The Boston Bruins have nine days off between games during the NHL All-Star break. Despite their recent struggles, the Bruins hold the second-best record in the NHL with 70 points. Are the Boston Bruins contenders or pretenders for the Stanley Cup?
Bruins Stanley Cup Contenders or Just Pretenders?
The Bruins raced out to one of the hottest starts in recent memory with a 20-3-5 record on December 3rd. Such a dominant start gave reason to believe the Boston Bruins are contenders again. Since December 5th the Bruins have struggled, only managing a 9-7-7 record 23 games. It’s been a tale of two teams this far for the Bruins and they are looking for more consistent play with 31 games left in the regular season.
The Bruins began the season fueled by the Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup. The Bruins roster did not see much turnover in the offseason losing only Noel Acciari and Marcus Johansson to free-agency while agreeing to deals with restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen.
Between injuries, lack of intensity, and general bad play there is reason to doubt this Bruins team.
Key pieces to the Bruins lineup have missed time due to injuries this year. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have both missed nine games with injuries. Torey Krug (eight games), Jake Debrusk (six games), McAvoy (three games), Zdeno Chara (two games), and Matt Grzelcyk (two games) have all missed time due to injury. Bergeron, Krejci, and Krug are third, fourth, and fifth respectively in points for the Bruins this season.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask suffered a concussion on January 14th and is still on injured reserved. Despite the injuries, the Bruins lead the Atlantic Division by eight points over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lack of Consistency
Despite retaining most of the players from last year’s Stanley Cup run, the Bruins continue to falter when it comes to consistent play and secondary scoring. Outside of the “perfection line” of Brad Marchand, Bergeron, and David Pastrnak (79 goals combined) the Bruins haven’t been able to find consistent scoring on the bottom three lines. Debrusk (15) and Krejci (12) are the only other players with double-digit goal totals. Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak have combined to score 46 percent of the Bruins goals this season.
The Bruins rely on their top line to produce so much that there’s only been four games this season where Marchand, Bergeron, or Pastrnak haven’t scored a goal when playing together. The team is 2-2 in those games. Outside of those three, the Bruins haven’t found any consistent secondary scoring. Debrusk’s 15 goals are good for fourth on the team but his scoring, much like the bottom three lines, has been inconsistent. Only three times has he scored in back-to-back games this season. Krejci has yet to score in back-to-back games this season.
Meanwhile, Acciari signed with the Florida Panthers in the offseason and has a career-high 18 goals this season — matching his goal total in four years in Boston. 18 goals would be good for fourth on the Bruins. Johansson signed with the Buffalo Sabres and has six goals in 42 games. He scored five goals in 32 games (including playoffs) for the Bruins last season.
The Bruins replacements for Acciari and Joahansson haven’t panned out as they had hoped. They brought in Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm to fill the void. Ritchie was waived on January 15th and Lindholm has three goals this season.
Lack of Intensity
The middle of the winter can be a tough time to get motivated and excited for a lot of teams. The Bruins have two factors contributing to their lack of intensity. A veteran team and a comfortable division lead. It’s been since November 1st since the Bruins have had a lead smaller than two points in the division. That leads to complacency when there’s nobody pushing from behind.
Additionally, this Bruins core is experienced. Chara, Krejci, Marchand, Bergeron, and Rask have been a part of three Stanley Cup Finals and after losing one last season they know what it takes to get back there. The Bruins had a short summer and don’t seem to be pushing themselves in the middle of the winter when the stakes aren’t as high.
Cassidy was unhappy with the teams urgency after their 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on January 19th. “These are correctable mistakes, but the goals we are giving up against this good team like tonight. What is it? Is it lack of focus? Did we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. Little bit of gifts. You can get out-played, you will by good teams in stretches, but they were gifts.”
As the Bruins enter the stretch run, they’ll need to play with more urgency and consistency to hold off a surging Lightning team for the division lead. With the Bruins rolling out much of the same roster as last year, you would expect them to play more consistently. Yet this season has been a tale of two halves. A hot start and a not-so-hot December and January.
However, when it comes to determining if the Boston Bruins are contenders or pretenders… right now they are a Stanley Cup pretender. The idea of taking games off because it’s the regular season and the roster has talent has shown to be a farce. Enjoying a sizable division-lead reduces urgency and it can be incredibly hard to flip the switch when needed (e.g. last year’s Tampa Bay Lightning).
It’s not all bad news in Boston since they’re a team that’s proven they can become a legitimate contender again. In order to do so, the Bruins need to come out of the All-Star break with much more urgency and intensity and look for general manager Don Sweeney to make a trade as the NHL trade deadline approaches.