  As disconcerting as what we’re seeing is, it isn’t unprecedented or even as bad as it could be.

Trickle Down Weariness

The injury front presents a couple less apparent problems. Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley both went out it put bigger than apparent holes in the team. Horton’s physicality and size on a a team that is pretty small up front can’t be be overlooked. Of the top nine forwards left, when he went out only Lucic was over 200lbs. Krejci, Marchand, (Hamill), Seguin are all under 190lbs. Taking away that added ability to not just throw big hits, but withstand them and maintain control of the puck is huge. Add in his willingness to drop the gloves and pound the snot out of someone and you’ve got a second problem. The elephant in the room however is his powerplay production. Despite the slow start and the time missed, he’s still third on the team in powerplay goals.

Rich Peverley’s injury created it’s own fault lines and widened the ones left by the loss of Horton. Rich Peverley’s speed has always put him in the top tier of the NHL’s forwards. Unlike a lot of the company he keeps there he has not just straight line speed but an ability to go side to side and make sudden stops and starts that is very nearly unparallelled. Taking that speed and agility out means you’re left with Marchand and Seguin in the top nine with game changing speed, both of whom are smaller than Peverley and one of whom isn’t nearly as physical. When you drill into the stats and look at who does what on the team you find he’s still second in powerplay assists despite almost a month out. What’s worse is where he plays his special teams time. Most of his powerplay time is done at the point allowing one or more defensemen to rest, and he has averaged nearly two minutes a game of shorthanded time on ice.  That extra time has either gone to the already burdened Bergeron or Kelly, or slipped to Krejci and Marchand.

Caution Contents Easily Damaged

As if the physical injuries weren’t bad enough, the teams psyche has gotten fragile enough to make Rick Dipietro look like the model for endurance. The game against the Florida Panthers they put in their best effort in weeks right up until the Panthers second goal went in. Then  the Panthers could have been replaced by some the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, and still lost the game. I have no idea where the team that saw Nathan Horton get nearly decapitated at center ice and then come back to curb stomp the opposition went. Michael Ryder, Kaberle and Recchi moving on are insufficient reason for this many guys who have been there and done that to fall apart at the first sign of things not going their way.

Sluggish Metrics

The powerplay that had been in the top third of the league before the slump is now 14th. The penalty kill that was top five is now ninth. In comparison to the playoffs last year their hitting is down, as are their blocked shots. Worse what they are doing in front of the net is creating problems for the the goalies. Instead of committing to blocking a shot or letting the goalie see it, skaters are routinely setting screens. The puck will go in off their body or between two or more Bruins skaters on the way to the net. The shot shirking is bad enough it reminds me of various thankfully departed defensemen from years past.

Open Armed Welcome

When opposing players get to the crease, behind the net in that god awful trapezoid, or park themselves in the low slot no one does anything. It isn’t just Corvo who looks at opponents and wonders how long they have to think about getting a good draft at The Greatest Bar before whoever it is goes away. The softest most contact aversive forward in the league can now stand anywhere he likes and know for certain no one will drop him on his backside. Skate into the crease after the whistle? No problem. I’m honestly surprise the guys haven’t put a visitors sports bottle on the net for them.

Front Of Leadership

I think the trade deadline sent a very clear message to the team:

Front Office Message

We’ve got our hands over our eyes.

The best piece they traded away was Steve Kampfer, and got less in return. What the brought in were pieces they clearly don’t see any real use for. None of the three has a contract that runs past the end of the season. None of the three addresses a need at the time or now. Rolston does not have Horton’s physicality. Rolston does not have Peverley’s speed. Rolston also does not have their scoring ability.  Zanon and Mottau haven’t eased Chara’s penalty kill minutes. Zanon and Mottau haven’t taken up any of the scoring slack on a very low scoring defense. Zanon and Mottau aren’t injecting any real speed, physicality or poise into the lineup. When you come right down to it these guys fit the team the arrived too and not the team that is supposed to be here.

