I knew that the Bruins would face adversity sooner or later. It happens to all teams during the course of the season. I had simply hoped that it would come later, after they had built some confidence. But that was not meant to be. Adversity has come at the worst possible time: right as the Bruins are in the midst of a critical series of games against their division rivals.
The adversity? Major acquisition of the summer Manny Fernandez has been placed on IR . But he was playing poorly anyhow. Shawn Thornton, another summer acquisition, joins him. Arron Ward, one of the teams top blue-liners, is out with a concussion. And of course, worst of all, Partice Bergeron, who was called the "heart and soul of the team" by a teammate, is out indefinitely with a major concussion. Toss in the fact that out of their last four critical games there have been no wins and things look pretty bleak. The only thing that has gotten them this far has been effort, but can they keep that up without winning? I mean, they played very well against the league-leading Sens, but the bottom line is they lost both games. How long can they keep it up?
So where does that leave the team? Pretty much back where they were last year. I think of last year's Bruins in three separate phases. When the season began they were getting to know one another and their new coaches/system. They started horribly. Their goaltending was shaky at best. But they improved and eventually put together a good run. But a hockey season is a sort of race to see who can keep getting better, and the Bruins had peaked. The rest of the league passed them by and when that became obvious they collapsed. This is why I think people got the wrong impression about the team from looking at the stats. Looking at the stats for the entire season it is the last part that dominates (when the players had given up). Their defensive stats were terrible, and the goaltending stats were less than stellar. But forgetting for a moment the question of motivation when things go badly and the need to improve throughout the entire season (things that can be blamed on the coaching staff to a large extent), when I think about last year's team I think about that middle period when they were rolling. During that time they had spectacular goaltending, they played solid defense, and were able to win game after game by one goal. One goal. Often in overtime or the shootout. That's a very thin line between winning and losing and it was one they could not stay on the right side of forever.
So here we are with pretty much the same team: excellent goaltending, very good defense, but they can't score! Once again we have PJ on the top line. Just as last year, time and again they hold the other team to 1-2 goals and still manage to lose. Their forecheck improved this year (Bergeron's in particular, and PJ has been improving a lot), but it isn't enough.
I said over the summer that my number one wish for the Bruins was that they could establish just one strong scoring line. I felt that with a left-shooting power forward to go with Savvy and Muzz, they had the chance to have one of the most productive scoring lines in the league. Who knows, maybe Muzz would have come out flat anyhow. Or maybe some new blood would have brought him back into form. We'll never know for sure. I just wish Chiarelli had seen it my way and spent the Fenandez cap space on a power forward. If this team scores 3-4 goals per game it is juggernaut. At 1-2 goals per game it is barely holding on, and heaven forbid that something happens to Thomas, because he's the only thing keeping them from being blown out 4-1 every time.
There is so much right about this team. They have huge talent and play hard for their coach, but they don't seem to have the right mix of players. The only hope I see for this team this year is to somehow acquire a forward that will get them scoring again. And you watch, Chiarelli will soon be claiming that the Bruins need help up front. But even with the cap space due to the players on IR, doing so at this point in the season would seem rather difficult. It would have been so much easier last summer.
I hope that Bergeron cames back this season and can play up to his potential. I expect that Fernandez will eventually get it together, although goaltenders can be really hard to figure. We've seen goaltendeers walz into town before only to see their career end. I am sure that Muzz will break out of his scoring slump. Muzz is in fact playing well, he's just not scoring.
But will any of that be enough? Will I be pleasantly surprised to discover that this team has the will to fight through the adversity and start winning again? The last time the coach complained they weren't scoring they answered with a five goal game, so who knows? Time will tell. But it doesn't look so good right now...