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.

This years playoffs have so many interesting matchups it is going to be hard to call a best series even if you see every minute of ever game.

The Chicago Blackhawks vs the Nashville Predators

This is the western conference’s David versus Goliath matchup. While the Blackhawks aren’t quite as formidable as they were when Kane, Toews, Seabrook, and Keith first hoisted the Cup, they are still one of the strongest, best balanced teams in the NHL. If the Predators do win this matchup it will be because the team refused to be intimidated, and everyone grabbed the rope and leaned. The Preds do have the players to be dangerous, Subban, Ellis, Arvidsson, and Forsberg are more than a handful themselves.

Biggest Strength

  • Blackhawks: Explosiveness
  • Predators: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Blackhawks: Special teams
  • Predators: Discipline

Ottawa Senators vs Boston Bruins

This is a first. The Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins have never met in the playoffs. The Sens have been in the NHL 26 years, and they and the Bruins have never gone eye to eye. The Senators ran the tables on the Bruins in the regular season. Both teams will enter the second season with banged up bluelines. Both coaches are relatively new to their posts. Each team has some very gifted players. Marchand, Bergeron, and Chara will need to shoulder the load for the Bruins to have a hope. Karlsson, O’Reilly, and Anderson can just be themselves so long as the rest of the squad shows up. This could be the best series to watch from an “x’s” and “o’s” point of view. This matchup probably has the highest regular season PIM total.

Biggest Strengths:

  • Senators: The ability to triple the gravity in the neutral zone
  • Bruin: Team defense and penalty kill

Biggest Weakness

  • Senators: Special teams
  • Bruins: Wildly inconsistent goaltending

 

Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Everything versus nothing. That is this series in three words. The Toronto Maple Leafs are at least two years ahead of projections. The Washington Capitals should have had at least one Cup in the last five years. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen are all years from being able to drink (legally) in the US. Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom are all well into their second half of a decade or more chasing the last win of the season and not even coming close.

Biggest Strengths

  • Caps:  Total package
  • Leafs: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Caps: Mental composure
  • Leafs: Defense

 

Predictions:

Boom or bust players are the players who’s performance have the ability to tilt the series.

Hawks vs Preds

For the Predators to win they need to stay out of the box they were penalized almost 50% more than the Blackhawks, for Chicago its pretty much a case of stay calm and be the Blackhawks. – Chicago in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series: Ryan Johansen

Caps vs Leafs

The Caps have more playoff experience, at least as good a coach, better performance at almost every measure. – Caps in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series: Alex Ovechkin

Ducks vs Flames

Goaltending wins championships, and the difference between Gibson’s season and either Johnson or Elliot is noticeable, but the Flames are not going to go down easy. – Ducks in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. – Johnny Gaudreau

Penguins vs Jackets

Repeating is tough, if I were ever going to pick a team to do it, this might just be it. Jackets in 6

Boom or Bus player of the series. – Cam Atkinson

Oilers vs Sharks

This Oilers team is pretty compelling. How the defense of the Sharks is matched with McDavid and company will decide the series. – Oilers in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. Milan Lucic

Wild vs Blues

This series is not as even as some people would have you believe. Wild in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series. Alex Peitrangelo

Habs vs Rangers

These teams have recent history, but one team is on the rise, and one of them has crested. Canadiens in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series. Derek Stepan

Sens vs Bs

This series will come down to how consistently the coaches can impose their will on their team and get them to execute the system. Sens in 6

 

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

No team is perfect, even the cup winners. Some have more faults than highlights, and those teams end up drafting very high. That’s not quite the case with this year’s Boston Bruins. But they do have faults. Some of them are pretty obvious, some need a closer examination to uncover.

