Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reason for Hope at the Trade Deadline

Many people have forgotten, but there were struggles in the 2010-2011 cup season and Peter Chiarelli made a lot of roster moves.

In June of 2010 the Bruins traded one of their top 4 defenseman for an under-performing winger and a 4th line forward.

In December they dumped one of their star forwards for nothing more than "future considerations."

In January the team lost its best offensive player to an injury that he would not return from.

The team was inconsistent, had a terrible power play, and had a young budding superstar who was not performing to expectations. Prior to the trade deadline they had lost every game against the Habs and were unable to beat Detroit and San Jose, even when they brought their best effort.

As the trade deadline approached Chiarelli was under pressure to go for that big blockbuster trade for a "name" player. Instead he made a sweeping mid-level trade consisting of three players going out in return for three coming back. He gave up a promising NHL forward and defenseman, plus a promising prospect, for a veteran puck moving D-man and a speedy 3rd or 4th line center. They also traded a draft pick for another speedy 4th line forward who possessed strong two way play.

After the trades the team was energized and went on a winning streak.  They even beat the Habs in their last meeting 7-0. They ended up with a 46–25–11 record, winning their division and finishing third in the conference.

Even though they had the least effective power play ever, and went down 0-2 with home ice to start the Cup Final, the Bruins somehow managed to win a record three game seven's and the Stanley Cup.

Of course, the parallels between this season and 2010-2011 aren't perfect. Overall the Bruins played better up to this same point in the season and they did not suffer from the same kind inconsistent play that we have seen. On the other hand, the criticism of the GM is much closer. Many of his trades were met with criticism and he was called incompetent more than once.

The main takeaway is that Chiarelli found small ways to improve the team by moving mid-level players while staying under the cap. He pulled it off before, so perhaps he can do it again. After all, we know that this team is much better than they have been generally playing this season. Just look at the game against the Hawks.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Very Bad Day

Some games will always stay with us. Sadly, tonight's game against the Saint Louis Blues may be one of them. The Bruins finally came out and played their game, and played it well. The first period was textbook Bruins hockey. They skated hard, hit hard, made good decisions, and dominated in a way I cannot recall this season. It seemed so natural. Everything seemed back to normal and all was good. It looked right. Even Bartkowski seemed to be having a career night. In the interview after the period Marchand seemed relaxed and confident like I had not seen him in months. 

Then came the inevitable collapse in the second right? No! In fact there was no collapse. We have come to expect the second period to be where the Bruins don't show up, but that's not what happened. Despite giving up three goals the Bruins played very well. In a minor tragedy, Malcolm Subban, the promising 21-year-old goaltender playing in his first NHL game, turned out not to be ready to play in the NHL. In quick succession he let in three soft goals, each softer than the next. Somewhere in there Davd Krejci decided to make a big open ice hit, with the result that he went down the tunnel and did not return. With Rask back, a questionable penalty led to a good bounce and a power play goal. Just like that it was 4-1 Saint Louis.

This was a hole the Bruins could not climb out of--not against a good team like the Blues. It's tempting to say that they didn't deserve to lose; after all they were playing so well. It was simple bad luck. Maybe that would have played in December, but not this late in the season, and not after so many poorly played games. The Bruins deserved this loss not because of the way they played tonight, but because of the way they have played all year.

In the end, this game may be seen as a turning point. With the trade deadline right around the corner Chiarelli has to make a decision, and the outcome of this game may have sealed the deal.

As an aside, last time I wrote that the Bruins appeared to be changing their game, and I'm not quite ready to give up on that yet. They really did seem to be playing differently, and it makes me wonder. Is it possible that they adjusted their playing style in an attempt to play a quicker game against those Western Conference teams? Coach Julien often changes up his lines only to go back to the way they were before, and somehow the team plays better when the lines are restored. I wonder if what we saw was something like that, only with the way the players were told to play. It's either that, or they had lost their way to the point where they were no longer willing to go into the corners and hit. I'm finding the latter to be difficult to swallow.

Are the Bruins Fundamentally Changing Their Playing Style?

Everyone seems to have their own pet theory for why the Bruins are under performing this season. So far none of the ones I have read are based on inside information, nor are they all that compelling.

I think it's safe to say that the problem with this team isn't age. It's not speed. It's not Chiarelli mismanaging the cap. I think the problem with this team is that they no longer play like Bruins. They no longer beat people down. They no longer intimidate. They seldom make the big bone-crunching hit that makes the crowd roar and the other guy sore.

I've really been struck by this in watching the games from the recent road trip. We've seen evidence that the Bruins are playing differently staring us in the face all season, but it was easy to write off due to changes in personnel and injuries. Now that they are healthy and things have settled down, it is becoming difficult to ignore.

People have often complained that the Bruis are slow, and big Z is sort of their poster child. But as a team, they aren't that much slower than others. What makes them appear slow is their playing style, which has traditionally been heavy body checking. In past years Bruins would go into the corner and take the man, often blowing the player off the puck. But watch carefully what happens now when they meet in the corners. The Bruins appear to be trying to play a much quicker game, where stick play takes the place of body checking. Rather than hit the other player hard, they try to take the puck away and then quickly move it up the ice.

The reason why they might change their style is fairly obvious. This team, as previously configured, was no longer able to beat Chicago, and more importantly, Montreal. People say that these teams use their speed, and they do, but it seems to me that what they really do is play a quicker game. If the guy Lucic is about to hit has ducked away or already gotten rid of the puck, then the hit no longer has the same impact, if you will.

If this is really the case, if someone in upper management has decided that the Bruins need to change their style to keep pace with the changes to the game, then there are no doubt going to be serious repercussions, particularly given how poorly this transition is going so far. More on this next time...