Bruins Mailbag: Brendan Shanahan’s Strict Enforcement Not Yet Helping to Clean Up NHL

Bruins Mailbag: Brendan Shanahan's Strict Enforcement Not Yet Helping to Clean Up NHLThe Bruins just keep rolling along. Even with brief absences for Zdeno Chara, Gregory Campbell and Milan Lucic, Boston has rattled off five straight wins and taken over the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins are now 19-2-1 since the start of November, a hot streak that no longer seems like simply a streak at all, but rather has all the markings of an elite team that has found the key to playing up to its capabilities on a consistent basis.

With how well the team has played, there aren’t a lot of issues raising concerns with Bruins fans. But there are always a few topics worthy of further exploration, and I’ve tried to address as many as possible in the latest edition of the Bruins Mailbag. As always, I’d like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn’t able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I’ll answer as many of them as I can as we continue on in the season.

Hi Doug, it’s hard to ask a question about the Bruins because they’ve been playing so well lately. All four lines are clicking and [Tim] Thomas and [Tuukka] Rask are superior in goal. My question has to do with Daniel Paille. He’s been scoring quite a bit as of late, do you see him getting more ice time as time goes on because of his great play lately? Do you see Claude Julien moving him up a line or is he fine on the fourth line for now?
–John, Holyoke, Mass.

Yes, the Bruins’ success is not great for generating questions for the mailbag, but I don’t think many Boston fans will be complaining. As for Daniel Paille, you got your wish briefly on Monday, as Paille opened the game on the top line in Milan Lucic’s spot while Lucic served his one-game suspension. That was just a temporary promotion, but it does demonstrate Paille’s value because of his ability to move up and down the lineup into a variety of roles. Even with his recent hot streak (three goals in the two games before Monday), he’s still not a guy you necessarily want in the top six on a regular basis. He’s got great speed and does an excellent job bringing energy on the fourth line and penalty kill, but he lacks the pure finish of a true scoring line winger.

Paille has also developed some really strong chemistry with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton on that fourth line, which is arguably the most effective fourth line in the league with the combination of speed, toughness, experience and reliability they bring. That’s a real luxury to have such a dependable unit that far down the depth chart that can play a regular shift and wear down opposing teams, so it’s not a combination I would look to break up when everyone is healthy.

Doug, Benoit Pouliot is playing really well lately and seems to be following Daniel Paille as a once regularly scratched player who’s worked his way into a regular and contributing role. Is confidence the only thing that makes his play better? If so how does Jordan Caron gain some of that confidence?
–James Paul, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Benoit Pouliot is definitely gaining some confidence with the success he’s had of late, but that’s not the only factor contributing to his improved play. I think of lot of it is a matter of getting comfortable with his surroundings here. It took some time to adjust to Claude Julien‘s system and how the Bruins do things, but he has adapted well. Pouliot has also mentioned how much Julien has helped out, both with the patience he’s shown in teaching Pouliot the Bruins system and in the faith he’s shown by sticking with him through his struggles early in the season.

Pouliot mentioned after Monday’s game just how much better the communication is here in Boston compared to his previous NHL stops, and how good Julien and his assistants have been in explaining what they want from Pouliot and every player on the roster.

“It helps a lot,” Pouliot said. “It’s always nice to know what you do good and do wrong. Even though it’s wrong sometimes, you’ve got to know. Not only Claude, but all of the coaches out there do a lot of video, which is nice. You always know where you’re doing good or not. Just a matter of letting you know can go a long ways and right now I think it helps my game a lot.”

The other major factor is the chemistry Pouliot has developed with linemates Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, and that’s been strengthened by consistently playing together. After alternating with Jordan Caron on that line early in the year, Pouliot has been a fixture with that unit for the past month and the cohesion gained from that time together is paying off for all three.

Caron would also benefit from getting consistent ice time with regular linemates, but at this point that’s not really a possibility with how well everyone else is playing. He may be better served logging lots of minutes on a top line down in Providence and further developing his game for now until an opportunity to play more regularly in Boston opens up.

Do you think the Bruins will be able to maintain their intensity for the rest of the season and into the playoffs? What do you think they need to change (if anything) to bring home the Cup again?
–Jake DeAngelis, Falmouth, Mass.

That’s really the biggest question facing the Bruins, with the obvious concern being if they may be peaking too early this season. It is hard to imagine the Bruins continuing to roll like this for another six months all the way to a second Cup in June without hitting some bumps along the way at some point. They didn’t miss a beat in their current five-game win streak despite playing without Zdeno Chara for two games, Gregory Campbell for three and Milan Lucic for one, which shows the kind of depth and character the team possesses.

