The Boston Bruins collected 96 points during the 2014-15 NHL season, which would have been enough in any other season to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
However, the incredible parity seen in the league this season, combined with injuries and other problems for the B’s, halted the Original Six club’s postseason appearance streak at seven seasons.
What went wrong for the Bruins in 2014-15? Here’s an analysis of the problem areas.
Injuries To Important Players
Injuries are often labelled as an excuse, but the reality is any team that loses important players for more than a short period of time is going to be vulnerable.
The most notable injury for the Bruins was losing No. 1 defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara from Oct. 23 through Dec. 11 because of a knee injury. Even when Chara returned, he still wasn’t the Norris Trophy-caliber player he’d been for many seasons.
“It took me a while, it was pretty obvious,” Chara said at last Tuesday’s practice. “I played nine games when it happened, and I came back when everyone was in midseason form, almost. I was just getting into it. It was pretty obvious when I came back that I missed a big chunk of games, and it was noticeable that my game wasn’t where everybody else’s was.”
Chara’s injury hurt a blue line already trying to transition from the loss of top-four D-man Johnny Boychuk, who was traded to the New York Islanders a few days before the season opener. Boston also had to deal with Kevan Miller suffering a shoulder injury on Oct. 18 and missing a few weeks, in addition to Torey Krug missing several games after breaking a finger on Oct. 28 and Adam McQuaid missing over a month with a broken thumb suffered on Nov. 18.
Dougie Hamilton, who was the B’s best defensemen for most of the season, was lost for the final 10 games with an undisclosed injury. That was a huge blow given his tremendous impact on the team’s puck possession, scoring and special teams play.
Ten defensemen played four or more games for the Bruins this season, mostly because of injuries.
Boston’s forwards were relatively healthy, with nine guys playing 70 or more games. Top-six center David Krejci, who led the Bruins in scoring in 2013-14, missed 35 games, including the first three of the season. Losing a playmaker of Krejci’s caliber for 35 games negatively impacted Boston’s ability to score goals at even strength and on the power play.
There were very few games when the B’s had a full, healthy lineup this season.
Goal Scoring Drop
The Bruins ranked eighth in goals against, and starting goaltender Tuukka Rask allowed two goals or fewer in 45 of his 70 appearances. They also controlled more than 52 percent of even-strength shot attempts. Normally that’s good enough to reach the playoffs, but the Bruins just didn’t score enough goals.
They ranked third in goals scored last season with 3.12 per game, and that dropped to 22nd at 2.56 goals per game this campaign. Boston’s 5-on-5 goals scored total dropped to 140 from 175 a season ago.
There are a few reasons for this decrease. The first was the loss of 30-goal scorer Jarome Iginla as a free agent last summer. Iginla and Patrice Bergeron tied for the team lead in goals scored with 30 last season. The B’s had five players score 20-plus goals in 2013-14, compared to just three in 2014-15 with Brad Marchand leading the way with 24.
The chart below compares the per 60 minutes goals, assists and points rates of every Bruins forward who played in 40-plus games last season and this campaign. The only player in this group who improved his points per 60 was Chris Kelly.
Inconsistency also was an issue for Bruins forwards. Among the nine forwards with 70-plus games played, only Milan Lucic didn’t have a goalless drought of 10 or more games.
The fourth line didn’t provide much scoring for the Bruins as well. Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, the two regular fourth-line forwards, combined for 12 goals. Four of Paille’s six goals came in a six-game span from Feb. 24 through March 8. He scored once in 57 games before that. Campbell and Paille also didn’t help Boston’s puck possession with the worst even-strength Corsi For percentages (41.37 percent and 45.72 percent, respectively) among B’s forwards with 20-plus games played.
In fairness, there were some Bruins forwards who played well offensively throughout the campaign. Bergeron, Marchand and Eriksson scored a lot of important goals, and the scoring production from rookies Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak — Boston’s leading scorers in March — helped save the B’s and kept them in the playoff race late in the campaign.
But overall, too many forwards didn’t perform to expectations.
Special teams were a huge strength of the Bruins in 2013-14. They ranked third in power-play percentage and eighth in penalty killing percentage that season. This campaign was a different story. The Bruins’ power play dropped by nearly four percent, while the penalty kill was just slightly worse than last season.
Inconsistency was an issue for the B’s on the power play, both in terms of conversion and opportunities drawn. Boston scored power-play goals in consecutive games just seven times and drew a total of 213 penalties, the second-fewest in the league. Converting on the road also was a problem for the Bruins. They ranked 26th in both road power-play goals and opportunities.
The power play did improve over the last two months of the season when head coach Claude Julien went with a first unit of Bergeron, Eriksson and Spooner/Krejci up front, with Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug at the points. This unit, which was put together in mid-February during the Western Canada road trip, played a major role in Boston scoring 15 power-play goals since Feb. 16, the eighth-most in the league during that span. But the damage had been done before that, with the B’s scoring just 22 power-play goals — third-fewest in the league — through Feb. 15.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Mayer/USA TODAY Sports Images