Bruins’ Issues Include Veterans, Special Teams, But Problems Are Fixable

The Boston Bruins have struggled throughout 2014-15 despite having a roster similar to the one that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season.

Of course, injuries to top-six center David Krejci and No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara, as well as other players, certainly have played a role in the Bruins’ inconsistency, but the current roster has more than enough talent to at least be in a playoff spot as the halfway point of the season nears. (Game No. 41 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.) Bruins principal and alternate governor Charlie Jacobs agrees, telling reporters Tuesday that his team’s performance this season has been “absolutely unacceptable” and that missing the playoffs would be “an utter disappointment and a failure, complete failure.”

As you might expect of a team that’s failing to meet expectations, Jacobs said an evaluation of the organization is ongoing. Here are the Bruins’ four primary issues as they enter the second half of the season.

1. Veterans Not Performing To The Level Expected
Any team with multiple veterans playing important roles but failing to meet expectations will struggle. The Bruins have several, chief among them being first-line left winger Milan Lucic, who’s in the midst of an eight-game goal-less drought. He has only one goal in his last 15 games, which isn’t what’s expected from a three-time 20-plus goal scorer.

Veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has struggled, too, but to be fair, he missed the second half of last season after ACL surgery. Loui Eriksson, the best player Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, has played well at times (25 points, third-most on the team) but is too inconsistent for a top-six-caliber forward, with goal droughts of five, eight and 12 games this season. While starting goaltender Tuukka Rask is far from the biggest disappointment, he isn’t displaying the Vezina Trophy-winning form from last season (15-10-6, .911 save percentage, 2.54 goals against average).

Boston is better than its record indicates, and the best, quickest way for a turnaround is for the team’s core to start playing at a higher level.

2. Lack of A Right Winger For David Krejci’s Line
Jarome Iginla (and his 30 goals from last season) departed in free agency, and the Bruins haven’t found a long-term solution for this position.

Young, inexperienced forwards such as Seth Griffith and Craig Cunningham have been given chances, but neither player is ready for this role. Eriksson also has received ice time with Krejci and Lucic, but the Swedish winger has been a far more effective player on Carl Soderberg’s line. Reilly Smith has been given a few opportunities alongside Krejci in practice and games over the past week, and the results have been positive. That said, Smith has tremendous chemistry with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and splitting up that trio doesn’t make much sense long term.

Rookie David Pastrnak was recalled Tuesday and should receive ice time on the Krejci line. Pastrnak skated with the top line during Tuesday’s practice and is the perfect right winger for a playmaker of Krejci’s caliber because of his speed, high hockey IQ and willingness to shoot the puck often.

If Pastrnak isn’t a good fit at this stage in his development, the Bruins might have to look outside the organization for a solution.

3. Special Teams Not On Par
Boston was among the best 5-on-5 squads last season, but strong special teams made it an incredibly tough team to beat. The Bruins ranked third in power-play success (21.7 percent) and eighth in penalty killing (83.6 percent).

Both units have taken a step back this season, with the B’s ranking 18th on the power play and 19th on the penalty kill. The power play has been better since Krejci returned to the lineup after recovering from an injury, but it still has plenty of room for improvement. Power-play success is even more important for the Bruins this season because its 5-on-5 scoring has decreased, from third in 2013-14 to 13th.

4. Ineffective Fourth Line Is Hurting Depth
Boston’s ability to use four lines was one of the main reasons it won the 2011 Stanley Cup and advanced to the Cup Final again two years later. The Bruins were expected to add more skill and speed to the fourth line after it was outplayed throughout the 2014 playoffs. Shawn Thornton’s free-agent departure was a step in the right direction, but the other two members of that line — Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell — have remained despite their struggles.

Campbell and Paille have an even-strength Corsi-for percentage of 42.16 and 43.11, respectively, which are the worst totals among Bruins players with at least five games played. They also have combined for just five goals.

It’s difficult to roll four lines when the bottom trio is consistently out-shot by such a wide margin, spends too much time in the defensive zone and doesn’t create much offense.

Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images

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