Plus-Minus: Bruins Struggle to Find Back of the Net Despite Winning Streak

Plus-Minus: Bruins Struggle to Find Back of the Net Despite Winning Streak Welcome to the latest edition of Plus-Minus, where we review the top three positives and negatives of the Bruins’ week that was.

Fortunately for the Bruins, there have been a lot more pluses than negatives to choose from over the last two weeks, as the team went from being a mediocre cellar dweller in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference to first place in the Northeast and third in the Eastern Conference. Boston put together four straight wins and went 5-1-2 since the last edition of Plus-Minus.

So without further ado, here is our Plus-Minus for the last two weeks:

1. Tuukka Rask

Rask was thrown into the fire when Tim Thomas was felled with a rumored hand injury on Nov. 14 in Pittsburgh. Things didn’t start out well for the rookie netminder, as he was average at best in a 4-1 loss to the Islanders on Nov. 16. But over the next five games, all of which Rask started, the highly-touted Finnish goalie showed just why many viewed the trade that brought Rask to Boston in exchange for Andrew Raycroft as a steal. Rask was supposed to be the future of the Maple Leafs and now he is proving to be just that for the Bruins.

Rask won four straight games from Nov. 19-25 and was stellar in a shootout loss to New Jersey on Nov. 27. During those five games he was 4-0-1 with a 1.75 goals against average and a .942 save percentage. His overall record is 7-2-1 with a 2.13 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

The emergence of Rask now gives the Bruins a dependable option should Thomas falter or go down with another injury. One could also argue that he has become option "1A" for head coach Claude Julien, but we shall see how Julien handles that situation going forward.

2. Dennis Wideman
Wideman has been a minus here in our last two entries, but he and the coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for working through what Wideman has admitted to be a frustrating start to a promising season for the young, puck-moving blueliner. He apparently has found his game again, making fewer turnovers and controlling the puck at both ends with more patience.

In Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Senators, Wideman scored the third goal of the game, which would’ve been the game-winner had his team not allowed Ottawa to tie the game with 19 ticks left in regulation. It was Wideman’s first goal since Oct. 3. The goal also gave him his third multi-point game of the season, all of them coming over the last 10 games. Wideman also has three points in his last four games.

3. Return of Marc Savard and Milan Lucic
The Bruins had a noticeable jump in their game when Lucic returned Nov. 19 in Atlanta and Savard on Nov. 23 in St. Louis. They were 4-0-0 with Lucic back in the lineup prior to his injury last Wednesday in Minnesota and are 3-0-1 in the four games Savard has played since returning.

Lucic was a physical presence on his first shift back, hitting anything that moved. He then went out and scored a goal in each of his next two games, scoring the game-winner in the 4-2 win over St. Louis on Nov. 23. But the space that he creates for his teammates and the traffic he can create in front of the net is invaluable and was immediately noticeable when he went down with a high ankle sprain and missed the last two games.

Savard currently has a three-game point streak going with an assist in each of the three games. He has three points in the four games he’s played since returning from a broken left foot injury that kept him out. But it’s not just Savard’s point production that helps, it's the threat of that production that makes the opponent have to pay extra attention to him, which subsequently frees up one or more of his teammates. This is clearly evident on the power play, where the Bruins went 2-for-3 in his first game back, without Savard registering a point on the power play, and then 3-for-5 Saturday with Savard getting one assist. The Bruins are 5-for-13 on the man advantage since he returned to the lineup.

1. Scoring woes

While the Bruins have been winning and playing better, they have still struggled to score with frequency. That is part of the reason they find themselves going to so many overtimes and shootouts recently. In four of their last seven games, the Bruins have been able to score only four goals in 260 minutes of regulation.

"It’s a team thing to me," Julien told the media after his team once again failed to score more than one regulation goal in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils Friday. "You have to decide if you want to go to the net, or feel you have to go to the net. It is not about highlight goals, if you want to call them that, it is really about bearing down and scoring those dirty goals."