The Obvious Symptoms of their faults:

  • They have nothing like a viable backup.
  • They have issues scoring.
  • A powerplay that is wildly inconsistent
  • Incomplete top six
  • Poor offense from the backend
  • Lack of speed or physicality in some top 9 players

That’s the six problems. Some of this is covered up by some extraordinary strengths. The top six is graced by Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak who are speedy, and near the top of the NHL in scoring. That helps, but Patrice Bergeron is behind even the pace he set in the lockout shortened season, and is still thirteen points short of his 2008-09 season which was frankly dreadful by his standards.

David Krejci is scoring at a lower than expected, if still acceptable pace, but for just the second time in his nine full seasons on the Boston roster he’s got a negative goal differential. Part of this is his linemates, who have been varied and frequently very young. Part of it is that he’s never played the game at even average speed for the NHL, and he’s now on the down-slope to his 31st birthday. I’ve yet to see an NHL player who was faster at 31 than 21.

The defense is masked by Torey Krug who is 10th in scoring by defensemen. The next highest scoring defensemen are rookie Brandon Carlo who is currently at 89, and Zdeno Chara tied with the youngest player on the roster. The other guys are well over the event horizon. As a whole, they are quite good at limiting shot attempts, only two teams have allowed few shot attempts than the Bruins, and they are the Blues and Kings in the wretched western conference. They have also generated the most shot attempts meaning they are doing a reasonable job getting the puck out of their  own zone and keeping it in the offensive zone.

But their inability to score is undeniable. Only seven teams have scored less goals per game than the Bruins 2.52 per game.

  • The Buffalo Sabres
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Florida Panthers
  • Vancouver Canucks
  • New Jersey Devils
  • Arizona Coyotes
  • Colorado Avalanche

You can’t win games that way, you just can’t. And as Tuukka Rasks non-contact groin injury proves, he’s not physically capable of playing so much of an NHL schedule. Despite the low number of shots per game, they all add up, and so does the time in the crease. Neither youngster has seized the backup role, and Khudobin is not the guy who was in Boston a couple years back.

So what do we know about the Bruins?

  1. They have an efficient, orderly defense that has performed its primary duty well, even though only one player (Krug) has played in all games.
  2. They aren’t getting scoring from anywhere not named Marchand or Pastrnak in enough weight to push them from “hurting themselves by making the playoffs” to “let’s show the youngsters the second round”.
  3. The coach must be being listened to or the defense would be worse and with the current offense it would have them well outside the playoffs.
  4. Backup goaltending is spotty at least this year with McIntyre still learning the progame, Subban rediscovering his balance in net after his throat injury, and Khudobin likely playing through an injury.
  5. They can probably spare a defenseman or two to help secure a good forward because scoring wise after Krug the difference between next and worst is minimal, and as a whole they play well, even through injuries and illnesses.

What are the biggest issues:

1: They need an offensive contributor in the top 6 who is a legitimate top line winger.

2: They need to find a way to compensate for the lack of speed of Krejci and Backes (or move on from one or both).

3: They need to get the powerplay settled so that it continues (as it has the last 5-10 games) to look like a top unit, and keep everyone’s head on straight.

3a: They need to get a backup who is going to get the team to play for him (and themselves) and who will in turn put in a respectable performance.

4: They need to remove guys from the roster/system who can either net a return to solve #1 or 3a (Budaj might be available soon).

Time for the second round of exams on the Boston Bruins.  The biggest concern everyone had this off season was defense, so I’m going to start there. The brilliant minds behind Hockey Reference lay out the stat I look at first for defensemen like so:

  1. Rob O’Gara 1.00
  2. Brandon Carlo 94.2
  3. Zdeno Chara 93.9
  4. Torey Krug 90.7
  5. Joe Morrow 88.9
  6. John-Michael Liles 88.8
  7. Colin Miller 88.8
  8. Adam McQuaid 87.9

