Slogging through one of their worst seasons in recent memory, the Boston Bruins have been far from dominant. Gone is the team whose identity was built on grinding physical play meant to intimidate opponents but the Bruins aren’t scaring anyone anymore. The NHL’s resident bully is no longer the beast of the East and teams have figured out how to play against the Bruins. But for a team who has been very good the past couple of years and had high hopes going into this season, how did they manage to fall so quickly?
Injuries have been a big reason the Bruins have been less than stellar this year with key players such as captain Zdeno Chara and forward David Krejci missing large chunks of time. Younger players like Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Seth Griffith have been pressed into bigger roles with varying degrees of success. But other than the injuries, other key players haven’t played up to their potential. Milan Lucic has made more headlines for his antics on the ice more than anything else while goalie Tuukka Rask hasn’t been able to replicate his Vezina trophy winning form.
With the way the Bruins are playing, it makes people wonder how different this team would be if Tyler Seguin was still in Boston. No matter how you spin it, the Bruins lost this trade. Loui Eriksson has been better while Reilly Smith has emerged as a top six player. But Seguin has emerged as a major star in Dallas and his speed and skill is what Boston needs. A lot of teams have that trade they regret and for Boston, this one will be it.
Much of Boston’s identity went out the door when Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton left. Iginla, who fit in well with the Bruins, provided goal scoring, leadership and was a source of inspiration for the Bruins in the playoffs to try and get Iginla his first Cup. Thornton on the other hand was a huge part of this group despite being a fourth line enforcer. Thornton’s presence in the locker room was huge for this team and his presence as a tough guy was crucial in allowing them to play that chippy, physical game they flourished with.
The Bruins have had some crushing defeats since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. They lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 on home ice where the ultra talented Hawks scored the game winner during the final minute of the game. Last year, the Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins lost in game seven on home ice to arch rival Montreal. The smaller but speedy Habs outskated the Bruins and refused to be goaded into the way Boston plays.
But no doubt NHL teams have had enough of Boston’s game. Arguably the most hated team in hockey, something the Boston Bruins have more or less embraced, teams have started to use Boston’s weaknesses against them. The Bruins aren’t the fastest team so opponents take advantage of that. Lucic can be goaded into penalties so teams will engage him. He has been causing havoc on the ice this year and more than a few fans were happy when Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Dalton Prout dropped Lucic to the ice with a punch to the mouth.
For the Boston Bruins, they are still a good team but they aren’t the automatic choice to win the wide open Eastern conference. The big bad Bruins no longer live up to their name as teams aren’t afraid of them anymore and know how to counter against it. Their key players haven’t been at their best while some their younger players have shown they aren’t quite ready for the big time just yet. Whether or not this just a down year for the team or the start of a decline is still to be determined.
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