Plus-Minus: Bruins Must Reassert Physical Presence on the Ice

Plus-Minus: Bruins Must Reassert Physical Presence on the Ice Welcome to the latest edition of "Plus-Minus," where we review the top three positives and negatives of the Bruins’ week that was. And what a week it has been for the Black and Gold.

In two games since last week's edition, the Bruins continued their latest trend of win one, lose one — but this week, they got closer to achieving that 60-minute effort that has eluded them thus far.

1. Team Confidence

While the Bruins may have lost their last game and have yet to string together two wins in a row, they have strung together four straight solid efforts. That has obviously been the result of hard work, but also of building confidence. Instead of wilting under pressure or altering their game plan when they fall behind, the Bruins are standing strong in the face of adversity. And let’s not forget they’re doing this without their best point producer from the last three seasons, Marc Savard — and without the physical presence of Milan Lucic.

“All along, I thought we had a chance to win,” said goaltender Tim Thomas after a hard-fought 2-1 loss to New Jersey on Thursday. “I guess that's confidence building. But confidence can only take you so far.”

Thomas is right, but the fact that he and his teammates seem to believe they can come back and keep going is a good sign. That mindset clearly wasn’t evident in the Bruins' first seven games of the year, when they lost 4-1 to Washington and Phoenix and then were routed 6-1 by the Ducks on Oct. 8. In comparison, their last two losses were both decided by one goal — one in the final two minutes against New Jersey, and one in the shootout against Philadelphia. The B's have been in every game recently, and that is due in large part to this increased confidence level.

2. Patrice Bergeron
Forward Patrice Bergeron has three points (two goals, one assist) in his last three games and now leads the team in points with eight. Just over two years removed from his horrific injury on a hit from behind by then-Flyers defenseman Randy Jones — which caused Bergeron to miss the rest of the 2007-08 season with post-concussion syndrome — Bergeron is finally finding his game, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Bruins are without Savard.

The two-way forward has, in the words of head coach Claude Julien, been the Bruins' “best” forward and seems to have his balanced two-way game back with regularity.

"He has been our best and most consistent forward, by far," Julien said of the Quebec native. "When you talk about the ups and downs and everything else, he has been as consistent as you could ever ask of him. He's having a great year. He's playing extremely well. He's very reliable and that goal he scored [on Thursday against New Jersey] was deserved because of his play."

As Bergeron admitted on Thursday, he didn’t even realize that Tuesday was the two-year anniversary of his head injury. That means he’s not thinking about it like he probably was last season, when he struggled until the stretch run to round into form. It appears that the real Patrice Bergeron is back.

3. Mark Recchi
The veteran forward scored the momentum-changing goal in the Bruins' come-from-behind shootout victory at Ottawa last Saturday, a game that was also Recchi’s 1,500th. Recchi will always be an offensive threat, but it’s been the leadership he has built over those 1,500 games that is having a huge effect on the Bruins. Many players have told that Recchi has been like another captain in the dressing room as he helped the team through its early-season funk.

“It’s great to have another veteran with so much experience around like Mark,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “He has so much experience — he’s won two Stanley Cups — and he’s just another voice to listen to here.”

Recchi's goal in Ottawa was one of his trademark tip-in goals in front of the net, and if the Bruins defenseman can start finding ways to get shots through opposing defenses, he surely will help out the power play.

1. Power Play

Despite the fact that the power play looked better on Thursday night and produced more chances, the results have been minimal on the man-advantage and it is clearly costing the Bruins wins.

“When you don’t score on the power play, you lose momentum and it builds momentum for the other team,” said defenseman Derek Morris, one of only four Bruins to light the lamp on the power play.

The Bruins have scored only two goals in their last 13 opportunities and are now 6-for-42 overall this season, scoring at a measly 14.3 percent clip.

“We know what we need to do, and it’s coming,” Morris said.

What they need to do is cycle the puck, shoot more from the point and get their forwards parked in front for rebounds. It better come soon.

2. Zdeno Chara
While he comes prepared for every game and probably works harder than anyone on the team, captain Zdeno Chara has not looked like the Norris Trophy winner of a year ago. Despite having three points in four games, the towering blue liner has not been the ever-present physical and defensive force he was last season.

“He has been good, but can be better; he knows that,” Julien told the media Friday. “He’s been good, and there are some games where we’ve seen him be dominant like in the past. But we haven’t seen him be dominant night in, night out, like he has been. He’s frustrated a little bit, too. I think his whole game has been, at times, up and down a little bit. Let’s put it this way: He’s never been terrible but there are some nights when he’s just been OK.”

Chances are, when Chara reads that, he’ll keep it in mind when he steps on the ice Saturday — and some poor Oilers forward is going to feel the wrath of the 6-foot-9, 255-pound rear guard. But goalies need to start feeling the wrath of his shot as well, since it is the league’s hardest. Overall, the Big Z needs to be bigger on the ice.

3. Shawn Thornton

Of course Shawn Thornton isn’t counted on for his offensive presence, so his one point in nine games will be forgiven. But Thornton is counted on to be a physical presence out there, to provide momentum changing shifts with that physical game, and to send messages to opposing teams so they won’t be pushing any of his teammates around.

He has delivered that message three times with three fights, but only once did the timing seem to be right, and that would be during last Saturday's fight with Ottawa’s Matt Carkner. Carkner had fought the less experienced Bitz and was taking liberties out there. Thornton put a stop to that in a solid fight with Carkner and helped change the momentum at the time. There need to be more of those timed fights.

Thornton has the capability to affect a game and rattle opponents, and he needs to do it more consistently. He isn’t the only one failing to utilize his strengths, but the Bruins could use him some more when they go through a flat spell.

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