They still need to prove they can maintain the kind of effort they've shown this week. They've teased before with a handful of strong performances sprinkled in amid the struggles of the past two months. But Saturday's 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers and Monday's 8-0 rout of the Leafs at least gave proof that the Bruins were still capable of getting back to their old form.
That doesn't mean there still aren't questions about the club's prospects heading into the final 10 games of the regular season and on into the playoffs. And I've tried to answer as many of them 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 close out the regular season and head into postseason.
Hi Doug. Are statistics kept for the Bruins when they have one fight in a game, two fights in a game, etc.? It always seems like when there's at least a fight, the B's fare well. Also, do you think they are aware of that, if indeed to be true?
– Peter Corrado, East Haven, Conn.
Official stats like that aren't kept by the league, but you're in luck anyway. I actually compiled those numbers for a story last year to see if there was any correlation between the Bruins dropping the gloves and picking up points. Overall, last year there wasn't a huge difference between the games that featured a fight (the Bruins went 24-13-7 in those) and the games without (22-12-4), but the Bruins did do better when thing got especially chippy (8-3-3 in games with more than one fight, including 6-1-1 in games with three or more bouts). It also helped when certain players got involved. Boston was 9-3-2 when Shawn Thornton had a fight, and also fared well when Adam McQuaid (7-2-3), Nathan Horton (6-1-1), Milan Lucic (4-1-2), Andrew Ference (4-0-1) and Gregory Campbell (6-4-1). Those numbers included wins in playoff games when Horton and Ference fought.
This year the difference has been even more dramatic. The Bruins are 27-11-1 in games featuring at least one fight and 15-16-2 in games without any fisticuffs. The disparity is even more pronounced since the team began slumping in mid-January. Since Jan. 14, the Bruins are 12-4-1 in games with a fight and a woeful 2-12-1 when they don't drop the gloves. Overall this year, it seems like the Bruins need less scraps to get them going, as they are 18-6-1 in games with one fight, 7-3-0 with two fights and just 2-2-0 when they fight three times (sadly, they haven't had more than three fights in a single game this season).
As far as individuals go, the Bruins are 11-6-1 when Thornton has had his league-leading 19 fighting majors (2 came in the same game), 6-3-0 when Campbell fights, 4-2-0 with Lucic dropping the gloves and 3-1-0 when Zdeno Chara sheds the mitts. McQuaid's fight total has dropped from 12 last year to just six so far this season, which is bad news for the Bruins, since they are 6-0-0 in games when he fights.
As for whether the Bruins are aware of these trends, I can't say for certain if they've tracked any of the specific numbers, but they definitely understand that they play better when they are emotionally involved and play with a physical edge, and that usually leads to fights. But other teams around the league are also well aware that the Bruins thrive in those kinds of games, and the Bruins have struggled frequently when they haven't been able to get the opposition to engage. They have needed to find other ways to get themselves going, and that has been a problem at times.
One bit of caution in reading too much into these stats. It's not quite as simple as just having a fight equaling a likely win. While the toughness in the lineup does give Boston's skill players some extra room to operate and a well-timed bout can definitely change momentum, I think it's more a matter of when the Bruins play with the kind of emotion, energy and intensity they need to be at their best, it usually leads to the kind of physical games that produce fights. So the fights are more a sign that the Bruins are playing the way they need to in order to be successful than a direct cause of those victories.
As of 3/21/12, the Panthers are only two points back of the Bruins. Do you think if the Bruins start to stress over the tight race for second place, it will affect their play?
– Tyler Rathbun, Pittsfield, Mass.
Well, Ottawa is only three points back for the division lead, and if the Senators pass Boston the Bruins will drop all the way to seventh in the East and lose home ice for even the opening round of the playoffs. So if being in a tight race down the stretch is going to affect the Bruins, that would be much more stressful than swapping seeds with Florida in the two and three spots. The second seed would certainly be more advantageous if the current matchups hold, as the Bruins have enjoyed plenty of success against Ottawa the last few years and likely No. 6 seed New Jersey has looked very strong in the second half of the season, even though the Bruins did sweep the season series with the Devils.
The biggest thing for Boston is holding on to that division lead, and then having the higher seeds hold serve in the opening round. Whether they are No. 2 or 3, the Bruins would open at home against a beatable opponent in Ottawa or New Jersey, while the 4-5 matchup will feature either the Rangers or Pittsburgh slugging it out against Philadelphia. If no upsets by the lower seeds force a reseeding for the second round, the Bruins would then get another manageable matchup against Florida while the two surviving Atlantic Division powers would clash in another grueling 1-4 matchup. Having Pittsburgh or the Rangers softened up by a couple of long, tough series might be Boston's best hope to get out of the East and have a chance to defend the Cup in the Final.
Do the Bruins trust [Marty] Turco enough to have him play?
– TJ Payzant, St. Paul
I think they'll have to give him another shot. While Tim Thomas appears to be rounding back in form in the last couple of games, helped greatly by a much better defensive effort in front of him limiting the shots he's facing, he still can't be expected to play every game down the stretch, then play every minute of the postseason as he did last year. With the amount of hockey he's played in the past year and the fact that he's about to turn 38 on April 15, Thomas will need a few games off.