Those are the eight defensemen who have played for the Boston Bruins this season. Rob O’Gara playe just three games at the beginning of the season totally just 48:02 in ice time. What’s most interesting about O’Gara besides him not being in Boston for a couple weeks now is that he played over six minutes shorthanded in those games, when their penalty kill wasn’t great and is still unblemished on the year. Joe Morrow is likewise dealing with a small sample size, and no shorthanded or powerplay time. But both of them are still better than the pairing of Liles and Miller. McQuaid has come back from another injury this season, and was still warming to the task when other players were nearing mid season form. I suspect his number will trend upwards. Also of note is that of the regulars, only Chara, Carlo, and McQuaid are starting more than 50% of their shifts in the defensive zone

Of note among the forwards are Brad Marchand who despite leveling off is still a point per game player this year, David Patrnak who has 1/4th of the Bruins goals this season. Dominic Moore is a head scratcher to sit alone at third in goals scored by the Boston Bruins, and if they are going to maintain a top three slot in the division, that needs to change. Krejci, Backes, Spooner, Bergeron, Beleskey all need to do more, and if we’re going to go off pure salary so does Hayes.

In goal we’ve been treated to a surprisingly good year in the games Rask has made it into, and shown the rest of the maked men are not quite top shelf goalies right now.

What is probably most remarkable about this team right now today is the coaching. Claude Julien not only has almost a completely new coaching cadre, he’s making it work and work well. At sixteen games into the season I’m not over my suspicion this is not a playoff team, but if they make it there someone needs to be at worst shortlisted for a Jack Adams, which he’s got a good shot at as long as the Columbus Blue Jackets don’t also make the post season.

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.

In the last few weeks the Boston Bruins have been ravaged by in recent weeks. Kevan Miller went down. Then Zdeno Chara went down. David Krejci has been in and out of the lineup, Torey Krug went down, Brad Marchand was dinged, and now David Warsofsky is out of action. Zdeno Chara is the biggest factor, and on the surface we know their record is solid since his 4:13 of ice time in the game where he was lost.

October 23rd is the game where Chara went down the tunnel and didn’t come back. It was early in the game, and the rest of the game was chaotic. Matt Bartkowski played 21 minutes and was a minus one. The defensive pairs were shuffled, blended and then shaken for good measure. Even allowing for the Chara injury, the game wasn’t a good one for the men in black and gold. Patrice Bergeron was a -2, Krejci registered just one shot on net and the team never recovered from Chara going down. They dropped the game to a team that’s giving up as many goals as they score.

October 25th they take on a team who just don’t have what it takes to keep the Bruins out of their head. They managed a convincing win against a team that failed to make the playoffs last season, and are at best a bubble team this year.

Next up is the Minnesota Wild on October 28th. Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and company. The Bruins got down early giving up the opener to former New York Islander Nino Niedderreiter. By the end of the second the Bruins were up 3-1 in what was likely Krejci’s most healthy game of the season. In the third period the team failed to show up. No one took control, no one dominated their space, and the boys from the state of hockey popped three by Tuukka Rask to walk out with two points.

The night before Halloween the Boston Bruins played division ‘rivals’ the Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres who are averaging one goal per game. One. Goal. Per. Game. The Boston Bruins gave up two goals to this team, yes, twice the average the team has achieved all season. Then they took overtime to beat the team most likely to be drafting first overall. Yes they gave a pity point to a team that’s so bad no one even pretends the team has a shot at the playoffs.

Next up were the Ottawa Senators. A team who’s best player is Kyle Turris but who lack a legitimate superstar. Again, a team that isn’t considered a threat to division or conference and who no one except maybe Eugene Melnyk thinks they have a shot at Lord Stanley’s silver. The Bruins win against a goalie who put up a .867sv%  on the night. A mediocre team, and they beat the backup.

Next was a visit against a team they should expect the Providence Bruins to beat in a seven game series; The Florida Panthers. Aside Roberto Luongo and Brian Campbell there’s no one worth knowing on the team. Gudbranson, Huberdeau, and maybe Barkov will be name players in two or three years, but right now, nope, nada, talent not found. This team is currently averaging 1.67 goals per game, yes that’s 29th in the NHL with only Buffalo scoring less. The Bruins again gave up a pity point. Yes, they went to overtime with a team that can’t manage even two goals per night for the second time in three games.

