The Bruins under Claude Julien have put the utmost value on being able to use any one of the four lines at just about any point in the game. At the very least, the B’s have been at their best when they’ve got the top three lines operating at an adequate level.
That’s not happening right now, and while the Bruins’ early-season dominance may have hidden some of their flaws, the club’s embarrassing 4-3 loss on Tuesday night in Washington helped expose some of those flaws.
One of the biggest flaws this club has right now is the lack of productivity from its third line, a line that for the majority of the season has consisted of Chris Kelly flanked by Chris Bourque and Rich Peverley.
The trio has combined to score five goals (one of those, Kelly’s lone goal of the season, was a power-play goal) and they have 10 assists. They have gone stretches of games without doing much of anything offensively, and any real chances are usually foiled by shots that inexplicably miss the net.
But the real issue comes in their own end, where the third line has been a real liability. Defensively speaking, there are issues as well. While plus-minus may be a misleading stat when it comes to an individual player, there’s no denying it reveals the third line’s biggest issues. They are a combined a minus-21, with Bourque’s rating of minus-6 being “the best” on the line.
This graphic from the NHL.com stats page pretty much says it all (position/games played/goals/assists/points/plus-minus).
They were at it again on Tuesday night in D.C. The third line was on the ice in its entirety for two of Washington’s three regulation goals, including the game-tying goal with 6:05 to play. Kelly was also on the ice for the Capitals’ second goal where lost a faceoff cleanly after being out-muscled by Nicklas Backstrom on the faceoff that led directly to Tomas Kundratek‘s first-career goal.
If we’ve all started to notice the deficiencies you better believe that Julien is all over it. The head coach called out the third line once again following Tuesday night’s loss.
“Somehow, if you’re not going to be able to produce, you have to keep the puck out of your own net,” Julien told reporters after the game. “Now we’re not getting either from that line. It’s a concern we’re going to have to look at.”
Patience will certainly start to run thin, if this continues. At some point, the stern words from Julien aren’t going to be enough. Bourque got what should have been something of a wake-up call on Sunday night when he was a healthy scratch for the biggest game of the year against Montreal. While Daniel Paille helped give the third line a jolt on Saturday against Tampa Bay, one would think the Bruins would like to keep him on the fourth line, a line Julien indicated he was pleased with following Tuesday’s game.
The answer, then, may need to come from the outside if things don’t improve. The Bruins could dip into their AHL reserve, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who really sticks out. Jordan Caron would be the most obvious choice given his experience at the NHL level, but he’s been pretty unimpressive this season at Providence. There are a couple of other options perhaps, but are any of those players really going to solidify this Bruins team?
From there, you start looking outside of the organization. It’s no secret that the Bruins have money to play with. They freed up cap space when they traded the ghost of Tim Thomas (and his ridiculous cap hit) to the Islanders. They could even still put Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve again and clear up even more space.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has shown in the past that he’s willing to make moves at the deadline. More often than not, though, those deals have been minor tweaks, like when he brought Kelly and Peverley into the fold back in 2011 at the deadline.
The Bruins have shown room for improvement as of late (and the Bruins’ defense corps isn’t immune to inspection either). Maybe it’s time that they make a move. Bruins teams of the past require everyone to pull their own weight, and that’s not happening right now. If things don’t improve on the third line, Julien, Chiarelli and the Bruins won’t have much of a choice.