March 15, 2012
What is going on with the Boston Bruins? That is the question on every New England sport fan’s mind. Since the end of December the team that ripped up the NHL for two months has been a sub .500 hockey team. Is it injuries? Is flaws with the roster? Is it just bad luck? No. The answer is simple – they just aren’t focusing. The Bruins are just not making the easy plays. The attention to detail simply has not ben there and as a result the Bruins have been losing hockey games.
This is not a personnel problem. Look at goals three, four, and five of the Bruins most recent bad loss to the Florida Panthers. The turnovers that led to those goals are plays that any NHL player can and should make. But Joe Corvo missed Danny Paille with a very easy pass, Gregory Campbell gave the puck away, and so did Chris Kelly. These are easily avoidable mistakes, but the Bruins keep making them. It’s not a physical problem, it’s a mental problem. The Bruins are simply not focusing and as a result they are giving away goals and points.
How does a team, that has been one of the very best defensive groups in the NHL since Claude Julien arrived, all of a sudden become a team that gives up four plus goals a night? Anyone who says goaltending is just not paying attention. Yes Tim Thomas has not been at his very best in the second half, however any team with an NHL goalie should do better than allowing four plus goals a night. There have been times when the Bruins have made Tim Thomas look good. There have been times when he has made them look bad. Lately it’s been the Bruins who have been making Thomas look bad. There is only so much a goalie can do when a team gives the puck away as often as the Bruins have over the last two games, indeed over the last two months. The plays that the Bruins aren’t making in their own zone are plays that every NHL player should make. The only possible reason for them not to make them is because they aren’t paying attention and that is unacceptable.
Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley got injured shortly before the trade deadline. The Bruins obviously needed scoring depth, but instead of making a big deal and shaking up the Bruins core, Bruins GM Peter Charielli made minor moves bringing in forward Brian Rolston and defensemen Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau. At the time I loved the decision. I thought that Charielli was giving the Bruins a vote of confidence, saying “I believe in my guys”, and the Bruins would respond and reward his confidence. Instead the opposite has happened. The Bruins have played progressively worse and worse ever since the trade deadline and now look like a team that can’t even win a game let alone a playoff series.
I thought that the Bruins were playing tentative leading up to the trading deadline and that a vote of confidence from management would pull them out of it. Instead the Bruins sunk even deeper into their post All-Star break funk. To me this points to a team that is too comfortable. The lack of focus, the lack of attention to detail, the overall failure to do the little things right all point to a team that is not driven like they were at this point last year. Yes the Bruins are better with Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley in the lineup. But it’s not as if the Bruins cannot win without them. Injuries are not the reason the Bruins are giving up four plus goals a game.
It is very easy to panic when something like this happens, but practically every team has a four game losing steak at some point in a season. The troubling thing is that this stretch is coming when the Bruins should be playing their best getting ready for the playoffs. And more troubling than that is how inconsistent, if not downright bad, the Bruins have been over the entire second half. It is perfectly understandable if people want to hit the panic button right now. However, Bruins fans should not, because these problems are easily correctable. What they really need is an attitude adjustment and there are two ways to get this done – coaching and leadership. There are two people who can do this for the Bruins – Claude Julien and Zdeno Chara.
The Bruins problems all began when they started playing “hero hockey.” Instead of making the simple play they started habitually looking for the home run pass. This led to turnovers and a huge spike in goals against. The main culprit in this area has been Bruins’ Captain Zdeno Chara. Chara has more turnovers this year than he has in the past two seasons combined. Most of these have been the result of plain old bad decisions. Chara’s focus simply has not been good enough during the second half, and because the Bruins are Chara’s team, they have followed suite. Chara has the reputation as a guy who leads by example but isn’t afraid to yell and scream either. For the Bruins to pull out of this funk he needs to do both. If the Bruins see Chara being more responsible with the puck, they will do the same, and everything will be fine. If he doesn’t the Bruins struggles will continue. The Bruins are relying on Chara to be their best player every night but, due to his lack of focus, that has not been the case during the second half. If he gets his head back into it the Bruins will be fine. If not they are in trouble.
When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup I decided to stop criticizing Claude Julien. I never did much to begin with, but the Stanley Cup victory proved that Claude’s defense-first system really does work. He answered his critics with results and earned himself a free pass for a while. However there is one thing I still blame him for – the Bruins’ slow starts. The Bruins routinely come out of the locker room not ready to play and this is the one thing that I put squarely on the Coach’s shoulders. The recent skid is the players’ fault. However when a team routinely shows up unready to play it is a coaching error. One of the biggest problems the Bs have had during this slump is that they are always behind. They constantly give up the first goal, often the first two, and it’s very hard to win like this. The Bruins have to be better at the start of games and that is on the coach.
Overall there is no reason to bury the Bruins. They are still the Stanley Cup Champions and still have the ability to easily pull themselves out of this. But I’ve been saying this for two months and it still hasn’t happened. Lack of focus is an easily correctible issue, but Chara and Julien have to be the guys to make this happen. The team seems like they have gotten too comfortable and they need some sort of jolt to get their focus back. It’s on the Captain and the Coach to pull the Bruins out of this. If it doesn’t happen they just aren’t doing their jobs.