The B's have been hit pretty hard by injuries, with the latest coming to backup goaltender Tuukka Rask. The club announced earlier this week that he'll be out 4-6 weeks, so to add some depth the B's have signed Marty Turco.
What will the veteran netmidner give the Bruins down the stretch?
Jack Edwards touches on that and much more in his weekly mailbag.
I was watching an older video highlighting Patirce Bergeron back when he played wing. Do you think that Julien should try more with the forward lines and move players like Bergeron over to wing on the fly during play to try and create more chances offensively?
–David Francis via Facebook
Instability is usually the enemy — and conversely, stability is usually your ally when it comes to line combinations. We know that Bergeron has made the players around him better — and with Brad Marchand and Brian Rolston adjusting to their roles better in the first couple of games (we write this on the afternoon of the Toronto game), this newly-formed line should start cashing in its chances soon. To move the Bruins' most valuable player this season to a position in which he, a) doesn't take as many face-offs; b) isn't in the defensive position at which he has been the league's best this year; and c) removes him as a pivot player who can set up any other player on the ice, would further destabilize a team that badly needs traction right now. It's good to think creatively, but if you throw this piece of spaghetti against the fridge, I think you'll find that it's only half-cooked.
Is Horton slated to return anytime soon? If and when he returns I think we have a solid group of players. Better than the Cup team of last year. Do you think they can be that cohesive unit come playoff time and gel at the right time?
–Eric Cormier via Facebook
Soon isn't in the forecast. Nathan Horton (see Sidney Crosby) is a day-to-day proposition, and to rush him back before he is 100 percent not only compromises his future quality of life, it also puts him in a position of having to meet unrealistic expectations. Horton's game is based in physicality featuring things like strength along the boards, the ability to hold off a defenseman while getting a shot, taking a hit to move the puck and busting into a seam to get off a sizzling one-timer on a rebound. He's going to have to skate hard and not have post-concussion symptoms, skate with contact from his teammates and not have post-concussion symptoms, then return to game condition at the most competitive time of the year, in order to contribute the way Bruins fans expect him to contribute.
In my opinion (and feel free to counter), the primary element detracting from the Bruins cohesion right now is that they are just worn down mentally. Seventeen months of hockey, with only a super-compressed summer to break it up, has this team looking a little threadbare in the parts of the game that make the difference in results. For example:
1. Instead of being able to create "following" shifts the way they were earlier in the season, when they scored twice in less than a minute 14 times, twice within 30 seconds six times, the Bruins fought and fought and finally tied the Rangers Sunday, only to see New York score 39 seconds later.
2. Instead of being able to fight around screens the way Henrik Lundqvist (on a subpar day for him) did working around Milan Lucic, Tim Thomas said he didn't see the game-winning goal until the puck was three feet away from him. This is not to throw Thomas under the bus, but to notice a marker of a team playing well, but not well enough to win. It's the time of year that "how pretty" means nothing and that "how many" means everything.
3. In Monday night's Buffalo-Winnipeg game, which was played at a phenomenal tempo, Blake Wheeler recognized the moment in which the game could be won, broke in on the hottest goalie in the game, Ryan Miller, threw a little fake and then whipped the game-winner past Miller's glove. It was the sign of a team that not only has the hunger but also the unused reserve of mental sharpness. It looks as if the Bruins have used up a lot of that reserve.
We aren't writing off the Bruins by any means, but at 14-14-2 beginning with the New Year's Eve game in Dallas, they are a mediocre club. A 30-game sample is more than a third of the season, not a short-term trend. They have gone two months (since Jan. 10 and 12) without putting consecutive wins together. It sure looks as if the three-day break at Christmas broke the spell, and they haven't found the mental energy to be an elite team since then. Well, now it's time to find it or fade.
With Tuukka Rask out and Marty Turco in, what, if any, impact will Marty have on the team? Do you think he will be a solid backup when Thomas needs a day off, or are his glory days long behind him?
–David Pritchard, Jonesboro, Maine
The goal was to deliver Tim Thomas to the playoffs fresher than he was in 2011. Not going to happen. Thomas' start in Toronto on Tuesday put him dead-even with last season's pace — and the Bruins will have two consecutive days off only once in the rest of the regular season. Turco hasn't played in the NHL since finishing up with Chicago last year, where he lost his job to Corey Crawford, but he should be able to eat some minutes and play at a very serviceable level to allow Thomas to have time to rest. The fly in the ointment, though, comes if the Bruins skid through this week and Ottawa makes a serious run at the Northeast Division title. If that happens, the Bruins have no choice but to keep pushing Thomas' button and hope they don't wear him out. Again, it's all about results at this time of the year.
Goal 1: Win the division to claim home ice for one or two rounds.
Goal 1A: Scramble into the playoffs even if they collapse at the end.
Goal 2: Succeed in the playoffs.
They can't get their priorities out of order — they have to get in, first.
I'm trying to understand why the Bruins signed Turco — since it was after the deadline he can't play in the postseason. Is there a loophole saying Turco can play in the regular season and just fill in for Rask's duties until he ready to return which right is around the time of the playoffs? Please explain.
–Joe Laderoute, Lake Tahoe, Calif.
