Monday, April 29, 2013

These Bruins Had Better Get Their Act Together Quick

Quiz question: how many times this season have the Bruins risen to a challenge and been victorious? Answer: none.

Going into the final game of the season Tuukka Rask commented something to the effect that, "every game matters and that's good."  I had to wonder if he was fully aware of the irony of that statement. The only reason the final game mattered was that they had lost the previous game, which would have cinched the division title. The sad fact is that the only reason every game mattered this season is that every time a game mattered the Bruins lost it, right up to and including that last one.

Every game that pitted them against a top team to see how they measured up, they lost.  All four against Pittsburgh, and three of the four against Montreal. That one win against Montreal was in their first meeting way back on February 6, before it was clear that Montreal was going to pose a strong threat for the division title.

The Bruins even managed to lose against lesser teams when the division was on the line. We kept hearing how the Bruins could take first place in the division if they beat Washington, or Philadelphia, Ottawa, or Buffalo. The result was always the same. When the pressure was on and the challenge was thrown down, they lost every single time.

Near the end of the season we saw the Bruins improve their game, for sure. But sadly, the results have been the same. When it mattered against Washington and Ottawa, they did not find a way to win. They looked sharp, for the most part, but they have lost their ability to overpower a team and score when the game is on the line, and worse yet, they have lost their ability to play shutdown defense to hold on to a lead.

I am hopeful, of course. Some players have had a much needed rest in the past few days, and I am confident that the talent and coaching is all there to make a long run into the post season. But the playoffs are the ultimate test of finding a way to win when it matters, and the Bruins have yet to do that even once. Unless they finally get their act together they aren't going to make it past the first round. In fact, I'm picking the Leafs in five. Believe me, I don't take any joy out of this prediction.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Strong

I awoke this morning to a radio station in Las Cruces, New Mexico, playing the audio from the national anthem at last night's Bruins game. Las Cruces is far removed from New England in every way possible, but as with the rest of the country our hearts are with the city of Boston.

Many more people should have died at the Boston Marathon, if not for the professionalism, preparedness, and skill of the emergency services of Boston and the northeast in general. As we saw with the hurricane last fall, they are truly the best of the best.

I didn't stay a Bruins fan since 1972 because of all the cups the team has won since then. I've held the Bruins close to my heart because they are a reflection of the city they represent. I respect and admire the humanity, humility, and unpretentious, hard-working determination. When people around the world think of Americans, too many think of an arrogant, self-righteous, stetson-wearing cowboy. But that's not who we really are, nor is it the source of our strength. If you want to know who we truly are as Americans, look no further than the people of Boston.

Even though I only visit New England from time to time, the Bruins have given me a life-long connection to the region. I am proud to be associated with the people of Boston, if only in a small way.

Monday, April 15, 2013

These Bruins are Not Made for the Playoffs

The lockout-shortened season has been an interesting experiment. If you had asked me before the season started I'd have said that once they got going the overall play in the NHL would be sharper and that it would be cool to focus on opponents in your own conference. Wrong, and wrong again!

A few teams were better prepared right out of the gate, and the Bruins were among them. The result was unusual. These few teams, such as Chicago, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Boston, quickly jumped out to a huge lead. They looked like the Oilers of old, skating three astride into the offensive zone, making quick easy passes, and scoring at will. Nobody bothered to play defense. Only now, with the season in the final stretch, is the gap between these top teams and the rest of the pack starting to fill in. But it started near the middle of the season as teams tightened their D, taking away all that time and space. That's about the time the Bruins started to look less like a team destined for the Cup and more like a team struggling at the bottom of the standings. I know they are still at the top of the standings, but they look like a below 0.500 team.

In all my years of watching NHL hockey, I've never seen anything like this. The Bruins are one point out of first place in their division -- a division that contains Montreal, which has seen a lot of success this season. Yet the Bruins suck. Yeah, I said it, they suck. I haven't seen them play this poorly since the last time they missed the playoffs.

