There's still plenty of playoff positioning to be done, and there's a chance the B's will enter the playoffs with a different look than they're offering right now.
With the trade deadline just around the corner, NESN's Jack Edwards opens his mailbag by looking at what the Bruins may do in terms of wheeling and dealing.
Will the Bruins make any big trades at the deadline or will they continue with the powerhouse team they have now? -Alex Apgar
The closer one gets to the deadline, the shorter the supply, the greater the demand, and the higher the price. Therefore, buyers are trying to make deals now whereas sellers (knowing they're going nowhere this season anyway) are content to sit tight unless a team gives them everything they want (or more). First, the Bruins need another defenseman to provide depth. Consider how tense people were when Johnny Boychuk went down the tunnel with what turned out to be a bruise from getting butt-ended with his own stick. If, as many originally thought, he had injured his arm and had been out for a few weeks, there would have been a 20-minute hole in the Bruins' defense corps. Andrew Ference has shown that he easily can move up in the rotation, but Steven Kampfer has yet to prove that he can handle the responsibility of a regular shift. So if the Bruins can find a good fit who can handle a 20-minute load, great. If not, they would love to pick up a seventh defenseman in the mode of Shane Hnidy last season — someone who understands his responsibilities, is great in the room, and can handle 15-16 minutes per game without anyone worrying if he's going to deliver.
Why haven't the Bruins been performing the way they did in their explosion earlier in the season? They almost never score as much as they used to.
-Matthew Joiner, Sydney, Australia
We were saying during that 21-2-1 run, "These are the good-old days." The NHL, with its salary cap, its sometimes-ridiculous schedule, and its myriad variables, pulls teams toward the middle. There's no better example of that than lottery-bound Carolina's 4-0 mastery of the Bruins this season. When a team finds its zone (Detroit on its record run of home wins, for instance), it's awesome to see it all come together. That's the way it was for the Bruins in their November and December stompfest. Will we see the Bruins play at that level again? It's possible, but doubtful.
Virtually all NHL teams get better as the season progresses, so there is less margin of error for a team that is playing very well to win and win dominantly. It's simply improbable for a team to find that kind of synchronicity twice in a season.
For recent reference, consider 2009 — when the Bruins were #1 in the East and just one point behind San Jose for the best record in the NHL. That season, the Bruins went 53-19-10. They led 41 percent of the time, were tied 38 percent of the time, and trailed 21 percent of the time. If the Bruins were to rip off 82 games at the pace they set during their hot streak, they would go 72-7-3. During their torrid stretch, the B's led a preposterous 48 percent of the time, were tied 38 percent, and trailed only 14 percent of the time. In short, it's too much to expect that to happen again. But one always can hope for, say, a run of at least 16 wins in a maximum of 28 games in springtime. The potential for that certainly is there.
Will Claude Julien switch up a few players on a couple lines due to the offense struggling lately?
–Tyler Reigle, Boston
He already has done it, moving David Krejci to line with Jordan Caron and Benoit Pouliot in Washington. Maybe it was because I was watching it on TV rather than seeing it with my own eyes at the rink, but the change seemed to have a good effect on Krejci — he was pulling up in the eddy of the flow more often, was more patient and accurate with the puck, and was physically more involved.
Do you see any similarities or differences in the Bruins from this time last year?
–Steve Woods, Chicago
The similarities are extensions of Peter Chiarelli's design and Claude Julien's coaching philosophy — excellent goaltending supported by rock solid every-skater defense. The differences are that, as a whole, this entire team is playing with more self-confident swagger after having won the Stanley Cup — and that it is getting outsize offensive contributions from deeper in the line chart than most teams could hope for. This team is poised for a good solid run.
Do you think the B's need to improve on defense? Where would you improve the team?
–Ian Scott, Canada
If the team is paying attention, as it did in Washington on Sunday and for most of the game against Pittsburgh on Saturday, it is in the right place mentally. Physically, it would appear that the Bruins could use a bit more depth on defense. Insurance is a nice thing to have heading into the playoffs. If Zdeno Chara or Dennis Seidenberg were to go down, that would wreak havoc in the D corps — as those two guys are not only Nos. 1 and 2 in even-strength time on ice per game, but they're also tops in both shorthanded and power-play time on ice per game. Those are holes that cannot be filled. It's only prudent to have a plan in place that could at least patch such a leak in the hull.
In what ways did Fred Cusick influence you as a sportscaster if at all?
–Jim DePasquale, North Providence, R.I.
Growing up in Durham, N.H., I was on the very perimeter of Channel 38's signal — and on our TV, the Bruins often looked as if they were skating through a snow storm. In an effort to understand what was going on, I usually listened to Bob Wilson's calls on WBZ radio while watching the on-air blizzard (remember those funky round UHF hoop antennae?). Taking nothing away from Fred, who was a wonderful man and truly a pioneer in hockey broadcasting, but Bob had a much greater influence on my approach to calling play-by-play than any other figure. His rich descriptions of situations and individuals, his remarkable verbal shorthand (much of which I unapologetically have borrowed and/or stolen), and his ability to capture emotion with his expression were the inspiration for the way I call a game.
How confident are you in the Bruins making it deep in the playoffs and possibly repeating the magic from just a season ago?
–Zach, West Yarmouth, Mass.
Part of my answer is contained in your question. Even for teams that seem to have a chance every year, such as Detroit, there still has to be magic to win the Stanley Cup. Teams that win have to have excellent goaltending (On your Bruins' checklist: check), solid D that is seven men deep (solid: check, seven-deep: not yet), excellent special teams play (The Bruins' special teams net goals mark is plus 12, trailing only Vancouver and Pittsburgh: check), and … some magic: Nathan Horton's OT bomb going just enough off-line to beat Carey Price and give the Bruins the opening-round comeback win, Michael Ryder's broom hockey save, Dan Hamhuis ruining himself while submarining Milan Lucic in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and you can fill in your favorites.
A lot of pieces are in place. It would be surprising not to see the Bruins improve their depth for the coming run. Now, if you and the rest of the Bruins fans can help bring some of that magic … we'll make sure there are enough defibrillators to go around for another heart-stopping playoff season. This should be a tremendous stretch run for the regular season. Every night brings its drama, and the lights just seem to get brighter and brighter the closer to June we get.
Thanks for your thoughtful questions… back atchya next week!