Never would you have expected this team to be flirting with an early summer.
It’s been tense times for New England’s hockey folk, the Boston Bruins mired in a string that has seen defensive collapse, a crucial loss in backup goaltender Tuukka Rask, and their longest losing streak of the season – barely snapped Saturday afternoon in a vital 3-2 OT victory against the Philadelphia Flyers.
With that win, the Bruins sit at third place in the Eastern Conference, you’d think that would be ideal – but certainly not a sure bet. It’s more of a battle within the Northeast Division for the Bruins, who are being hounded by a surprising Ottawa Senators club, just one point behind the Bruins in the standings. The big deal here? Whichever one of these teams wins the division takes third place with home-ice in the playoffs, the other drops to scary territory where playoffs are no certain guarantee.
I was wholly convinced this team was on a steadfast run to contend for another Stanley Cup back in December, that tends to happen when you witness them trample over opposition in every facet of the game, as seen when I took in the Los Angeles Kings‘ December 13 date in Boston on the television tube. John Stevens, anyone?
The Bruins were solid front to back, exemplified dominant puck possession, unyielding physical play, and had contributions from all four lines, every player was scary. Only seeing them a few other times during the season, I’m appalled at how they’ve sunk so far, but still not convinced they’re going to let playoff hopes slip away.
They’re too good for that, and don’t believe Claude Julien‘s letting it happen either.
“How you look at the situation is very important, and you have to look at it in a way where you’re determined to get yourself out of it, you’re going to do the things you have to do to succeed, and right now we have to challenge ourselves as a group to be able to turn the page. Tomorrow’s not just another day, it’s another opportunity, and this is our chance to go out there and play the way we know we can.” – Claude Julien via ESPN
After getting fired in two consecutive campaigns by the Montreal Canadians and New Jersey Devils, Julien has responded in monumental fashion, leading the Bruins to the postseason in all four years at the helm, winning the Northeast Division twice, and of course, winning a Stanley Cup last season. In fact, it would be outrageous to point the finger at Julien, who has suffered through the same misfortunes their roster has this season.
The Bruins, if not deep at every position, certainly were in the goaltending department. As they continued to ride the tail of Conn Smythe trophy winner Tim Thomas, there was also dependable backup in the highly-touted Tuukka Rask, who even though has had an impressive start to his career, hasn’t even come close to reaching his potential. Regardless, there’s few backup options available to fill the void of Rask, who went down with a lower abdominal/groin strain, expected to be back for the playoffs – best case scenario.
Rask’s injury forced the Bruins to act on finding security to back the shoulders of Tim Thomas, they did so in signing free agent veteran Marty Turco, who hasn’t seen NHL action since last season with Chicago. Turco’s transition back into NHL-play has been nothing to hype about, allowing six goals on 36 shots, in an appearance to relieve a struggling Thomas, and an early exit in a sorry performance last week in Tampa Bay. Turco’s going to need to see some pucks for any hope of returning to solid form; but the problem is allowing him that opportunity.
Boston’s fighting to stay alive right now, and Marty Turco is a liability.
There’s 11 games left on the season’s slate for the Bruins, expect Tim Thomas to take most, if not all of those contests. But, that brings up another issue for the Bruins, who may now have to look for more from their aging, yet proven goaltender. That’s fatigue, it’s not easy to depend on a goaltender like the Bruins did with Thomas last year, the guy was downright phenomenal.
“Thomas has appeared in more games than he did last season (and it shows), the defense has been about ten notches below the standard they set in the playoffs last season, and the offense hasn’t given them as much of a margin for error as they did earlier in the year. So when Thomas is just REALLY GOOD and not OH MY GOD WICKED AWESOME, it shows up on the scoreboard.” – Matt Reitz of NBC Pro Hockey Talk
Thomas is eating some heavy time for a player his age, he could fight to secure a playoff bid, but two strenuous and successful playoff runs is asking quite a bit. Tim Thomas played 25 games in the playoffs alone last season, compare that to Tuukka Rask playing in 29 all of last year, and just 23 this season before his injury.
Marty Turco has played in two NHL games since March 17 of last year, it’s March 19th of this year right now.
You can’t praise the defense playing in front of Thomas as of late, which has to be stronger this year than last. It hasn’t been, today’s win against Philadelphia was just the second time in the month of March (10 games) the Bruins have held their opponent to under 3 regulation goals. That’s rough, and with a 4-6 record, subtly notable that two of those victories came after regulation.
Also realize that goaltending and defense gets the harsh spotlight when the offense can’t support, the Bruins are missing huge assets in Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley. Horton, who recorded an astounding 32 points through 46 games with 15 goals and 17 assists, has been out of the lineup since December 23 with a concussion. Peverly chimed in with 39 points of his own, topping Horton, in the form of 9 goals and 29 assists. That’s a combined 71 points lost, double it if you want to estimate the season total.
Unfortunately the Bruins’ schedule isn’t helping their outlook, they’re tabbed for a West Coast swing in San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim that’s to begin Thursday in Northern California. They’re to finish the season against elite teams in the Rangers and Penguins, the final two against clubs just as desperate as they are – in Ottawa and Buffalo.
So you’ve got goalie issues, defensive issues, and a banged up offense. What to do?
Base it off of a successful coach who has beat failure himself. When the odds are against the roster, that’s when you pour hope into the guy who handles the group. And, a guy who is backing it up with past success. That’s confidence, that’s Claude Julien.
“I think experience, and the past, shows that this is a group that can do it.”
And, there you go.