Since today is the All Star Game and the State of the Union was just a few days ago, I figured it was the perfect time to give the State of the Bruins and look where they’re headed in the 2nd half of the season. I’m gonna break it down by the 3 phases of the game: Forwards, Defensemen, and Goaltenders.
This section would probably be a lot different had I written this around the turn of the calendar. The Bruins have scored just 2.667 goals per game and are in the lower half of the league in goals scored despite having played more games than most teams, and last year it would have been hard to imagine the Bruins having trouble scoring. This year has been rough so far offensively, but the B’s have righted the ship in the offensive zone for the time being by getting 2.875 goals per game in their last 8 contests. The call-up of David Pastrnak definitely has something to do with that, as the 18 year old rookie definitely has added a spark to the team, both in terms of the eye test when you just watch the game, the points he’s already accumulated, or his surprisingly really good possession stats. (Although, they’re inflated because he always starts in the offensive zone, so it’s hard to tell whether he’s just good or actually great in terms of possession.) Seth Griffith could hold his own at 1RW, and he definitely was better than anyone else they had tried at that spot all year, but the baby-faced Czech is clearly the better option. He should not already be the on the top line of most contenders in the league, but the Bruins are different because of their depth in the Top 9 forwards. Kelly, Soderberg, and Eriksson might be the best 3rd line in the league — primarily because Eriksson is an absolute stud — and Marchand, Bergeron, and Smith are simply fantastic as a line together — primarily because Bergeron is quietly becoming an icon in Boston who could be remembered as fondly as someone like Ray Bourque.
That leaves Krejci, Lucic, and Insert Name Here as the Bruins top line, and the 1RW spot was clearly the weakest link there. Essentially, Lucic, Krejci, and Pastrnak don’t have to be a top line for a contender, because the Bruins have 3 lines capable of the “top line” status, and Claude will probably give them the 2nd most minutes behind the Bergeron line anyway. Just improving the 1RW spot from “Passable but still way overmatched” with Seth Griffith or “Why the hell hasn’t Chiarelli traded for someone???” in Cunningham, Caron, Fraser, or Gagne is already huge for the Bruins.
Here’s the problem: Claude Julien loves his Merlot Line, and he clearly still wishes it was 2011. Daniel Paille is probably overqualified as a 4LW, but Gregory Campbell should not be playing any minutes for a contender anymore. Unfortunately, he declined fast, and it may have been the broken leg bone during his heroic penalty kill in the Conference Finals 2 years ago that helped speed his decline. But either way, he needs to go the same way as Shawn Thornton, and by I mean, “He needs to be playing on a team other than the Boston Bruins.” Since Cunningham came up as a center, I’d like to see the B’s give him a shot at 4C while getting Seth Griffith into the lineup at 4RW, give the kids a shot for a little over a month, and then see if they have to make any trades. But that won’t happen, so don’t be surprised if a 4th line of Paille, Cunningham, and Griffith costs the B’s a few goals in the springtime.
The Bruins still have Chara! And Dougie Hamilton is already a beast! Given that one’s a lefty and one’s a righty, that’s a hell of a top pairing!
Take all the joy that you can get from Chara and Dougie, because the Bruins defense is sooooo weak after that. Dennis Seidenberg has fallen so far from 2011, maybe even farther than Gregory Campbell. The Bruins need him to be a 3rd defensemen, and some feel that he’s questionable even as a 6th at this point in his career. I’m ok with him as a 5th defensemen and maybe, just maybe, a 4th, because he’s still pretty good on the penalty kill and won’t take shit from anyone in the playoffs. But he can’t be a 3rd, especially when the final 3 guys are Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, and Adam McQuaid. Torey Krug is also fine for the role he plays, but there’s a chance that he’s the 3rd best all around blueliner on the roster, which is kind of a problem. And Miller is clearly a 7th NHL defensemen while McQuaid is a 6th when he’s fully healthy, which is almost never.
But all of this could feel a lot better with a big trade for a defenseman at the deadline. You know you’d feel a lot better about Seidenberg’s declining speed or Krug’s struggles in his own zone if they had a durable 3rd defenseman to back up Chara and Hamilton, thus sliding Seidenberg and Krug down to the 4th and 5th guys in terms of ice time. You know what type of guy the Bruins would love to have here, a tough, battle tested, durable blueliner who also has both balls and an offensive touch? Johnny Boychuk. He’d be PERFECT for the Bruins right now. Fuck that trade.
You can expect at least 5 posts between now and the trade deadline on possible trade acquisitions, and they’ll be primarily focused on the defense.
Tuukka Rask seems to get slightly overlooked in terms of his control with how far the team goes in the playoffs. I don’t think enough Bruins fans realize just how much the season depends on whether Tuukka is merely a very good goaltender or a Vezina winner. In fact, it’s not out of the question that Tuukka could play above the level of a Vezina winner in the playoffs and carry a Bruins team that probably won’t be as strong as last year’s. In the seasons that ended in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014, Tuukka has been roughly a 93 SV% goalie, which is absolutely awesome. He’s improved his season totals enough to get it up from about 91% to 91.9% right now, and I think it’s fair to assume that he’ll be at least a 92% goalie in the playoffs. But we can’t forget that in the 2013 playoffs, he was a 94% goalie, and he was even better than that in the Red Wings series last year.
Because the porous Bruins defense is going to give up a ton of shots on Tuukka, save for a great trade acquisition or the team doctors discovering some transcendent PEDs in the next few months, the difference between Tuukka Rask saving — let’s use some estimations here — 92.25% of his shots vs. 93.75% of his shots, which means he saves 1.5 more per 100, would mean he’d save the Bruins about half a goal a game assuming about 33 shots per night. That’s huge.
As for Niklas Svedberg, who killed it during his time in the AHL, I feel the same way about him in the playoffs that the Patriots did about Matt Cassel from 2005 through Week 1 of 2008: I have a lot of faith in him if the superstar starter ever goes down, but I hope that he never has to see the field/ice.
The Bruins are still the 6th best team in terms of corsi in the league, and their health is coming back. Add Pastrnak to the Top 9 and a defenseman that Chiarelli should get at the deadline, and the Bruins should be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. The 2 biggest X-Factors for the team down the stretch and into the postseason are what kind of defenseman Chiarelli trades for and Tuukka Rask’s play. If Chiarelli trades for another Andrej Meszaros or Wade Redden, or doesn’t trade for anyone at all, the team’s defense is probably gonna cost them. If he swings a trade for Alex Edler, Andrej Sekera, Keith Yandle, or someone of that caliber, that could propel the Bruins to another deep playoff run. But they will only go as far as Tuukka will take them, and I gotta say, Tuukka’s probably the number 1 goalie in the league to whom I’d want to pin my hopes.