Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bruins vs. Bolts: Going Into Game 2

There was much talk about the typical defensive posture of the Bolts during the long wait for the series to begin, much of which came from the Bruins coaching staff. It looks to me like the Bolts coaches took advantage of that by changing things up big time. Everyone expected a defensive struggle but this game was wild, going end to end for much of the first period. The Bruins did a pretty good job of skating with them, but you got the feeling this was not the game they had prepared to play. To the Bolts coaching staff I say: nicely done.

So what have we learned from game one? For starters, the Bolts are very well coached and playing near their potential. The frustrating thing about that is how clear it seems that the Bruins have not played up to their true potential, even though they have won two series. On paper the Bruins are the much better team, with better goaltending, better defensive play, greater depth, and more lines that can score. But as we saw last night none of that means anything if they don't put it all together and play with focus.

I believe the Bruins have the depth to win this series, but there is no question how important Bergeron is to this team. The thing about Bergeron is that his role isn't obvious. Serious hockey fans who follow the Bruins all season know full well how important he is, winning faceoffs, killing penalties, scoring, and winning the battles along the boards. He's also the best guy out there when they are sitting on a lead as the last seconds on the clock wind down. But the most striking thing about Bergeron comes when you watch a replay of his line scoring. If Bergeron is out on the ice and a goal is scored you can almost always trace it back to a play he made that set it up in the first place.

Perhaps the most worrisome thing I learned from game one was how potent the Bolts power play is. This is one area where missing Bergeron hurts badly, but even then it seems that the Bolts PP matches up a bit too well against the Bruins PK. It would really help for the Bruins to get their own power play rolling.

About that-- I'm not one to second guess the coaches. After all, they know more than I do about the game and the players. Of that there is no doubt. But it has become painfully obvious to me what the root problem is. Long time Bruins fans know that Brick talks about how much he likes it when a forward comes off the half wall. The Bruins haven't done that at all this season. Well, actually, there was one exception. In the series against Philly someone, I think it was Krejci, had the puck poked away along the half wall. He was forced to chase it out in front of the net. And guess what? It lead to their first power play goal of the playoffs!

It looks to me like this: it has become increasingly difficult to gain entry into the zone to set up the power play for every team, and particularly for the Bruins. So the Bruins have adopted a conservative puck control approach where the emphasis is on keeping control of the puck. That means that they don't allow themselves to come close to a defender. So carrying the puck into the "danger zone" in front of the net is considered a bad idea. The end result is that everything stays outside to the point where the passes get longer and more dangerous and... you guessed it--they turn it over. If I were the coach (and thank God I'm not) I would scrap all that and tell them to attack the damned net every chance they get.

One last observation. Some "fans" and sports personalities have a lot of nerve. The very idea of tuning into a team only after they have reached the conference finals and then complaining bitterly because they lost the first game of the series... how utterly obnoxious.

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