 

What’s wrong with the Boston Bruins is a question I’ve been asked a couple times a week for about two, nearly two and a half months. The tailspin didn’t start with the losing, it started with some of the undeserved wins at the end of December. In January, it was bad luck and stupid injuries but there are several underlying factors some affect the team as a whole, some individual components.  For the sake of accuracy, we’ll include the injuries Sunday in the mix.

What’s wrong the Bruins top six?

Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, Marchand, Seguin, Horton, Savard and yes in fact I can count. As a group,right now and for the last two or three weeks we’re seeing mental and physical burnout. Patrice Bergeron who is one of the fittest athletes in the NHL has sounded winded during his last two post practice radio spots. This is unheard of. He’s now injured with a probably bone bruise from blocking a shot.

Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin are in the middle of their second full NHL seasons. In addition to having the shiny of playing int he NHL wear off, they’ve got the after affects of the Stanley Cup run. The early season hangover was certainly the morning after, but for these two in particular and the team as a whole, this is that second wretched part of the night after when you get home but its a bit too early to go to bed. While it’s hard to call a performance that exceeds their previous campaign a sophomore slump consistency hasn’t been high.

Milan Lucic the wonder isn’t that he has so few goals, but so many. With Horton’s early struggles and Krejci non-existence for several weeks he was for all intents and purposes a one man line for a long time. Krejci has decided to check in again after searching the woods for Ilya Bryzgalov. The non biological, retraining issues of a concussion recovery took a bite out of his season even before he was waylaid by another hit to the head. Marc Savard, would be such a skill infusion.

With the injuries to the second six, the top six has been getting more ice time than usual, leading to less energy, more mistakes, more if not apathy than resignation at failure. Paile and Peverley’s injuries in particular have led to a lot more penalty kill time for other players.

What’s wrong with the Bruins second six?

Kelly, Peverley, Paille, Campbell, Thornton, Pouliot have been riven with injuries at various points this season. Broken feet, knee injuries, busted up faces the works. Injuries and inconsistency in the top six have pulled guys out of their comfort zone, and often over their head as well.  For all the effort he shows, Pouliot is not getting powerplay time on a healthy playoff contender. Shawn Thornton might be having a better points year than most of his career, but he’s playing less minutes and getting less results than last year and part of that is the time Campbell and Paille have spent dinged up.

One of the biggest losses to the roster from the second six is speed. Peverley and Paille give their linemates so much extra space with their speed its silly. Peverley is a bit more agile and can weave in and out of crowds with the best, but Paille can run up to and then run down anyone his size or larger. The breakaways that these to can create normally force opposing coaches to leave their second defensive out longer since most third pairings just don’t own both the skill and speed to keep up.

What’s wrong with the Bruins fill-ins and add-ons?

Hamill, Caron, Kampfer, Sauve, MacDermid, Rolston, Zanon, Mottau, Camper, Turco, Whitfield, Bartkowski…the first problem is that their are two damned many of them which has a not so incidental bearing on the second problem. The second one being ill defined roles. The best illustrations of this are Rolston who since coming over has played on both wings, two different powerplay units and two different lines. Zach Hamill is an even better example, he played on all four lines, all three center positions and with at least seven different linemates when he wasn’t in and out of the lineup.

Obviously none of this group is the issue. But not knowing where you’re supposed to be in hockey is the next worst thing to playing blind.

This is a two part post, the rest of which will post soon.

This time last year the Boston Bruins traded first round pick Mark Stuart and free agent refugee from the Phoenix Coyotes Blake Wheeler (@BiggieFunke) to the then Atlanta Thrashers and now Winnipeg Jets for Boris Valabik and Rich Peverley. What I thought of the trade at the time is pretty well known. But its a year later, the Boston Bruins have hoisted the Cup, Rich Peverley played a key role in that and has since been rewarded with a new contract.