The Bruins did get some "dirty" goals and played as if they wanted to go to the net in the 4-3 shootout win over Ottawa, but they could have had more, as they missed three empty-net chances to seal the victory in regulation. Boston needs to figure this out soon. Whether that means a different approach, call-ups from Providence or looking for scoring help via a trade, something needs to be done, because they can only depend on Thomas and Rask to bail them out so many times.

2. Key injuries
To their credit, the Bruins could have been a lot worse without Lucic and Savard in the lineup. Minus the bruising Lucic, the Bruins were 5-4-4, and without Savard, they were 7-4-4, But as pointed out in our first minus, the team as a whole is struggling to score and the surrounding cast, specifically the likes of a Michael Ryder and David Krejci, did not get the job done on a consistent basis.

Yes, Krejci and Ryder have been better as of late, with the former really coming on, but it was clearly evident that without Savard and Lucic, the team lost the "dynamic" or "versatile" edge of its attack.

"For sure, they both bring key dynamics to our attack and make us better, but we need to find a way to compensate and adapt when they’re not in the lineup," forward Blake Wheeler said following the shootout loss to the Devils on Friday and the announcement earlier in the day that Lucic would miss two to four weeks with a high ankle sprain.

So far this season, they haven’t been able to do that with enough consistency. The power play has been anemic, but with Savard, it's getting better. But what happens if Savard is injured again as well, or even worse, Zdeno Chara? To this point, this scribe is not convinced that the current roster could survive over the long haul.

3. "U-S-A" chant and "Bronx cheer" for Thomas
During the 2008 playoffs, Montreal fans viciously booed the Star Spangled Banner prior to a playoff game between the Bruins and Canadiens. When the series shifted back to Boston, the Bruins fans in attendance reacted with class and grace, cheering throughout and singing “O Canada”.

But for some reason, when the Bruins play one of the six Canadian NHL clubs, a usually small but occasional large faction of fans at TD Garden seem to believe chanting “U-S-A” will spur their team onto victory.

Such was the case sporadically during the Bruins-Senators game. Apparently, this group of fans never took the time to check out the current Bruins roster, on the team Web site, where 15 of the 24 players listed are Canadian. The head coach and GM are Canadian. So why the “U-S-A” chant? It makes no sense!

By no means is it as offensive as the booing of a national anthem, but Bruins fans already showed they’re better than that, and this scribe believes they’re more original as well. If they did their research, they easily could have come up with a chant directed at the overrated Senators center Jason Spezza, who has only one goal in 10 games. Or maybe Ottawa defenseman Matt Carkner, who got into two fights the last time the two teams met.

But while the “U-S-A” chant was simply annoying and unoriginal, the booing and the “Bronx cheer” that reigned down on Thomas in the first period, when he let in a soft goal on the first shot he faced in two weeks, was classless and is either the result of ignorance or a very short memory. Have the fans who are guilty of this act forgotten what Thomas has done and meant to this team over the last two seasons? Or are they simply bandwagon fans that don’t even know?

If their memory doesn’t work well enough, let’s just travel back to last season when he won the Vezina Trophy. Thomas stole plenty of games for the Bruins en route to a 36-11-7 record with a 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage. He was also 7-4 with a 1.85 GAA and .935 save percentage in the playoffs, helping the Bruins reach the second round for the first time since 1999.

The “what have you done lately” mentality is understandable if the season is halfway done, but just past the quarter mark, Thomas has not been that bad at 6-6-3 with a 2.36 GAA and .915 save percentage. He admitted himself that he had a bad game Saturday, but he came through in the shootout.

"Those things are going to happen," Wideman said when asked about Thomas’ tough night Saturday in which he let in a soft goal with 19 seconds left, allowing the game to go to overtime. "But how many times has Timmy bailed us out? Unfortunately when the goalie has a bad night, there’s no one to bail him out. Timmy got the job done in the shootout and he’s got it done for us so many times before."

Bruins fans should remember that as well.

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