A few weeks ago, when the Boston media was fretting over a winless streak that had stretched to four, five, six games, it was somewhat easy to dismiss those concerns.
Patrice Bergeron, among other players, had missed a few games and then they went on the road against Ottawa (not good but you live with it), Washington, and Tampa. It was five straight losses, one in OT, and then a win at Florida. Not ideal but certainly not the worst thing in the world.
But now they’re more or less healthy — minus Karson Kuhlman and Kevan Miller — but they’ve lost three straight at home in overtime or a shootout, to a group of opponents best considered a mixed bag (the Kings, Islanders, and Predators). In all, it gives them a 1-4-4 run with a game tonight hosting Washington right before the Christmas break.
The problem is the same old song and dance you’ve heard plenty of times before: There’s no secondary scoring threat on this team, and while you can usually count on the top line to score one or two, and the team defense and goaltenders to be great, it’s not gonna happen every time. And that’s the problem right now.
In this nine-game skid, they’ve only lost five points’ worth of ground atop the divisional standings, but there are warning signs everywhere. With any of Bergeron, Pastrnak, or Marchand on the ice at 5-on-5, the team has an even goal difference (despite a plus-1.78 expected-goal advantage) and a minus-1 when they’re off (despite a plus-0.88 xG advantage). On the power play, it’s only plus-2 with ‘em and no goals without ‘em.
The good news is that these guys are good enough that, even in losing and the top line’s offense petering out for what is almost three weeks, they’re still picking up some points. And they built up such a huge cushion that all the losing doesn’t really matter. But they need more from everyone who’s not wearing 37, 88, or 63, or who gets to wear big pads all game.
The bad news is they don’t really have that, and apart from David Krejci’s inexplicably hot year in 2018-19, they don’t really have that kind of help coming on the roster.
And so, something — anything — needs to change up front. This team has no punch without those top three forwards. Zooming out for the season, they’re minus-11 in all situations when any of those forwards is off the ice, and plus-37 when any are on. The only situations when it’s bad news is when Pastrnak is off because Marchand and Bergeron are killing penalties or in shutdown mode. And even then they’re only minus-5.
Imagine if they had any secondary punch whatsoever. Might as well not have a regular season. Could these guys have used Taylor Hall or what? Could they not use a Chris Kreider or, at worst, a JG Pageau? The problems with the Bruins’ cap situation are well-documented to say the least. Krejci the highest-paid forward, Backes still playing, John Moore a routine healthy scratch signed for three-plus seasons after this one, and that Charlie Coyle extension is already looking like a big misstep.
They have the kind of prospects and picks Arizona gave up for Hall. I can’t imagine not wanting to part with an Urho Vaakanainen or Jakub Zboril if it meant getting a guy was an MVP two years ago. When a team started out this hot and has a core with this age makeup, keeping your powder dry shouldn’t really be an option.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the cracks are showing despite the team playing good hockey. This has cropped up a few times in the past three seasons, though perhaps not to the extent of a 1-4-4 stretch contrasted against what had been a 20-3-5 start.
That kind of stark contrast should be plenty to spur a transaction the second the Christmas roster freeze ends. Whether it actually will be is a different story.
Boston Bruins: You can’t count on your goalies to bail you out for everything but maybe you should be able to count on them to be within 20 feet of the net when someone scores on them.
Chicago: This STUNNING win moved Chicago to an AMAZING 15-16-6. INCREDIBLE. They’re about to turn it all around you can just tell.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs didn’t trade for Taylor Hall because the players didn’t want to push ……… Andre Burakovsky down the lineup? Hoo boy.
Columbus Blue Jackets: You know what an already-bad team needs? A ton of injuries.
Dallas Stars: Starting to think Anton Khudobin might not be a world-class goaltender after all.
Detroit Red Wings: Cool brag, dude.
Edmonton Oilers: You simply gotta love this kid. Nice pass from Draisaitl too.
Florida Panthers: Back-to-back decisive victories over the Stars and Hurricanes? If this team can turn a corner, look out in the Atlantic.
Los Angeles Kings: I guess you take a 3-1-2 road trip if you’re this bad.
Minnesota Wild: Brutal injury for Jason Zucker. Just awful.
Montreal Canadiens: Alright, man. Cool.
Nashville Predators: Boy, if you wanna get depressed, look at the 2009-10 Predators roster versus where it is today.
New Jersey Devils: Do we think it’s a “hesitancy to shoot” or “inability to shoot due to how bad the roster is?”
New York Islanders: Any coach who complains about the other team using its good players when they’re already up big should be mocked mercilessly. That’s just how it is.
New York Rangers: Maybe Lias Andersson just isn’t an NHLer after all, but the Rangers tried like hell to not-find out.
Ottawa Senators: The answer to “unlocking a player’s potential” is, typically, “getting him to shoot 13 percent forever.”
Philadelphia Flyers: Taking a bunch of moral victories from a 5-4 shootout win over the Senators seems like a bit of a reach, but that’s the NHL for ya.
Pittsburgh Penguins: It really does feel like you can always count on the end of a Western Canada swing this season, no matter where that last stop is, you can pencil in “disappointing loss” on the calendar in advance.
San Jose Sharks: Let me make a guess on this one: No.
St. Louis Blues: Hey would you look at that, I was right.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Not really.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Easy call on a long, long suspension for Muzzin here but of course it’s the NHL so that won’t happen.
Vancouver Canucks: Losing Leivo long-term hurts, but “significant” seems like an overstatement.
Vegas Golden Knights: *sees “Kaedan Korczak” in the headline.* Let me guess: WHL guy? *looks it up* Swish.
Washington Capitals: “Uhh, yeah Braden we’ll negotiate a new contract after the season. Yup, for sure. Okay have a good year. We’ll talk later. Definitely.”
Winnipeg Jets: Pretty impressive W for the Jets here.
Play of the Weekend
Nice one from Kirby Dach. I like it!
Gold Star Award
Noel Acciari has seven goals in his last three games. That’s, to me, good.
Minus of the Weekend
Speaking of that Chicago/Colorado game, Landeskog and Rantanen were on the ice for four Chicago goals and no Colorado goals. Opposite of what you’re going for. Just my thoughts.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Roof Daddy” is sending me and I’m wheezing.
To CBJ: Nuge
To EDM: Bjorkstrand
Don’t worry sweetheart, I know how important hair is to a little girl.
Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
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