Let’s take a look at the players one at a time:

Mark Stuart:

  • Had a multiseason ironman streak as a member of the Boston Bruins.
  • leads the Jets in shorthanded time
  • has well over 100 each hits and blocked shots (154,141) both higher than any Bruins player
  • got his first career shorthanded goal this season

Blake Wheeler:

  • his 96 hits are more than any Bruins forward except Lucic
  • leads his team in scoring
  • only Bergeron has more points among the Bruins
  • with 12 has more powerplay points than any Bruins player except Chara

Rich Peverley (currently injured):

  • 9 goals 29 assists 38 points in 49 games
  • gets almost 4 minutes of special teams time a night
  • 4th among Bruins forwards in time on ice per game
  • 8th in scoring on the Bruins

Boris Valabik:

  • Has not played in NHL since trade.

On paper, and in the stat sheets it is hard to argue the now-Jets won this trade. Both teams got what they wanted from the trade, but if you need to declare one a winner it’s not really that close. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking that.

Where oh where did the sad sack Ducks go? Bruce Boudreau seems to have gotten the Ducks to know their role and roll in their lane. The Ducks have won six of eight since the start of the year with one of the losses coming in OT.  Just a hunch but I bet it has something to do with holding their shots against count down. Instead of their average of slightly over 30 per game on the season, only two opponents have broken 30 in the new year, and 3 have been held to 25 or less.

Rene Bourque, hockey goon? Well, probably not but he did drop the gloves on his first shift against the Capitals.

I’m sure he’s put eastern conference enforcers back on their heels.

The Colorado Avalanche seem to have gotten the Wonkavator to change directions again.

They’re 6-3-1 in their last 10. Does this mean we can all look forward to another season half season (or more) of Where’s Sacco’s Sack? No doubt there are at least a few ex-NHL coaches who would love to go to the mile high city.

Tonight marks the return of Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley to the Bruins lineup. One from being exiled to Siberia, the other from personal issues that had him depart the team and miss the Tampa debacle.  Undoubtedly their cavalry charge will be at least as successful as this one.

Finally with eleven games on the schedule tonight, those of you having trouble deciding what to watch:

  • Game of the night Senators Vs Sharks, two teams at or near the top and playing well.
  • Slaughter in the making: Oilers vs Blues, with all the injuries to Edmonton’s finest, there isn’t much excuse for Blues to end the night without two points.
  • Defensive Dance: Flames vs Kings, if there are more than four goals scored in this one I’ll be amazed.
  • Gong Show? The Wild vs The Maple Leafs: The Leaf’s are spiraling towards the basement in the east, and all the Wild not on the IR are busy wondering when their turn for casts and surgery is.

 

 

The Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers square off for a battle of their divisions apex predators tonight at the Garden. It is the last game before the break so expect an all out effort from both teams. In the last game Bruins-Killer Jose Theodore pulled his Vezina act out of storage and stonewalled the black and gold, again. Jason Garrison who leads all defensemen in goals punched his ticket to the hardest shot competition:

Crazy ending tonight. I owe @ for that save in the 2nd! @ cracked my mask, gotta get a new one. #backtothedrawingboard
@CraigAnderson41
Craig Anderson

which puts him up there with guys like Zdeno Chara and Brian Rolston in the mask cracking fraternity. The Bruins can reclaim first in the conference with a win and and Flyers loss. The Panthers look to rebound from a late loss to Craig Anderson and the Senators before the break.

Bruins:

  • In net Tim Thomas will look to improve upon his 1.84 GAA and .943 Sv%
  • Rich Peverley will be out
  • have scored zero and allowed one 4 on 4 goal.
  • have the 2nd best PK rolling along at 86.7% overall and 90.1% at home
  • Milan Lucic returns from a 1 game suspension for a play the ‘wronged’ player didn’t feel was bad.

Panthers:

  • have a list of injuries that includes top center Weiss, Sturm, Upshall, Samuelsson and more
  • Jose Theodore will be in net
  • take the third least minor penalties in the NHL but lead the NHL in game misconducts
  • have won 2 out of 6 shootouts this season
  • are 49.9% in faceoffs as a team, good for 14th in the league
  • have a better goals for average on the road than at home (2.79 vs 2.44)

 

The Bruins got off to a god awful start in October, had ten wins in a row to start November and after 21 games they look a whole lot better.

