After dropping back-to-back games versus two of the league’s doormats, the Boston Bruins’ scoring woes and inability to gain ground in the East are heightening the tension on Causeway Street.
The Boston Bruins’ inability to score is one of the NHL’s worst kept secrets. With two goals or fewer in 20 of the teams’ 29 games, goals have been about as tough to come by in Boston as reasonable rent. Up to this week, Tuukka Rask and an over-performing defense have kept Boston competitive. The team is, after all, sitting in playoff position as of Sunday morning.
This week, however, saw the Bruins concede 15 goals (including one empty net goal) through four games. They also conceded the first two goals (or more) in each of their last three games. The combination of continued scoring woes and a suddenly leaky back end has led to a reversal of fortunes in Boston, with the team collecting just three points through four games and losing to the bottom-dwelling team in both conferences. At home, no less.
The plot has thickened in Boston, and things won’t get any easier this upcoming week. Boston faces Montreal and Pittsburgh on the road, followed by a home contest versus Anaheim. If the Bruins are unable to right the ship immediately we can expect the losses to continue to pile up. And the points left on the table versus Toronto and Colorado will have their importance magnified.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
It isn’t just the fact that the Bruins have regularly failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities. The timing of the missed opportunities is every bit as important (and damning). Versus Colorado, the Bruins received two power plays in three minutes after Matt Duchene’s tally opened the scoring. Both units looked completely impotent, bringing out the “boo birds,” in the 300’s. Then, Torey Krug gambled (and lost) at the blue line, and Nathan Mackinnon extended Colorado’s lead with a breakaway goal. Colorado never looked back, as they snapped a six-game skid with a 4-2 win.
(Note: Boston scored just twice versus Colorado. Two nights later Colorado conceded TEN goals to Montreal. THAT is how bad Boston’s scoring woes are.)
Versus Toronto, Boston was down 2-1 halfway through the third period. Austin Czarnik (more on him later) wound up all alone in the low slot, with a GLORIOUS scoring opportunity. Czarnik failed to tie the game, and less than thirty seconds later the puck was behind Tuukka Rask. 3-1 Maple Leafs. Game over. The win was just Toronto’s third road victory of the season.
The 15 goals conceded by Boston is the highest total surrendered through four games since the Zane McIntyre/Malcolm Subban debacle back in October. Boston has surrendered just 92 shots on goal over that span, though, which averages out to just 23 per game. The chances are being limited….they just haven’t been getting the saves they’ve grown accustomed to. Having given up nine goals over his past three starts, Tuukka Rask appears to have cooled off a bit. He’ll try to turn things around versus Montreal, a team that has had his number over the years. Rask is just 5-15-3 all-time versus The Habs, with a 2.69 GAA and .909 save percentage.
Anton Khudobin laid an egg versus Colorado, surrendering four goals on just 22 shots. He’d been at his season-best in his previous stint versus Carolina, stopping 29 of 30 shots to bail out his uninspired teammates. The regression has at least temporarily derailed the hope that Khudobin had put his early season struggles behind him. If he’s unable to give Boston a chance to win every four or five games, Boston may choose to pursue FA Karri Ramo.
Questionable Line Deployment
This is a tiny one, but something caught my attention during the Colorado game. With David Pastrnak in the penalty box and Boston playing at four-on-four, Claude Julien chose to go with Riley Nash and Ryan Spooner as his forwards. This was to counter Colorado’s duo of Matt Duchene and Mikhail Grigorenko.
A four on four at home seems to me to be a time to:
A. Go with speedier skill players to maximize their skill sets with the increased time and space
B. Play the matchup, countering the players the opposition has chosen to roll out.
Coach Julien did neither of these things with this matchup, and 50 seconds after the shift began the puck was in Boston’s net. 1-0 Colorado.
I’m a Claude Julien apologist. I think that he’s a very good coach and that he has the resume to back up that statement. But every now and again (remember Marchand not getting a chance in the shootout last season?) we get a head scratcher from Claude. This decision certainly qualifies, and it came back to haunt the Bruins.
Paging Patrice Bergeron
The star center continues to struggle during the current campaign. Bergeron is currently ninth on
the team in scoring, with just four goals and four assists through 26 games.