Marty Turco didn't give Claude Julien a lot of reason to trust him with his performance in his first and only start for the Bruins in Tampa, but Julien has praised his hard work and steady improvement in practice since. Also, don't forget that Turco did look pretty sharp in relief of Thomas against Pittsburgh before that disastrous start. Julien basically confirmed that Turco will get at least one more shot when he stated after a recent practice, "We didn't bring him in just to put him on the bench."
With back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Anaheim Saturday and Sunday, there's a good chance Turco will get the nod in one of those contests this weekend. If he plays like he did against Pittsburgh, then Julien will have the confidence to give Thomas some more rest. If Turco plays like he did against the Lightning, then the Bruins just might have to see what Anton Khudobin can do when he's healed up in a week or so.
I know it was against a terrible Leafs team, however, with [Brian] Rolston getting four points, two goals for [Benoit] Pouliot and [Chris] Kelly's 18th [goal] of the season, the third line is looking nice. [Jordan] Caron is also on fire and oozing jam, so my question is: When good old Pevs [Rich Peverley] comes back, who on earth do we scratch?
– Jimbo, London, England
When Peverley jumps back into the line-up, who is out? At this point they can't possibly think of sitting Caron, so would it be [Shawn] Thornton? And assuming [Nathan] Horton comes back this year, who else gets bumped?
– Martha, Stow, Mass.
There were a lot of questions this week about what the lineup may look like once Rich Peverley returns, but these two inquiries from both sides of the pond cover just about all the possibilities. First, I don't see Claude Julien messing with the chemistry of the fourth line if they all remain healthy. I think the lesson was learned last year in the Cup Final what a difference having Thornton in the lineup makes when his return in Game 3 helped spark the turnaround in that series. With the Bruins committing $2.2 million to keep him around for two more years, I don't think he'll be the odd man out for Peverley. Linemates Campbell and Daniel Paille are key contributors as well, both to that energy line and to the penalty kill.
Chris Kelly certainly won't be coming out either with his strong play in both ends of the rink. A week ago, I would have said that Brian Rolston is probably the most likely candidate. He didn't show much in his first couple weeks back in Boston, but his last three games (2-5-7 totals, plus-5) have shown he might still have something left in the tank after all. Benoit Pouliot was in the doghouse after pulling himself from a game after warm-ups earlier this month, forcing Julien to use defenseman Mike Mottau up front. But after missing three games, Pouliot has 2-3-5 totals of his own over the last three games. Jordan Caron is actually the one who has gone cold a bit with no points in those three games after 4-4-8 totals in the previous six games during his unexpected breakout. He can solidify a spot with a return to that kind of production, but his youth and the fact that Peverley could slide back into that spot alongside David Krejci and Lucic where he was playing before he got hurt could still leave Caron as the odd man out. There's still a couple games left for each player to state their case to remain in the lineup, and with Horton not even back skating yet it is way too premature to speculate on what his return would do to the lineup.
One thing is certain though, if everyone stays healthy when Peverley, and hopefully Horton, return, deciding who to sit out is one problem that Julien will welcome having. And who knows, if Caron is truly "oozing jam," Julien might not have a healthy body to scratch after all. That sounds like a nasty condition to play through.
Zach Parise hits unrestricted free agency next year, and he seems like the kind of player that could create offensive energy for the Bruins to build around. What's your opinion on a possible move for Parise or a similar player?
– Ian, Boston
I love Parise's game, but I just don't see a fit here. I'm not sure that a team can really build around him, because he's going to command such a big cap hit that it will really limit any other moves to add or retain a strong supporting cast. The Bruins' success has been built around their depth and a team concept. I don't think going top heavy with one player taking up that much cap space is a winning formula. Even if the Bruins can clear enough space this coming season to sign a player like Parise, that would mean eliminating any hopes of retaining pending free agents like Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille and filling those holes with minimum-salary youngsters or retreads.
And since Parise isn't going to be signing a one-year deal, the Bruins will face some even tougher decisions the following summer when Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand headline the list of Bruins up for new deals. The Bruins have already won a Cup with this core group of players and they've done a great job of keeping the nucleus together to stay in contention for further titles. Even with their inconsistency over the last couple months, I'm not ready to endorse blowing this team up to try to land the biggest name available. Parise is a great player, but I just don't see him as a fit here.
Any chance of dumping Claude [Julien]?
– Frank Noiles, Westbrook, Maine
None whatsoever, nor should that even be a consideration.
Doug, As much as I don't want this, fans need to look at what is best for the Bruins, right? With the recent struggles against teams the Bruins should easily beat, does there need to be a coaching change?
– Dana Berlin, Durham, NH
If you really want what's best for the Bruins, then a coaching change is about the last thing you should be looking for. It never ceases to amaze me just how underappreciated Claude Julien is by a certain segment of the Bruins fan base. The man inherited a team coming off back-to-back last-place finishes that had gotten out of the first round of the playoffs just once since 1994. He's taken that team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, and will once again in his fifth as well. He was the coach of the year in 2008-09, broke through that first-round barrier in both 2009 and 2010 and ended the Bruins' 39-year Cup drought in 2011. And while Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Nathan Horton and the rest of the players all deserve every bit of credit they've received for that championship, don't think for a minute that Julien wasn't also indispensable to that Cup run. There shouldn't be a need to rehash his resume less than a year after hoisting Boston's first Cup in nearly four decades. Fortunately, there are no such doubts about Julien's abilities in the Boston front office. It's probably expecting too much, but hopefully at some point the fans will grow to appreciate the job Julien has done as well.