Patrice Bergeron: The longest tenured skater for the team has done it all, all season. Even when the team was doing it’s zombie shuffle through October there was never a night he looked bad, disinterested or poorly conditioned. He’s done it in all areas and ways. Huge hits, five goals, a team lead in assists, second leading scorer on the team, dominant in faceoffs, and has been a key piece in reviving the powerplay even when he doesn’t figure into the powerplay goal. Leads the team in powerplay time, leads forwards in short handed time…  Grade: A

Gregory Campbell: Second among forwards in shorthanded time, has like the rest of the team had a better November than October. Unfortunately the Merlot Line’s October was a key reason for the teams failure to thrive. Grade C-

Jordan Caron: While he’s been in and out of the line up, and had numerous linemates, it’s tough to get a grip on where he fit into the equation. He’s getting an incomplete, but if I had to grade his total effort I’d give him a C weighted on his rookie status and the chaos that was the first month. Grade: Incomplete

Zach Hamill: Looked ok in Camp, was the pace setter in Providence before being called up, contributed while he was here showing more speed, toughness, and ability than his detractors would ever of credited him with. got an assist and was plus 3 in just two games. Not enough time to fairly grade him. Grade: Incomplete

Nathan Horton: Has had the most uneven of seasons. A month of being wretched, a couple weeks of being about what we expect of him. In just his second season here has gotten Julien to coach via the media which is highly unusual for him. Frustrating to watch. Grade: D+

Chris Kelly: Has been one of the guys shuffled around a great deal this year skating with: Horton, Lucic, Hamill, Caron, Peverley, Marchand and Pouliot among others. Has performed above what anyone most expected of him. Tied for third in goals on the team, tied for second in plus minus huge penalty kill minutes, a shorthanded goal, a game winning goal, a good fight… Grade: A

David Krejci: Last years leading scorer in the playoffs has been a no show this season. He did enter the season with a nagging “core” injury that eventually caused him to miss a game. Has looked very slow, disinterested and is currently tenth on the team in scoring. Has points in just five of his games this season, and has only had one streak of consecutive games scoring (3). Grade: F

Milan Lucic: Like Horton has had an up and down season, but has kept the up higher and done what he needs for himself and the team to succeed of late. Has played with passion and interest for most of the last three or four weeks and despite his linemates he’s second on the team in goals, and tied for third in points overall. May want to threaten to beat his linemates in practice if they don’t play better. Grade: C+

Brad Marchand: One of the four forwards who hasn’t taken nights off this season. Even when he doesn’t score you hear his name, you notice him play no matter who else is on the ice. Successfully plays the body, the puck and his opponents minds took on and beat the larger PK Subban in a good fight. Tied for third on the team in scoring, has the most underrated passing skills on the team, second among forwards for time on ice, second on the team in takeaways. Grade: A

Daniel Paille: As part of the Merlot Line he and was less dependable than needed in October, but certainly not the whole of a problem that stretched up and down the lineup. Got a nasty facial injury a few weeks back missed a couple games and jumped back in the lineup without a hint of rust. On pace for his best goals performance as a Bruin in this his third season here. Grade C-

Rich Peverley: The Swiss army knife of the Bruins lineup has played up and down the lineup, on both wings and three lines. Is scoring at a pace that will bring him near his career highs. November has been much better than October for him. This month he’s been a minus player just once, in October he was four times including three straight.  Should probably ask guys what athletic supporter they use instead of attempting to guess with the blade of his stick. Grade: B

Benoit Pouliot: I don’t honestly understand how or why he’s beaten out Hamill and Caron for the 12th forward position, but his effort is commendable. Uses his speed and willingness to drive the net to open up chances. Has taken a lot of just plain stupid penalties. Grade: D

Marc Savard: Teams most engaging Twitter use. Has a good handle on the teams mood and his ability to predict the performance of the team is uncanny. Grade A