Finally in this run without Chara, and others they faced the Edmonton Oilers. There was no Taylor Hall in the lineup. That’s arguably their best player. Andrew Ference was out. That’s their captain, their best defensive defensemen, and two two of them are both physical, good skaters, and guys who don’t take shifts off. What’s left of the team lacks firmness and the team is impressively bad at getting the puck out of their own end. They are 27th in the league for goals allowed with 3.50 goals against per game. Ben Scrivens turned in a .871sv% in the loss.

Against the two teams most likely to be in the playoffs the Bruins lost. They went to overtime against two teams likely to be in the lottery. In short we know they can beat, just barely, wretched teams. We know they aren’t any good against anyone who is any good.

As for the suggestion that Chara might be traded now (possibly for Jordan Eberle who is becoming the new Vincent Lecavalier), with what we’ve seen there is zero reason to think that if the Boston Bruins made it to the playoffs they would make it out of the first round. It’s arguable they wouldn’t even make it to a fifth game if they replaced him with Eberle or any player on the Dallas Stars.

Last night the Boston Bruins lost their captain Zdeno Chara to reported knee injury. The list of accolades and accolades for the man passed over fifty five times in the 1996 draft doesn’t need to be repeated. But they do impact what happens in his absence. Chara vacating the lineup for two to three weeks is probably good for development of the other defenseman, namely Hamilton, Krug and whoever gets called up.

There are three questions:

  1. Is it a short term injury or a long term injury?
  2. If its long term, will he return at all?
  3. What type of replacement should the team go for in the medium to long term?

Currently the Boston Bruins say he’ll be out four to six weeks with no surgery needed. That means December, early in the month if things go well. But given all the complications possible in joints that endure much less stress than a 24 minute a night nearly seven foot tall bruising NHL defenseman, the probability it will take Chara more than six weeks to return is very real.

But, given that the man has played through broken fingers to the point where he no longer has feeling in two of them, he might not even have felt the injury given all the other damage to his body over the years. That monstrous hit he laid on John Tavares could just be the last time he’s seen on the ice until his jersey is hoisted into the rafters. Let’s not forget that while he’s a physical fitness freak, two weeks after the trade deadline he’ll be 38 years old. While the evidence shows Father Time does play favorites, being a top player in a physically demanding collision sport means everyone leaves the sport younger than they want to.

A laundry list of the Boston Bruins prospects in college or in the minors won’t turn up anyone who can contribute even 75% of what Chara does. Rob O’Gara is tantalizing, Linus Arnesson has more than a few admirers, and Joe Morrow was actually taken just a few picks after Dougie Hamilton. One or more of those young men may have to be part of a package to bring back a viable top three defenseman to fill in for any period longer than seven or eight weeks.

The list of who might be both useful and available isn’t that long. Marc Staal has been supplanted by Ryan McDonagh on the New York Rangers depth chart, but he’s still a pretty damned effective defenseman. He’s also a UFA on July 1, and the Rangers will likely not have room to sign him. As a pure defensive defenseman, Mark Stuart might just be the answer. Like Chara he plays over three minutes a night of short handed time on ice, he is familiar with Claude Julien’s system, the Boston fans and media, and he’s a leader, he’s not a top three defenseman but given the market for defensemen, he might be a good fit.

Luke Schenn is another intriguing possibility. The Flyers season isn’t going any better than Boston’s and while the Fyers have less in the way of young building blocks they also have a new general manager who has yet o really put his stamp on the team. With another year on his contract, and then a raise due after that he’s more than a rental. He’s only slightly older than Hamilton and Krug but has more NHL experience than both put together. The Arizona Coyotes might be convinced to part with Zbynek Michalek. He’s a solid 21 or so minute a night guy who plays hard and reliably.

Whatever the Boston Bruins do, short, medium or long term the post-Chara era must be planned for, and planned or now.