Friday, January 9, 2015

The Bruins Woes (Part 3)

Does this team have the talent to win another cup, or even make the playoffs?

Even with the poor play this season, there are many individual players who still get high marks, even players who give their all on every shift. I watch all of the games, so ignoring stats, what follows is my assessment of individual effort.

Brad Marchand is having his best year ever, and is often the best player on the ice. Milan Lucic still brings it the way he always has--a little inconsistent--but overall a big plus for the team. David Krejci spent much of the season injured, but he is coming back strong. Zdeno Chara has also been injured and has struggled somewhat getting back up to speed, but he still plays big and mean and he was sorely missed. Patrice Bergeron was somewhat invisible on the ice early in the season but this is changing. He is winning faceoffs like a monster. Dougie Hamilton stepped into Chara's shoes with ease, and has played extremely well given his relative inexperience. Rask has been as competent and reliable as ever, and if you look past the statistics, I think he may be having his best year yet. He's no Tim Thomas when it comes to stealing games or winning shootouts, but who is? He is still one of the best goaltenders in the game today.

All of these players seem to be playing well individually, but they often seem to be out of step with the others. For example, Bergeron isn't connecting with Marchand like he used to. Krejki is back, but he isn't yet connecting with Lucic. When these guys are skating with the puck they often seem alone out there.

Perhaps the biggest frustration is with the young forwards: Spooner, Griffith, Caron, and Cunningham. They have been given tons of ice time, but not one of them have been able to break out. Add Fraser to that list, even though he was lost to waivers. Every one of them is on the negative side of the ±. Pastrnak has great potential, but at 18, he's simply not ready yet, and it would be a mistake to let him play enough games to count as a full season against free agency.

On the blue line, McQuaid has looked ok, when he has played. They have definitely missed his size and grit. Krug and Miller have been solid, and even Bartkowski is looking fairly competent. Seidenberg has yet to return to his form from last season. He plays hard, but makes mental errors, and overall he's -2 -- the only defenseman below zero.

Most of the individual pieces seem to be doing well. For a team that's not winning, they have a lot of guys on the plus side of the +/-.

This means that it must be a team problem. The Bruins have stopped playing at times, particularly in the last minutes of a period, or after a penalty kill. There is no killer instinct on the power play. Overall they have suffered from poor second periods. When they get the lead, they don't keep it. All this comes down to inconsistent effort.

And here's the thing: it's not new. In game seven against Montreal last year the Bruins came out flat in the first period. In game seven! In the 2013 playoffs this same team allowed the Leafs to get a three-goal lead in the 3rd period in yet another game seven. It was a monumental come back when they won that game, but really, WTF? In game six of the 2013 cup final, the Bruins were leading by a goal in the second period and were handed a power play. Rather than bring it and try to put the game away, they looked like they were on vacation. In the cup final. Again, WTF?

Inconsistent effort, inability to put the game away, loss of focus; these are failures of the mind; failures of leadership. Whether the problem be the leaders on the ice or behind the bench, I don't know, although it does seem clear that they are truly missing Shawn Thornton.

Maybe they will get their butts in gear and make the playoffs, perhaps even going deep. Like the series against the Leafs, it will all be forgiven and forgotten. But I fear that this slump is merely a distraction from the real question.

Can this team, when healthy and playing at its best, beat Montreal or Chicago in the playoffs? Now that -- that's the real question.

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