Boston’s roller-coaster season continued with some steep drops but also a suddenly steady climb back to respectability.
1. Team resilience
After a lackluster effort in a 4-1 loss at Phoenix last Saturday, the Bruins made some moves on Sunday. The team placed forward Milan Lucic was placed on long-term injury reserve and traded forward and dressing room favorite Chuck Kobasew. They also recalled forwards Vladimir Sobotka, Brad Marchand and Guillaume Lefebvre from Providence. Lefebvre would be returned the next day, but the press releases from the Bruins’ PR staff weren’t done yet.
As the team prepared for its game-day skate Wednesday, center Marc Savard — the team’s leading scorer this season and for the last three — joined Lucic on LTIR with a broken left foot. But instead of sulking in self-pity, the Bruins used this news and the events of the previous three days as motivation to snap out of their early-season doldrums.
“There’s no doubt we’ve been through this before in the past,” head coach Claude Julien told the media prior to their 3-2 win over Nashville on Wednesday. “Right now, it’s about meeting the challenge that’s ahead of us. There are a couple of players who usually have pretty good impacts on our game who are out of our lineup. I don’t think anyone is going to feel sorry for us around the league. I don’t think there’s any reason for us to feel sorry for ourselves. It’s more about rolling up our sleeves and getting ready to take this challenge head on.”
We had heard such preaching from Julien and his team throughout their 3-4 start, but this time, the Bruins went out and practiced what they preached both in the Nashville win and a 4-3 shootout loss at Philadelphia the following night. In their second set of consecutive-night games within a week, the players showed a ton of resilience and took three of a possible four points.
“I think when something like that happens, it wakes you up, and the guys are like, ‘OK, we need to step it up here,’ and we went out and did that,” veteran forward Mark Recchi told NESN.com on Friday.
Recchi is absolutely right, and while the Bruins still will miss Lucic and Savard on the ice and in the dressing room, this past week’s events may have been the wake-up call the team needed. GM Peter Chiarelli and Julien deserve credit for taking action and not standing still while they’re team was on the verge of spiraling out of control.
2. Penalty kill shows signs of life
It’s no coincidence that the penalty kill has killed off five straight power plays since Daniel Paille arrived. Paille showed his penalty-killing skills with the Sabres the last two seasons, and Julien threw him right out there on the first PK unit in his first game as a Bruin against the Predators. Boston killed off three Nashville power plays that evening and then two more on Thursday against the Flyers.
Paille has helped a lot, and the team, as a whole, seems to be reverting back to the structured system that led to their success last season. That has been evident in the penalty kill as the Bruins seem to be more organized on the ice.
“Paille has helped a lot out there, and that’s probably one of the reasons they got him,” forward Steve Begin told NESN.com. “But we’ve all been really getting better on the PK, and it’s because of our positioning and playing our game and systems.”
3. Tuukka Rask is ready
Since falling behind 3-0 early in his first start against the Islanders on Oct. 10, Rask has improved. He made 36 saves in the Bruins’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Flyers — including a game-saving stop on Jeff Carter’s shorthanded breakaway with under a minute to go. The effort proved that Rusk can be depended on if Tim Thomas needs a rest, gets hurts or hits a bad patch of games.
The highly touted Finnish prospect is ready to realize his potential and make the Toronto Maple Leafs regret the day they traded their 2006 first-round pick.
“He’s just a good goalie. That’s all,” Recchi told NESN.com. “And he is going to be one of the best. Tuukka was huge for us [Thursday] night, and we know he can do that when we need him.”
Tuukka Mania could be hitting the TD Garden very soon.
1. Team defense
The Bruins have been outscored 29-26 thus far, and their team defense has been lacking the cohesion and systematic approach that made Boston the stingiest club in the NHL last season. The forwards aren’t coming back to help out the defensemen, and the defensemen have looked disorganized.
Also, where is the real Zdeno Chara?
Chara has five assists through nine games and has looked good on the power play, but he needs to be the menacing force that makes opponents think twice when they enter the Bruins’ zone or try to park themselves in front of Boston’s net.
But Chara hasn’t been the only problem on the blue line. Matt Hunwick does not look like the puck-moving defenseman the Bruins missed in the Carolina series after he suffered a ruptured spleen. Mark Stuart has been inconsistent and was scrambling everywhere Thursday night except where he needed to be. Derek Morris has been better of late but needs to show the power-play prowess he showed in Philadelphia on a consistent basis.
This Bruins’ blue line – and team, in general — has the potential to shut down any team in the league on any given night. They must get back to basics and protect their house.
2. Lucic and Savard injuries
These injuries were wake-up calls, but there’s still no hiding the absences of Lucic and Savard on and off the ice in the next four to five weeks. Both players have become leaders and integral parts of the Bruins’ attack and system. Just witness what Claude Julien had to say about Savard, who is more known for his finesse than grit and defensive game.
“When he’s on his game, he’s good offensively and good defensively,” Julien noted. “That’s why we use him on the penalty kill. He anticipates well, and he reads the game pretty well. That’s why he excels when he’s on top of his game. That’s why I’ve always said he’s much more than a point producer when he sets his mind to it.”
Lucic, while only 21, has also become a solid all-around player and a key voice in the dressing room.
“He’s always joking around and making everyone relaxed or less nervous,” rookie forward Brad Marchand said. “He’s been great to me and the other young guys and really sets a good example.”
That kind of leadership, along with their skills, is hard to replace, and while the Bruins seem to have enough veteran skill and leadership to do so, Lucic and Savard are going to be missed.
3. Power play
Derek Morris’ power-play goal against the Flyers was the result of the perfect Bruins power play. The Bruins cycled the puck well, they had bodies parked in front of the net and the passing between Chara and Morris was precise.
“[Chara] knew that he had two guys on him over there and they wouldn’t have a guy high in the zone to pick it off,” Morris said after the game. “Perfect pass by Z.”
Morris should pat himself on the back for ripping one of his trademark shots from the point as well. But that passing and shot haven’t been used enough, and the cycling that leads to such opportunities needs to be more frequent as well.
Also, why are Recchi’s tip-in skills not being used as much as they were last season when he came to Boston at the deadline and seemingly tipped in every one of the 13 goals he scored down the stretch and in the playoffs? Recchi needs to be on the power play more often.
The power play has been better lately, but there is still work to be done. There is no way, with the skill on this team, that the Bruins should be ranked 21st heading into Saturday’s game at Ottawa and scoring at just a 16.7 percent clip.
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