Jack Edwards Mailbag: Slumping Bruins Can’t Give Up Physical Aspect of Game As They Search for Answers

Jack Edwards Mailbag: Slumping Bruins Can't Give Up Physical Aspect of Game As They Search for AnswersThe Bruins are struggling mightily right now, and things didn't get much better on Tuesday night against Tampa Bay.

The Lightning pasted both Marty Turco and Tim Thomas – and then Turco again — en route to a 6-1 victory.

The B's are banged-up and struggling to find their way, and the result looks to be a lack of confidence. NESN's Jack Edwards discusses that and more in this week's mailbag.

Hey Jack, What do you think about Malkins hit on Boychuck. It seems to me the league is making their decisions on reputation not circumstance. Big fan! Thanks, Frank.
–Frank Parker, Derry N.H.

Jack is there any chance that if the Bruins play against the Penguins on Tue Apr 3 will there be retribution against Malkin for his hit on Boychuk?
–Jd Varnell via Facebook

It seems that anyone can spin any story in any way they want if it's shown in slow motion or stop action. Brendan Shanahan doesn't have any agenda other than making the NHL a safer place for the players while not taking away any legitimate excitement from the game. The Evgeni Malkin hit on Johnny Boychuk was a penalty. The on-ice officials saw it as a minor penalty. Since they were there, and they have been inside the boards a lot more than any of us, and since their ability to keep their jobs is based on their competence, I accept their call as valid. Just as I accept that their call was correct when Milan Lucic got two minutes — and only two minutes — for barreling into Ryan Miller. It was the proper call then and it would be the proper call now, despite the endless whining and story-changing out of Buffalo and the subsequent hue and cry of NHL general managers who opined that it was a suspension-worthy hit.  

Malkin didn't hunt Boychuk all over the ice, and Boychuk was turning just before impact, so it's questionable as to whether Malkin could have stopped his forward movement after he initiated the weight transfer to administer the check. It was a penalty, but I didn't see it as a malicious targeted hit with attempt to injure.

What could solve this problem along the boards — and likely take some concussions out of the game — is a catch-and-release rule that would allow a player in Malkin's position to wrap up an opponent until one second after they make contact with the boards. Then, the checking player would have to release his opponent or face a holding penalty. Yes, there would be inconsistencies in the introduction and administration of such a rule, but it would make the game safer without slowing it down as significantly as bringing back the red line. It also would protect NHL defensemen, who have been "victims" of virtually every speed-up rule change.  

Malkin won't face retribution in all likelihood because he really isn't a dirty player. Patrice Bergeron has boarded opponents in his career and you don't see teams targeting him. There always will be a perception of stars getting preferential treatment, but in this case I don't think it's merited. 

Do you think the Bruins' expectations are still as high as they were before the All-Star break? The team appears to be playing with a lack of confidence right now.
–Zac Louten, Bar Harbor, Maine

They lack just about everything that led to their Stanley Cup right now. Health, four contributing lines, three D pairs that can shut down opponents, great goaltending, you name it. The fact of the matter (heading into the Tampa Bay game) is that through 68 games, the Bruins are in second place in the Conference only because the quirky top-three-seeds rule trumps a phenomenal Atlantic Division. Four — count 'em — FOUR of the five Atlantic teams had more points than the Bruins going into Tuesday night's action. But only their division leader can be ranked in the top three in the conference standings. 

Take the back half of the 68 games they have played and you'll find the Bruins are 16-16-2.  That's 82-point pace and that misses the playoffs by a bunch. This team has been living off a streak of fantastic hockey that ended two months ago and needs to come to the realization that the hot water supply it apparently once counted on to be there at the flip of a switch … has gone cold. The Bruins have to generate some new heat by playing one high-intensity shift after another, not worrying about injured players, and responding to goals (their own or their opponents) by surging to higher levels on the following shifts. That's how championship teams play. That's how Boston played last spring. If they can play that way for three or four games in a row, that'll do a lot to bring the confidence back. But they have left themselves precious little time to do it.

