By Matt Dilane
Who are the 2015-2016 Boston Bruins? Is the team good? Is the team lucky? A Cup-contender? Inconsistent? It is difficult to define Boston’s team, as it seems to be winning games it shouldn’t and losing games that should be easy wins.
As of Wednesday, the Bruins have 31 wins on the season. Perhaps the most surprising fact is 19 of those wins came on the road. Boston has gone just 12-14-3 at home this season, while boasting a record of 19-6-3 away from TD Garden. Bruins fans will also painfully recall the debacle that was the 2016 Winter Classic where the team had a massive home crowd watching. If the Bruins are truly in the running to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup in June, why is the team having trouble winning at home when it can do it so well on foreign ice?
A humiliating loss to the Kings last Tuesday may have said more about the Bruins than about the strength of the Western Conference. With similar records and on a night filled with emotions from the return of Milan Lucic, fans entering the Garden were expecting a close and high-intensity game between the two teams. However, as has been the case all season long, the Bruins failed to put on an entertaining show in front its fans, losing 9-2.
Who is to Blame for Inconsistency?
In the two losses this past week, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was pulled mid-game both times for backup net minder Jonas Gustavsson. With Rask’s dismal 2.60 GAA this season, many fans are pointing to the NHL’s third-highest paid goaltender for this season’s shortcomings. While Rask has let in his share of “soft” goals, he has also been that elite goaltender for most of the year for the Bruins. More often than not, Rask has been left out to dry by his black and gold teammates. In Lucic’s return to Boston, the Kings had an absurd 57 shots on goal. Dominik Hasek would have let in one or two had he faced that many shots in three periods.
The Bruins thin blue line is the team’s most glaring weakness. Once heralded as a Fort Knox-like system under the defensive-minded Claude Julien during the 2011 season, the Bruins defense is now a shell of its championship-winning self. Aging and overworked, the core players of the Bruins’ backend are rapidly racking up the mileage due to unrealistic expectations.
Zdeno Chara has increasingly been showing his signs of age, yet he is still getting top 2 pairing minutes. The soon to be 39-year-old Slovak was on the ice for five of the six goals Detroit scored on Sunday. At this rate, the captain will have little left in the tank if the season goes beyond April. 34-year-old Dennis Seidenberg has been fading as well, having just an even plus-minus so far this season and finishing last season with a minus 1. Until tonight, the oft-injured Adam McQuaid has not seen game action since Jan. 5, forcing the defense corps to step up once again in his absence.
The three aforementioned players embody the tough, physical play expected from the Boston Bruins. Despite being a solid defenseman in his own right, fans cannot expect 5’8” Torey Krug to deliver momentum-changing hits like Chara, McQuaid, and Seidenberg have built reputations on. Young defensemen Colin Miller, Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman are still growing their games, while the sometimes painful to watch Kevan Miller will be looking for a new deal with a pay raise after his contract is up in July. Bruins GM Don Sweeney should not give it to him.
This team is too thin and inexperienced on the back end to have what Bostonians would consider a successful postseason. However, the Bruins are a team built in a way which could allow it to enter a rebuilding phase or to make a Stanley Cup run with just a few moves in either direction. If Sweeney wants to take a shot at the title this year, he needs to address his defense and help its aging core with some big name acquisitions.