I’m also a Patrice Bergeron apologist. The guy is one of the best all-around hockey players in the world, and his affect on a game extends well beyond the score sheet. But with his team struggling so mightily to produce offense, it sure would be nice for the alternate captain to start looking like himself offensively for the Black and Gold. He looks an awful lot like he did during the 2009-2010 campaign. Coming off a season-ending concussion, Bergeron posted just eight goals and 39 points through 64 games. Come to think of it, this whole team looks like the 2009-2010 team: Minimal offense, woeful power play, good goaltending, etc. That team won a playoff round before coughing up a three-game lead in the Conference Semifinals. This team should be so lucky.
Frosty The Snowm(e)n
Austin Czarnik and Riley Nash are ice cold. If you were to ask Andre 3000, “What’s cooler than
being cool?” he’d say “Boston’s third line.”
Through their last 15 games, Czarnik has two points (both assists). Riley Nash has one point (assist). That’s just…..not good enough.
Austin Czarnik regularly flashes ability that makes us all think, “Wow, he could be really good.” The speed, the tenacity on the forecheck, the playmaking ability….the flashes are there. He’s yet to put everything together, however, and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters to this year’s team. His six points through 26 games suggest that the best is yet to come, but that he’s maybe not quite ready to be leaned on.
Riley Nash, as I’ve mentioned before, is a very good fourth line forward. Defensively responsible,
attention to detail….he’s the kind of guy who does the little things to help a team win. He’s horribly miscast as a team’s third line center, at least on a team with designs of playing hockey come playoff time.
A serious shakeup of the unit should be in order. Perhaps a trial-run of Ryan Spooner centering Czarnik and Danton Heinen is in order. Or Spooner with Heinen and Schaller. With the team struggling to score so mightily, and with the current third line not getting it done, Ryan Spooner deserves another look at his natural spot, centering the third line. At least before he’s traded.
The Week Ahead
After losing to the two last place teams in the league at home, Boston now hits the road to play the two top teams in the league in Montreal and Pittsburgh. Both teams have scored more than 90 goals on the season (Boston has scored 69, for context). Following their road excursion, Boston returns home to face the Ducks. As of Saturday night, Anaheim sits just one point out of the top spot in the Pacific, with three games in hand on division-leading Calgary. Every facet of Boston’s game will need to be humming if the B’s have designs of taking points out of any of these contests.
Frank Vatrano continues to practice with his teammates, as he inches closer to his season debut. Though he will not travel with the team this week, he looks to be a week or so away from getting into game action. Ideally, his return would be more complimentary than Messianic; after all, he does have eight career NHL goals. It would be foolish to assume that the second-year pro will hit the ground running after missing nearly three months. Regardless, Boston is currently starving for production at LW, and Vatrano’s return will be a boost to the club. Whether he’s the answer to the revolving door on the team’s second line remains to be seen.
The NHL Holiday roster freeze goes into effect December 19 and lasts until December 28, for those of you with a shiny new Bruins toy on your Christmas list.
I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button. Fortunately, the two teams chasing Boston in the division (Tampa Bay and Florida) have been equally inept of late. The Bruins are clinging on to the third spot in the Atlantic, and are within striking distance of Ottawa. Moreover, the Hockey Gods rarely look so unfavorably on one team for too long. Should Boston be able to continue out-chancing the opposition while controlling possession on a nightly basis it’s likely their 29th ranked shooting percentage of seven percent will see a small uptick. They won’t turn into the ’84 Oilers, but a few extra goals here and there would go a long way toward points in the standings and a boost in confidence across the board.
Thankfully, the schedule does thin out a bit following this week. Boston will close out 2016 by playing six games (out of seven) versus teams currently outside the playoff picture.
The Bruins got progressively worse as this past week transpired: Overtime win, overtime loss, two-goal regulation loss to a cellar dweller, three goal regulation loss to a cellar dweller. I can’t think of a better way to stem the tide and tackle the remainder of 2016 than by heading north of the border and taking two points in Montreal.
Hopefully, the Habs got all the goals out of their system versus Colorado, because Carey Price is seldom in the giving mood….Christmas Season or not.