See previous. This is a move to bring in a reliable, experienced goaltender who can take some minutes from Thomas' load, period. Michael Hutchinson isn't NHL-ready yet, Anton Khudobin's wrist is hurt so the Providence No. 1 goalie isn't available and Rask is out at least for the rest of the regular season. So the Turco signing is a gap-filler, a finite hire to patch a specific hole that suddenly popped open, splashing water into the hold of the good ship Bruins at an alarming rate. First, stop the flooding below-decks and float this ship into Port Playoffs. Then figure out what you're going to do on shore leave. Turco, it is hoped, carries enough of the load to keep the ship from sinking.
NHL teams can sign players at any time, but if they sign them after the trading deadline (Feb. 27 this year), they cannot use them in the post-season. Otherwise, there would be a frenzy of recently-retired-but-staying-in-shape players tuning it up for the last six weeks of seasons, joining teams for the run-up and the playoffs. Allowing after-the-deadline signees to take part in the playoffs would risk making a mockery of the first three quarters of the season.
Hi Jack. How are the Bruins going to eliminate the defensive zone turnovers? It looks those turnovers have been costly in many games. Are the defense cores healthy? Why does Chara look shaky at times? Is he injured?
–Toru, Greenwich, Conn.
Simplify and play as a five-man unit. When the defensemen are mentally sharp, knowing what their options are with the puck before it gets to them, they can handle it efficiently — with a minimum number of touches — and start the breakout. If the forwards are coming deep in the defensive zone to make themselves available for short, high-percentage passes, the Bruins can accelerate through the neutral zone. If they carry speed into the attacking zone, they create all kinds of offensive opportunities. It all looks so simple on paper, but this is the difficult task, shift-in, shift-out, for every NHL team right now.
Mistakes usually can be traced either to bad physical execution or lack of mental sharpness. Sometimes players try low-percentage plays that are probably beyond their normal capabilities. "Hope" passes often turn into disasters, especially when those passes get picked off at the defensive blue line. These are the symptoms of a team that is either incompetent (which we know the Bruins are NOT) or mentally worn down. But no one has any sympathy for the defending champions — they have to get over it and play better.
The defensive corps is not healthy. Andrew Ference's injury (on the heels of Johnny Boychuk missing a couple of games) sets off the dominoes. And even for the D pairs not rearranged because of injury, the minutes get piled more heavily upon Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, neither of whom has been super-sharp for more than three or four games at a time in the last two months. To the best of my knowledge, neither Chara nor Seidenberg is hurt in any substantial way — though one can imagine that they have their share of nicks, bumps and sore spots after 64 games.
Chara's best game is when he concentrates on being the NHL's scariest shut-down defenseman, nullifying the superstars of hockey and starting counterattacks. Anything beyond that is icing on the giant man's cake. He is at his absolute best when the 105 mph slap shot is the hood ornament on the truck that just ran over an opponent's top threat. The more he plays that way, the better the whole team tends to do. To Chara's credit, he has gone to great lengths to structure his game that way of late — limiting his rushes past the hash marks in the attacking zone, not going to net unless it's a desperate last-minute situation or unless the opponent just gives it to him. Generally speaking, the Bruins always want to see Chara on the defensive goal side of the puck. Just having him in the right spot, thinking D first, puts the Bruins in a favorable posture.
What makes the Rangers a real threat?
–Jason Christopher Cole via Facebook
From the goal out, the Rangers look like the best team in the NHL — and they have for a few months. Henrik Lundqvist is a long-time proven elite goaltender having a career year while Dan Girardi is a minute-sucking, shut-down machine who has brought Ryan McDonagh's game up a few notches. Marc Staal is scary-good for a guy who isn't on his team's top pair. Brad Richards won a Cup and a Conn Smythe and is a lot less concerned about stats and trophies than he is about just finding a way to carry the Cup again, Ryan Callahan is a leader with a capital L, Marian Gaborik is thriving as the "other" threat instead of the headliner, the role players such as Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky are quietly and humbly doing their jobs with maximum dedication and minimum whining and as a team they totally have bought into John Tortorella's burn-all-bridges-and-march-to-victory attitude.
It's the first week of March, and a lot can change in each and every game between here and the playoffs — not to mention within the course of each of four rounds of the playoffs — but right now it looks as if this is the Rangers' year to make their run at the thing. How dramatic would it be if the Bruins could rescue themselves and face them in an Eastern final? B's fans right now can only hope — Boston has to get a lot better, very soon, to make that hope realistic.
A plug to beat cancer here: For the third year, I'm riding my bike 192 miles in the Pan Mass Challenge with the Boston Bruins Foundation team. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the money we raise goes to cancer treatment and/or research through the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. That's amazing at a time in which 80 percent efficiency in fundraising is considered excellent. We can do that because riders pay fees and corporate sponsors also pay for all ride and administrative costs. I have set the ridiculous target of raising $17,565 in tribute to the Bruins' TD Garden capacity. Please go to my donation page and give a buck, or two, or whatever you can. Be part of the 17,565 and, as one, we can help DFCI kick cancer's butt.
As always, I'll be tweeting @RealJackEdwards.
Thanks for your questions again. See ya next week!
Photo via Flickr/bridgetds