By Jay Kenney
The 2015 offseason was a major shakeup for the Bruins in terms of its front office and team. Through the beginning of December the season itself has continued to be radically different compared to recent years; like the roster itself. The same old core of Bergeron, Chara, Krejci, Rask is still paramount to the team’s success. However, there is a wonderful young mix of talent at the bottom of the roster that has yet to reach its potential.
The new roster pieces haven’t been the real story of the season. It has really been the fact that the strengths and weaknesses of the team have completed a full 180 compared to the previous several years.
The deep playoff teams that Claude Julien coached toward two Stanley Cup Finals appearances were defense first before anything else. They had four great lines that would come out and play hard and stick to the defensive schemes that Julien drew up. Chara was younger then and so was Seidenberg. No doubt the Bruins heavily relied on both Ference and Boychuck at the blue line. Both have since departed. The Bruins also had great veteran role players on their bottom lines like Thornton, Recchi, Campbell, Ryder, and Paille. The team was built strong top to bottom to compete against the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin defensively. While these teams might not have always produced a high volume of goal scoring, they would always show up defensively and give a strong effort. In addition to scoring troubles at times the Black and Gold always seemed to have mighty trouble putting the puck in the net on the powerplay.
The new version of the Bruins is something drastically different. Chara and Seidenberg have aged, and the veteran role players on the bottom end of the roster have either departed or retired. Zach Trotman once struggled to make the roster and is now sometimes in the top pairing with Chara. A wealth of young talent at both forward and defense gives hope to avid Bruins fans that the future can be bright. But who will stand out? Bruins have eleven players aged 25 or younger on the current 25 man roster. There is certainly an unprecedented chance for young talent to make an impact on what is considered to be a perennial playoff contender. Players like Frank Vatrano, David Pastrnak, Colin Miller, Brett Connolly, and Ryan Spooner are some of the top contenders to make an extended impact and stay on the Bruins’ roster.
The roster isn’t the only thing that has changed. The Bruins are struggling to put together any type of consistency for long periods of time. This is no surprise with a roster that features many new faces. However they are struggling in a way that Claude Julien teams usually do not; the defensive end of the ice. As of December 8th they are 21st in the league in goals allowed at 2.85 a game. An aging pair of veteran defensemen combined with young players on the bottom pairings and lines will do that to you. Many Bruins analysts saw that they may struggle to score through the season but that has not been the case.
The Bruins are 3rd in the NHL in scoring averaging 2.85 goals per game. They have scored plenty but are struggling to defend. Julien teams have always struggled to convert on their powerplay chances even in the years they went deep into the playoffs. Shockingly enough the Bruins are leading the league on the powerplay by a landslide scoring on 30.7% of their chances. The next closest team is the Capitals who convert 25.6% of their powerplay chances so far this year.
On the other end of penalties they are hurting themselves by averaging 13.23 penalty minutes a game; handing chances away to opponents and putting heavy stress on their better players like Bergeron, Marchand, Chara, and Krejci. With the young and inexperienced players the Bruins have they need to learn to stay out of the penalty box and continue to improve defending the blue line.
The scoring pace the Bruins have managed to establish on the man advantage cannot be relied on through the entire season as there will undoubtedly be periods of time when the powerplay cools off. The battle to finish games cannot continue to be handicapped by the penalties they obtain. The wasted energy that their top players exert on the penalty kill will hurt them late in the third period when it matters most.
If the Bruins can manage to improve their defensive play and learn to finish games when they have the lead they will be a dangerous team. And if the Bruins do not? The playoff expectations for the B’s are nothing more than average and will struggle to establish themselves anything more than a middling, incomplete, young NHL team that will either miss the playoffs or be sent off in the early rounds of the NHL playoffs.