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.