The Boston Bruins have been going through a bit of a tough stretch lately: Losing three of their last four, blowing third-period leads in a way that few Claude Julien-coached Bruins teams have, and causing the entire city to have a crisis of confidence about whether the team is good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup.
All the nail-biting and finger-pointing in the world — and there's been a lot of both in the last week — does little to actually get to the heart of the issue: There's no really good reason why the Bruins aren't playing especially well right now, or why they can't hold a third-period lead.
Let's start with the very basic fact that none of this, no matter what the media wants to believe, has to do with how "clutch" Tuukka Rask is or isn't. Claude Julien made a comment after the loss in Winnipeg last Tuesday, in which Rask gave up goals less than a minute apart, that the team wasn't getting "timely saves." That was all anyone needed.
Anton Khudobin got a start at Ottawa after that, and the Bruins won 2-1, leading many in the local media, sage surveyors of the sport, to wonder if it was time to start splitting time between the two. This despite the fact that Rask's goals-against average is below 2, and his even strength save percentage is among the best in the League.
Now Rask knows how Roberto Luongo feels, because people are trying to squeeze him out of his job for not being "clutch" with almost 20 games to go in the regular season, despite the fact that his team scored one (1) goal to support him.
And as for Khudobin, the media's heir apparent to Rask's shortly-held throne? Got the hook after giving up three goals on 11 shots to Toronto Saturday night. So it's back to the drawing board there.
When can they call up Malcolm Subban?
That latter fact is the real reason for the Bruins struggles, and one can't imagine it lasts all that much longer. Milan Lucic doesn't have a goal in 15 games. David Krejci has two goals since the beginning of March. Nathan Horton has one. So if you're looking to lay out some blame, you might want to start with the second line, but all anyone's interested in for them is excuse-making.
The offensive problems are pervasive, though. In this run of four games, the only top-flight Bruins forwards with goals are Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, and they have one apiece. The Bruin with the most goals in this disappointing stretch is Dennis Seidenberg, with two, and that should tell you just about everything you need to know as to where the problems lie. Six goals in the last four games and people want to blame the goalie. Makes a lot of sense.
With this all in mind, though, Claude Julien shook up his lines ahead of tonight's return tilt with the Maple Leafs, and maybe that will get everyone going again. Or maybe it won't. But let's say the Bruins lose to the Leafs tonight. Maybe they even lose to Montreal on Wednesday. While no team wants to lose five of six at any point for any reason, it nonetheless won't matter much for Boston, who seem a lock for home ice in the playoffs and are still, despite all these mighty struggles of theirs, just two points back of Montreal with a game in hand for tops in the Northeast.
The Bruins put 122 shots on goal in the four games that have caused so much worry in the market, and scored on just six of them. Those goalies — Tomas Vokoun, Ondrej Pavelec, Robin Lehner, and James Reimer — weren't exactly the brass of the National Hockey League either. So what do you think is more likely to happen? That Rask will continue not making "timely saves" against offenses like the Jets (20th in goals for), or that the Bruins' offense will start shooting 4.9 percent through the end of the season?
It's a slump. It happens. There was a stretch when the Penguins scored only one goal in both sides of a back-to-back against the Devils. No one tried running Marc-Andre Fleury out of town. And Tuukka Rask is much, much better than Marc-Andre Fleury. Give this a week, maybe less, and everything will be back to normal.
A prediction that the Bruins would be one of the three or four best teams in hockey this season is as likely to come true now as it was on Jan. 19. They're great, and deep, at every position. It's all fine.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: "The Ducks can win the Stanley Cup?" Yeah, let's pump the brakes just a little bit on that one.
Boston Bruins: Here's how you know things aren't going well for the Bruins: Nazem Kadri ran right through Nathan Horton despite giving up two inches and 30 pounds to the Bruins' wing.
Buffalo Sabres: Y'know, if the Sabres can add 20 or 30 more wins to this streak they're on right now, they might just be able to squeeze back into the playoff picture.
Calgary Flames: "Flames owners, management group must make move," to trade Iginla. This is an article published on March 23, 2013, as though it were some sort of revelatory idea. You could have written the same thing in any of the last three seasons.
Carolina Hurricanes: Can we get Mrs. Staal to call every other NHLer's mom about the visor issue? She seems pretty persuasive.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane is up for Hart Trophy consideration this year, thanks to big-time offensive numbers, an improved game in his own zone, and a newly-discovered clause stating that anyone whose name rhymes with Kidney Bosby can't win it.
Colorado Avalanche: Sure the Avalanche are absolutely terrible this season, but PA Parenteau's signing worked out great.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Sergei Bobrovsky gave up four goals on 11 shots, got the hook, and took the loss as Nashville finally snapped Columbus' point streak. Four goals on 11 shots, you say? Now that sounds like the Sergei Bobrovsky we all know.
