Boston’s disappointing 2-1 loss to Columbus last Saturday at TD Garden snapped its season-high five game win streak. The Bruins had really picked it up after some miserable play but the fact remains that they are still only clinging to the eighth spot in the weak Eastern Conference. They should safely make the postseason and be in the running for home ice but things have been shakier here than at any point in recent years.
The Bruins have two games on the road next week (Dallas and Colorado) before All-Star weekend then only 34 games remain in the regular season. Their first game after the break is at the Islanders so they won’t return to TD Garden until two weeks from now: vs. LA. Center Patrice Bergeron is their only player going to the All-Star Game next weekend in Columbus and you can’t really argue that anybody else on the Black and Gold deserves to join him.
There are plenty of other issues on the team but more than any group, the forwards and their lack of scoring touch as been the biggest weakness for the B’s thus far. Four Bruins (Soderberg, Eriksson, Bergeron and Marchand) are in double-figures for goals but Marchand leads with a paltry 12. Boston won’t go anywhere if they continue to struggle so much to put the puck in the net.
Rookie David Pastrnak had a pair of two-goal games this week and he appears to be the first line winger that Boston searched for all season to compliment David Krejci and Milan Lucic. As the youngest player in the league, not to mention the fact that he’s tiny, he’s sure to wear down but the Bruins need him to continue to create chances.
Captain Zdeno Chara missing 19 games set this group back but then again, you could argue that it’s a reach to be relying on a 37-year-old with his mileage as much as the Bruins still do. Dougie Hamilton (7 goals, 17 assists) isn’t a star yet but he has shown plenty of flashes of the guy that Boston figures to build their defense around whenever Chara moves on or retires.
Just based on Claude Julien’s track record, the defense should continue to improve as the season goes along and it also helps when Matt Bartkowski (-1 in 20 games) continues to be a healthy scratch. GM Peter Chiarelli typically adds a veteran defenseman at the trade deadline and this year should be no different.
This is tough to measure because I think that Tuukka Rask has been better than his numbers indicate (19-11-6, 2.40 goals against average, .916 save percentage, 2 shutouts) but he also is not a threat to win the Vezina Trophy for the second season in a row barring an insane stretch run. I think that Niklas Svedberg (5-5-0, 2.22 GAA, .922 save percentage, 2 shutouts) should get more starts; we still don’t really know much about him plus it would save Rask a bit for the biggest games.
Special Teams: C
Boston under Julien is typically known for a strong penalty kill and a weak power play. That’s been different this season with both units being very average: the penalty kill is No. 14 in the league while the power play is No. 20. If Boston is going to go anywhere, they need both of those to improve. They tend to score most of their goals even strength but a quality power play has obvious value as last season showed.
Julien has a Stanley Cup on his resume and the Bruins had the most points in the NHL last season so it’s tough to argue that this has been his best coaching job in Boston. I would venture to guess that it’s been the most adversity that he’s consistently faced since he’s worked here. Chiarelli never adequately replaced Jarome Iginla and Julien has already used a whopping nine rookies due to various injuries and struggling veterans. Credit to him for changing his lines more during the games, something which he normally despises, when he was trying to get the most out of a shorthanded club. He’s one of the best in the league and he’s earned his paycheck this season.