Still, they have been fortunate to avoid any major long-term injuries to this point. Will they make it through the rest of the season unscathed? Unfortunately, as the injuries to key players around the league continue to mount, that appears unlikely. That depth is bound to be more seriously tested at some point. The one positive out of such a scenario is that the Bruins do have plenty of cap space if they do need to make moves if anyone goes down.

But injuries might be the only thing that would force the Bruins into needing to make any changes. As they stand right now, there are no glaring holes they need to fill or weaknesses to address. And with how important their camaraderie has been to their success, I don’t think there’s much to be gained by risking that chemistry at this point with any big moves.

Staying healthy will be the biggest key to Boston’s hopes for a repeat. But maintaining the intensity and level of execution they’ve shown for the past seven weeks will be a challenge in and of itself. I would expect there to be some lulls and a few slumps along the way. But the Bruins have the experience and resiliency to battle through such adversity, so I don’t really expect them to hit any prolonged skids. The key will be to have the team performing this well when it matters most in the postseason, because even a brief slip then can be fatal to their title hopes.

Hi Douglas, I was wondering if the NHL got rid of the unsportsmanlike conduct for diving? It seems like there is a lot of it going on more and more in games nowadays. Thanks.
–Chris, Nashua, N.H.

I don’t know if there’s a lot more diving going on right now unless you’re watching too many Vancouver and Montreal games, but any amount of diving is a problem and an embarrassment to the game. The diving penalty is still on the books, though not often called. CBSsports.com is the only place I found that breaks down the penalty numbers by each type of infraction, and they have recorded just 13 diving penalties called so far this season. Ten players have each been called once and Washington’s Alexander Semin already has three diving calls to his discredit this year. This is a penalty that should be called more, and called on its own to put the offender’s team shorthanded rather than the frequent copout of calling matching minors for embellishing a penalty already being whistled.

Do you think that the team’s incredible run since Nov. 1 was motivated by their horrible October performance?
–Joe Dittrich, Salem, N.H.

Boston’s struggles in October were definitely a wake-up call. The Bruins knew all about the very real effects of the Cup hangover going into the season, but until they actually experienced it, fully understanding how much that long playoff run and short offseason can take out of you is difficult to truly appreciate. Add in the fact that every opponent is now fired up for a shot to knock off the champs and the slow start shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

After starting 3-7-0 in October, the Bruins also realized that they couldn’t allow many more points to slip away, as slow starts can be very difficult to overcome if allowed to linger too long. I think the reality of the need to make up the ground lost in that first month was definitely a motivating factor, but the biggest reason for the turnaround was simply getting back to their style of game and the kind of effort and mind-set needed to win in this league on a regular basis.

Hi Doug, have there been that many incidents in the last 2-3 seasons that really require suspensions, a la Lucic? I can never recall this many hits, etc., needing to be addressed in years past. What changed in the last 20 years? I believe helmets and shields have actually made it worse, as the respect factor has all but dissipated. I have never seen this many boarding, checking from behind, high sticking, hits to the head, etc. What are your thoughts on this very delicate topic?
–Peter Corrado, East Haven, Conn.

I’m not convinced Lucic’s hit required a suspension, but there have been plenty of dirty plays deserving of supplemental discipline in recent years. Most of them have been addressed by the league, as have many that likely wouldn’t have drawn suspensions in past eras.

There’s a combination of factors contributing to the rising number of suspensions in the NHL. Some of it is from the lack of respect in the game today, and I would agree that the feeling of invincibility some players feel while protected by increasing amounts of armor not just protecting their heads and faces but all over their bodies has contributed to that. Of course, as we’ve seen with the way concussions and other injuries are also rising steadily, that’s often a false sense of security. There’s no doubt that there have been plenty of dirty plays and cheap shots and I have no problem with the league trying to drum that out of the games.

I’m not convinced, however, that the increasing number of suspensions is having much of an effect in that regard. If the message was really getting through to the players, wouldn’t Brendan Shanahan‘s job be getting easier and there be less and less need for him to be making more and more of these videos to explain his latest suspensions?

Call me a dinosaur, but I still feel that being immediately held accountable for a cheap shot on the ice is far more effective a deterrent than any potential punishment from the league days later. But the NHL stripped the players of that power with the implementation of the instigator rule, and there seems to be no desire on the league’s part to reverse course on that, so sadly the cheap shots, and the ensuing suspensions, will continue to pile up.

Have questions for Doug Flynn’s mailbag? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter @douglasflynn or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.

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