Dallas Stars: Eric Nystrom was credited with this goal but Jamie Benn got 'er goin' with this pretty decent setup.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Jimmy Howard is getting closer to signing a contract extension, and should be done "within the next week or two." Have to wonder if he'll try to get a stipulation that says Detroit has to actually sign NHL-caliber defensemen to play in front of him.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have been playing Ryan Smyth at center of late and boy has it not gone well.
Florida Panthers: Hey Colby Robak I know you're only a rookie but I don't think you're allowed to do this in hockey.
Los Angeles Kings: Isn't it refreshing to see a coach say that when players struggle, that he's in some way at fault. Here's Darryl Sutter on the recent struggles of the line of Justin Williams, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown: "If you look at Kopitar's line last night, they probably played two or three minutes too much. That's not because they were doing anything great as a line. They've had a hard time lately. That's partly my fault. I played them more than I should and that trickles down to guys below 'em."
Minnesota Wild: The Wild pretty much seem unstoppable lately. Just ask Torrey Mitchell, who said, "We feel like we can beat anybody right now." See?
Montreal Canadiens: Not an easy road ahead for the Habs. Tomorrow night they play in Pittsburgh, and on Wednesday they're in Boston. They're 11-2-2 on the road this season, so that helps, but those are two fairly gigantic games.
Nashville Predators: Sometimes it's nice to remember that Shea Weber can still shoot the puck like Shea Weber.
New Jersey Devils: What are the odds Ilya Kovalchuk comes back early from this shoulder injury, plays through a ton of pain, produces at a high level, and still gets criticized for dogging it? Even? I'll guess even.
New York Islanders: Should the Islanders be selling off veterans now? Well, they have five home games left this season, and can't even win there, so yes. But you knew that already.
New York Rangers: At what point do the Rangers have to start winning every game? About two weeks ago.
Ottawa Senators: You know it's been a rough season when a guy only missing one game with an injury is considered a "lucky break." These poor Senators, and they just keep winning anyway. I don't get it at all.
Philadelphia Flyers: Danny Briere hasn't scored a goal in 13 games and doesn't even have an assist in the last seven. Plus he sat out last night's game with the Penguins due to an injury. So not a good time to be Danny Briere is I guess what I'm saying.
Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 227 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. Meanwhile, the city of Glendale really wants to flush another $100,000 down the toilet on this team that's leaving as soon as someone can actually put together the money to buy it.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Seems like waiting until Evgeni Malkin is 100 percent with his shoulder to bring him back into the fold is a pretty smart course of action for a team this far out in front of the competition in the East.
San Jose Sharks: Going into the season would you have guessed that the Sharks' undoing would be a total lack of offense? They're tied for dead last in the NHL with 71 goals for.
St. Louis Blues: TJ Oshie had a nice little return to the Blues lineup, scoring a goal and generally providing a bit of menace against an Oilers team that seemed to want no part of even being in the building.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Here's the real question about the Lightning. How does Steve Yzerman turn this around? This is a poorly-constructed team that invested way too much in a goaltender that doesn't seem to be ready for anything like starting minutes, and a litany of problems exist beyond that. He gets a lot of credit because of who he was as a player, and the decision to bring on Guy Boucher in the first place (which in turn brought the team to the Eastern Conference Finals that one time), as well as picking the 2010 Canadian Olympic roster. But guess what: Who he was as one of the best centers ever doesn't make him good at this job, nor does lucking into a nice playoff run, nor does picking a Canadian Olympic roster that wins gold because anyone with a passing knowledge of hockey could do that. Steve Yzerman is the real problem in Tampa, and hiring Lindy Ruff or whoever is putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Here it is: The nicest goal you'll ever see Fraser McLaren score in your entire life.
Vancouver Canucks: Cory Schneider played in his third straight game last night and you know what that means. It's time to trade Luongo.
Washington Capitals: When Mike Green gets back in the lineup, don't expect him to magically be the guy who used to be in the Norris conversation. What's that you say? You weren't expecting that at all? Yeah, I wasn't either.
Winnipeg Jets: Toby Enstrom returned to the Jets lineup last night after missing 19 games and was a point-a-game player before that. If he can't get them into the playoffs for sure, no one can.
Play of the Weekend
This is the best thing to happen in hockey history.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Lime" is probably just joking.
F Milan Lucic (4.1M in 12/13 then 6.0M thru 15/16)
D Adam McQuaid (1.6M thru 14/15)
F Zack Kassian (0.9M thru 13/14 then RFA)
D Kevin Bieksa (4.6M thru 15/16)
At least I hope so.
Our old will feed on our very old. Our very old who are not eaten will wish they had been eaten.
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