Jack,
Do you feel that the Bruins have been unfairly targeted for suspension for their physical play and are now "gun shy" due to the suspensions that have been handed out to them by the league? Do you feel that hits (Malkin on Boychuck on Saturday) against the Bruins are not being punished as severely or at all also because of the Bruins physical play? I would like to get your opinion on these issues as I feel that the way the league and the on-ice officials have handled things very inconsistently and it has adversely affected the way the Bruins play the game and the way their opponents play against them.

–Chris Grondin, Lewiston, Maine

The Bruins play a very robust style of hockey.  It's in-your-face, it's with a clear threshold of behavior that they will not tolerate from opponents, it's a style that denies entry to the crease or contact with the goalie even at the willingly-paid price of a roughing penalty. Only the Rangers (in a very similar style with Bostonian John Tortorella at the helm) have more fighting majors.   

Rule No. 1 of playing a robust style: No whining. Rule No. 2: No backing down.  

I don't see them backing down any — and I am heartened by my stat-tracking that shows Milan Lucic to have taken a team-leading eight roughing penalties that have put opponents on power plays. That's a price that the Bruins are willing to pay. If a team plays rough-and-tough hockey, it's going to have to kill penalties. It's also going to play a very exciting brand of the game, and if it stays with its system, it's probably going to win a lot. Did you see that Vancouver gave up highly talented Cody Hodgson to acquire Zack Kassian? The Canucks know what they lacked last June.  

If the Bruins are changing their behavior because of a perception that they're being held to a different standard than the rest of the league, they are inviting disaster. No whining and no backing down. To paraphrase this season's slogan over the exit from the Bruins dressing room, "Burn the bridges behind you and you have no choice but to move forward."  

Jack do you and Andy ever find yourselves being "back seat" coaches? And if you could spend a day in Coach Julien's shoes, what "Jack/Andy strategy" would you most like to try?
-Dk DiSantis via Facebook

It's easy to make suggestions to coaches from the press level. It would be hilarious to listen to sports talk radio airchecks from last spring when everyone had the either-or scenario: Either the Bruins should adopt the host's power-play scheme or the Bruins were certain to fail. What rubbish. We know that Claude Julien's system works. We know that Peter Chiarelli's plan works. From close-up observation of both of those men, we can see that they constantly are seeking ways to make their approaches, their personal work output and their team better. As we said a couple of weeks ago, the coaches coach and we bring you the games as we see them. They know their players better than we do — and they have to because their jobs are on the line. I put it on the players to perform better.

Why do you think the Bruins don't do so well playing in the afternoon. Do you have any stats for that?
–Kris Hopper, Coventry, R.I.

Matinees are terrific for the fans because young children can attend games with a minimal loss of rest (and the usual accompanying behavior issues that follow). It's great to see families come to afternoon games together. One of my enduring happy memories of the old Garden — when the media walked to its seats alongside the fans — is of high school couples holding hands on dates as they climbed to the balcony seats. I would imagine that the boys had saved and saved for the tickets, and that the girls had spent a little extra time making sure they looked great in their oversized Bruins sweaters. I like to think that some of those sweethearts now bring their own little ones to games at TD Garden … and pass the tradition of cheering for the Bruins to another generation. I'm guessing that some NESN.com readers know real stories such as this.  

But away from the romantic gauzy view and the natural extension of the business dynasty, this team is just plain bad in the afternoon: 4-8-2. That's 10 points out of a possible 28, and that's horrible.  

Would they be better served by an unorthodox high-intensity warm-up? It couldn't hurt, because they're making a habit of falling behind 2-0 right away in afternoon games. Athletes are creatures of habit and ritual, and a "workout" type of warm-up session would disrupt the natural rhythm. But frankly, I don't see how it could produce a worse result than the Bruins have put together in most of their afternoon games this season — especially in first periods. The players have to come to this conclusion, though.  It has to be an idea from within.

My speculation and a buck won't even get you on the T.

Still tweeting, @RealJackEdwards. I thank all those who have given so generously and I ask everyone to join them — just to give one dollar or whatever you can to my Bruins Foundation 192-mile bike ride for the Jimmy Fund in the Pan Mass Challenge. Be part of the 17,565!

See you next week!

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