Tyler Seguin: Leads the team in scoring and plus/minus. Has made enormous strides year over year in his defensive play as well. Needs to focus on better passing and not be so impatient. The itchiness to get rid of the puck tends to lead to sometimes costly turnovers. Could stand to throw the body or rub guys out along the boards more often.  I end up saying it twice a game but if he could pass as well as he can shoot and skate the Bruins could win games by double digits.  Grade A-

Shawn Thornton: The third member of the Merlot Line has done his best to stem the tide in games, and has been the leader we saw last season this month, but was one of the more notable flops in October. Grade C

The Boston Bruins have the longest winning streak of the season. The best goals differential. Lead the northeast division, and faceoff against the Detroit Red Wings Friday. Last year when the Bruins played the Wings in a home and home, they played a horrid game at home, and lost the game at Detroit on two rookie mistakes the well seasoned Wings capitalized on. Marchand and Seguin are a full season more experienced, have won a cup, and are playing with perhaps the most effective three zone forward in the NHL.

The Wings come in with a three game win streak of their own. Currently they sit in sixth place in the west, but are just one point ahead of tenth place. Detroit’s twenty second ranked penalty kill is a weakness their more dominant teams never had, but their powerplay is still running smooth and holds down the NHL’s nine spot.

Rich Peverley has a shot at his 100th career assist.

Shawn Thornton is 11 games short of his 400th career regular season game.

This will be the 21st game of the season for both teams.

Detroit’s powerplay has given up two shorthanded goals this season, the Bruins powerplay has not choked up a goal.

Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is having a career year going 11-5-1 in 17 starts, with a 1.92 GAA and a ,927 sv%. He currently leads the NHL with three shutouts, but he’s been notably better at home than on the road.

It’s been a pretty solid week to be a Bruins fan. They’ve outscored their opponents three to one this month. They have four wins in a row, Two U’s Two K’s Two Points has come together twice this month. Zach Hamill made his season debut and NHL debut as a right winger and had nine and a half quality NHL minutes playing with Jordan Caron and Chris Kelly and looking the trio looked like a line that had played together for weeks.

How’d they win? Pretty easily. The Oilers game was probably the hardest of the four games to win. Not only were the Oilers the most resilient opponent and were able to throw completely different looks at the Bruins. The Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle line is very much a speed line, while you can’t call them floaters and retain any vestige of credibility, when Hall is the largest body on the line at 194 lbs you’re not facing the physical presence of Ryan, Perry, Getzlaf. Ryan Smyth and company are a much more physical line and more likely to park themselves in the crease and stay there to get the Mike Knuble style goals. When they were down two goal they didn’t stop pressing and managed to tie the score.  Probably the most entertaining game for the casual fan to watch in this nice little four game run.

Thank You Kessel was both the prediction and the reality against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a blow out for the Bruins, seven goals, most of them close together. Worse was the way the Leafs didn’t really try. Their skaters and goaltenders allowed seven goals on just twenty shots.  That’s even very nearly as vulgar as the Flyers and Lightning refusing to move either with or towards the puck the other night.

Coming up next is a game against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres will be coming in off a game against the Senators. The Sabres find themselves facing the first goaltender controversy since the end of the Hasek era. Jhonas Enroth has stepped into the spotlight and in five games allowed just seven goals. Ryan Miller in his last start allowed five goals. Enroth is sporting an eye popping .952 save percentage and across his 10 appearances Miller has a pedestrian .913 and has gone 5 and 5 while Enroth’s record is unblemished.

Next week finishes two games that could be labeled “trap games” against the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets. The more immediate worry is the return of the injury bug. Andrew Ference is out for Saturday. Rich Peverely isn’t taking contact in practice. Paille is not even practicing. That’s a lot of minutes, particularly off the penalty kill which gets contributions from all three. Sliding into those roster slots have been Caron who has at least been with the team since camp, Zach Hamill who had a solid season debut, Steve Kampfer who hasn’t cracked the lineup in a while and Benoit Pouliot who essentially lost the battle to Caron for the 12th forward roster spot. That’s a lot of turnover, and how well it works, particularly against good teams remains to be seen.