How bad are they? I hardly know where to start. The list of things they have going for them is a lot shorter, so I'll start with that: goaltending and the PK. Rask has been getting stronger with each game and lately he's been as sharp or sharper than I've ever seen him. His backup has been excellent as well. If the Bruins played general defense as well as they play the penalty kill, they'd be leading the league in points. But that's it for the positives.

The Bruins play overall has been horribly inconsistent. In fact, I'd say they have been consistently inconsistent! They have blown more leads in the 3rd period than I can count. Lately they start each game as if they no longer recall how to pass. They carelessly throw the puck away in their own zone over and over and over. It's painful to watch. They have speed, but don't use it effectively. They have size, but don't use that effectively either. They often don't make the first pass out of their end, and when they do get out they all too often turn it over in the neutral zone. When they finally get the puck in the offensive zone they fail to hold down the forecheck, often never even getting off a good shot. As the puck is carried back through the neutral zone the forwards often fail to pursue aggressively, making it easy for the other team to enter the defensive zone as the defensive pair plays too loose. And despite all the work they've done and the addition of Jagr, they still have a lousy power play.

How a team that has been playing so badly can be near the top of the conference in points boggles my mind. But when you look at the stats a few things jump out. The Bruins have played Pittsburgh twice, losing both games. They have taken only one out of four against Montreal. It is clear they can't match the play of either of these teams. We have no idea how the western conference stacks up because there has been no inter-conference play. I wouldn't be surprised if the Stanley Cup wasn't a sweep this season, something we haven't seen in a long time. For which conference, who knows?

Anyhow, for Bruins fans it comes down to this: we don't know how well the Bruins can play, we only know how well they are currently playing. If they continue to play the way they have played all season long they likely won't get past the first round. If somehow they get their act together, who knows? Yes, it does look like both Bergeron and Marchand will be back eventually, and they have both been missed. But it is the team effort as a whole that is the real problem, not injuries or the play of any single player, including by the way, Lucic. Despite not being able to score and some spotty play from time to time, Lucic is like the team in reverse: playing well but not being rewarded for it.

To sum up, I am tired of seeing the same teams over and over, even in this short season, and this hockey fan is sick and tired of watching a team that no longer plays the game at the high level we have come to expect -- regardless of the standings.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jaromir Jagr will Never be a Bruin in My Eyes

I was reading about the possible pickups that the Bruins might make before the trade deadline the other day and Jager's name came up. My first thought was, "no way." Reading today that he's now on the Bruin's roster, I can't say I've changed my mind. In fact, I think this acquisition is a disaster, and I have lost a measure of respect for the Bruins management.

Jagr does not play like a Bruin. He's never had the work ethic and he's reportedly a compulsive gambler. I doubt very much that he will be a positive influence in the room, nor will he make much of an impact on the ice. People have compared him to Mark Rechhi; give me a break. Jaromir Jager is no Mark Rechhi. Why, one must ask, has a guy who had so much talent, spent most of his career moving from team to team like some hired gun?

What bugs me the most about this trade is that I doubt very much if the Bruins would have pulled the trigger on it if it hadn't been for the Iginla fiasco. I never thought they needed Iginla for that matter, although nobody in their right mind could have been against it, particularly for what the Bruins were offering for him. Iginla is one classy guy. But all they needed offensively was anybody who could put some pressure on Lucic and Horton. Jagr is going to be too much of a distraction. What the Bruins really need is more defensive depth. Hopefully that will happen before tomorrow. That, and for Kelly to come back, and for the playoffs to get under way to liven things up a bit.

So now we have Jagr, but he's not the sort of player that fits the Neely mold of what it means to be a Bruin, and it's not the sort of trade that made Chiarelli one of the most shrewd GMs in the NHL. It comes off as a desperate attempt to placate a disappointed fan base and to jump start a team with a morale problem. Only, I doubt it will accomplish either!