The new year will be six days old before the Bruins play at the Garden again following a five-game road trip that will take the club first down south to Florida, Tampa Bay and Atlanta, then up north to Buffalo and Toronto.
Before bidding adieu to the Bruins for the rest of 2010, Boston fans can check out a half-dozen items that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks in the latest installment of the Bruins Shootout.
1. The Bruins have prided themselves on being a tight defensive team under Claude Julien, but this month has seen some cracks in that. Saturday’s 26-shot onslaught by the Capitals in the third period was the most obvious example, but it was just part of a broader trend. After allowing 40 or more shots just three times in 22 games in October and November, the Bruins have given up 40-plus in five of their first 10 games in December.
2. Allowing a lot of shots hasn’t been too much of a detriment to the Bruins though, as they are 11-6-4 when they’ve been outshot this season and 4-2-1 when allowing 40 or more shots. Conversely, the Bruins are just 1-3-1 when they’ve had 40 or more shots themselves, and that one victory came when they beat Florida 4-0 despite being outshot 41-40.
3. The Bruins might finally be putting their home struggles behind them. Boston spent much of last season unable to earn consistent wins at the Garden, where they dropped 10 straight at one point from Jan. 7-March 2. Things weren’t much better to start this year, with the Bruins just 4-5-3 at home through November. But the home cooking has been much more enjoyable around the holidays, as Boston was 4-0-1 at the Garden this month heading into Monday’s clash with the Ducks.
4. After finishing last in the league with an average of just 2.39 goals per game last season, Boston is 13th this year at 2.78 per game. But their defense can’t take much credit for that rise, as just seven of their 89 goals entering Monday came from blueliners. Only Toronto (six), Dallas (six) and the Islanders (five) have fewer goals from defensemen this year than the Bruins, whose seven goals are barely a third of Atlanta’s league-leading 20. The Thrashers’ Dustin Byfuglien has 11 all by himself, and is one of five defensemen in the league with as many goals as all of the Boston blueliners combined. Zdeno Chara has four goals to lead Boston’s defensemen, but he’s gone 18 games without a goal since last scoring on Nov. 10. The only other goals from defensemen came when Andrew Ference ended a 99-game drought with a goal on Saturday, while Dennis Seidenberg scored on a fake dump-in and Matt Hunwick had one goal before being traded.
5. One way the Bruins could get more offensive production out of Chara, who had a career-high 19 goals in his Norris Trophy-winning season in 2008-09 before dropping to just seven last year, would be to use him in front on the power play, where his 6-foot-9 frame would make an imposing screen for opposing goalies. Julien did use Chara in that manner last Thursday in Montreal, but only in the final minute with the goalie pulled and Boston trying for the tying goal. Julien doesn’t appear inclined to risk the blueliner taking a shot in front during the regular course of play, as he is happy with the net-front presence currently in place.
“This has definitely been in the back of our mind-set to put him in front, except that what we have right now in front with our two power plays are [Milan] Lucic, who’s our top goal scorer and who’s a big body, and [Mark] Recchi, who’s been really good,” said Julien. “To put [Chara] up there, one of those two has to be sacrificed for that position and by doing that we don’t feel that the replacement for Z on the back end would compensate for the loss of the guy in front right now.”
6. Tim Thomas has looked almost unconscious at times this season during the stellar start to the year. That was never more true than when he turned aside 25 of the 26 shots Washington peppered him with in the third period on Saturday. But maybe there was something to taking a less cerebral approach to the onslaught.
“I didn’t have time to think about it too much, or at least I didn’t overthink it, which is a good thing,” said Thomas after the game.
That may have been just as well, as Thomas was having a rough day before he got between the pipes. “I’m not thinking very well today,” said Thomas. “And that probably helped me in the third period. It’s one of those days. I forgot about five things on the way out to the car on my way to the game.”