The start to this season, to put it lightly, hasn’t been ideal.
The Bruins kicked off 2017-2018 in style with an exciting win over Nashville. The kids were great! Tuukka Rask was sharp! Everything is awesome!
Then they got pasted by Colorado twice and looked truly awful losing to Las Vegas on Sunday night. Everything is bad!
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between awesome and bad. However, it’s not a stretch to say that the Bruins have some major problems brewing.
The good thing? They’re fixable. Let’s take a look.
1) Too many players are playing in the wrong spot.
This one doesn’t need much more explanation than the phrase “Riley Nash, first-line center.”
No knock on Nash, who is a hard-working, quality bottom-six player, but the only time he should be between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is in the line for the post-game buffet.
Nash belongs on the fourth (or third) line and on the top PK unit. He shouldn’t be on the first line or the first PP unit.
He hasn’t been BAD, in his defense; it’s just that he isn’t the kind of player who brings out the best in Marchand and Pastrnak.
Having Nash on the first line causes issues elsewhere as well, as he’s unavailable to play 4C and give a guy like Sean Kuraly, who has struggled, a night off.
How can it be fixed? Health. Patrice Bergeron and David Backes being out is what’s causing all the weirdness. When Bergeron is back (possibly Thursday), he reclaims the 1C/first PP spot. This helps bump Nash down to where he can be more effective.
Same goes for Backes. When he’s back, I think he should go to 3C rather than Krejci’s wing, but who knows what Bruce Cassidy will do. In any case, Backes should be able to add a little more consistency to what has been a bad third line (more on that later).
2) Mistakes are piling up all over the ice.
Parts of the Bruins’ 3-1 loss on Sunday night looked like an absolute gong show. With the number of passes that went to absolutely no one, the game looked more like Mite hockey than NHL hockey.
The mistakes aren’t limited to offense. Coverage is being blown pretty routinely in the defensive zone. Guys are trying to make too many “perfect” plays instead of simply clearing the zone and regrouping.
Too often it’s looked like the Bruins are a bunch of strangers playing hockey together for the first time, with “I hope he’ll be there” plays running rampant.
How can it be fixed? Time. While some of the mistakes and missed connections are simply bad plays, much of the unfamiliarity comes from guys not playing together for very long.
Lines weren’t consistent in the preseason (understandably), so the players will need some time to adjust. Marchand and Pastrnak aren’t used to seeing “Not Bergeron” between them; David Krejci isn’t used to playing with guys who were barely 10 years old when he made his NHL debut.
Cassidy deserves some blame here: he loves to shuffle his lines, but when you have a lineup full of kids, consistency may be a better bet.
3) The third line is still a black hole.
Say, I thought third line problems were all Jimmy Hayes’ fault?!?!
For what seems like the 3rd year in a row, the Bruins’ third line is doing more harm than good. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano have no points and just 8 shots between them. Ryan Spooner has a single point.
The third unit isn’t sustaining any sort of attack, isn’t generating many dangerous chances...it’s kind of just “there.”
Cassidy, as he does, has tried sliding a guy in and out of there, but it simply hasn’t worked. Teams have been able to focus on Krejci’s and Marchand’s lines, then completely ignoring the third unit.
How can it be fixed? Probably with a call-up from Providence, until it’s realistic to think about Backes returning. Spooner may be out, possibly giving Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson a shot.
Beleskey and Vatrano haven’t done much to avoid a seat in the press box, while Peter Cehlarik continues to light it up in the AHL.
Cehlarik may not be the answer and you’d hope Beleskey and Vatrano don’t need a “spark” this early in the year, but it can’t be much worse than it has been.
4) The breakouts are a mess.
It’s common knowledge, but let’s re-state it: good breakouts are key to generating good scoring chances.
If your breakouts are stunted and weird, you’re not going to have many clean zone entries and will instead be forced to “dump and chase.”
It’s a little weird, because the Bruins’ breakouts were actually pretty sharp in the Nashville game. It got to a point where I actually made note of how much faster the team looked exiting the zone when compared to last year.
However, it’s gone south. It feels like the Bruins go entire periods without a clean breakout, so it’s no surprise that they’re struggling to generate offense.
Torey Krug, who has looked a little rusty, and Charlie McAvoy appear to be the only Bruins willing to try to skate the puck out. This forces forwards (often the young guys) to come back for the puck, and given their inexperience, miscommunication is common.
How can it be fixed? Like number two, time. Ideally, a lot of the miscommunication comes from young forwards being too high/too low along the boards or just being in the wrong spot.
This can be fixed with coaching and with better communication, and will come with experience.
Until then, it might be better for the coaching staff to encourage guys like McAvoy, Krug and even Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller, to skate the puck out more often.