Let’s get this out of the way up front: I’m far from a blood-and-guts hockey guy.
In fact, I get crap from one of my friends for preferring the fast/skilled game (he calls it the “Red Wings game”) over the face-punching and macho stuff.
I like a good hit and an occasional fight, but I’m not one to pine for the “big, bad Bruins” teams of yesteryear. I like speed, skill and puck movement over fists and fury.
Having said that, it pains me to say this: it seems like there’s an element of toughness missing from the Bruins’ game so far this year.
Based on comments I’ve seen and read from fans on this site and others, I’m not alone in having that thought.
Case in point: Yung Dave, the speediest, most skilled, least face-punchy guy the Bruins have right now.
On Saturday night, David Pastrnak lined up and decked TJ Oshie with a clean hit in the neutral zone. In response, Pastrnak found himself at the other end of finished checks and harassment by the rest of the Capitals for the remainder of the evening.
The same couldn’t be said for Oshie after he got Pastrnak with a similar hit at another point in the game, not could it be said for Brooks Orpik after he mashed Pastrnak in the face with his stick; in that case, it can at least be argued that the Bruins made the right decision to take the power play instead.
However minor these transgressions may seem, they play into what seems like a larger pattern of the Bruins failing to stand up for one another at points this season.
Several other instances come to mind:
- Sean Kuraly got boarded by Nino Niederreiter just last night, leaving the young forward a bit dazed; Niederreiter was escorted to the box without so much as a sideways glance from the home team.
- Tuukka Rask has been bumped or straight-up knocked over a handful of times this season, and it rarely seems to elicit a reaction. In fact, Rask was run over twice in that now-notorious overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings, and the Bruins seemed to be unaffected.
- Riley Nash got checked into the stanchion during that same Kings game and spent a few moments laying on the ice. Again, not much of a reaction from the Bruins.
Does any of this mean that the Bruins are a soft bunch? Nah. It’s likely that the team is simply choosing to accept its power plays and use those high-efficiency units to get even on the scoreboard. Nothing wrong with that!
However, those “don’t do that to my teammate” moments can be huge when it comes to bringing a team together as one unit as opposed to a bunch of guys learning how to play together.
Think about some of your favorite Bruins teams in recent years.
Remember that famous Bruins-Stars game? That Bruins team went on to have the best record in the Eastern Conference and the second-best in the NHL.
What about the 2011 Final? The Bruins rallied around the disrespect shown by players like Maxim Lapierre and Aaron Rome to embarrass the Canucks.
Sure, it helps that the 2009 team benefited from career years by several guys and the 2011 team benefited from the Canucks being collective head cases.
However, they also had those crystallizing moments where the team rallied around a sleight and had each others’ backs.
This Bruins team is a young group. There are a ton of guys who are still getting their feet wet in the NHL and are more focused on sticking on the NHL roster than sticking up for their teammates.
The Bruins also don’t have a singular “face-puncher” this year, a guy in the Shawn Thornton mold who is there to stick up for teammates. This means that burden falls to other guys, like Adam McQuaid (who has battled injuries), Matt Beleskey (who has had trouble finding ice time) and Kevan Miller (who has been needed on-ice due to injuries).
Look, this isn’t meant to say that guys like Anders Bjork and Pastrnak need to start slugging dudes; I’m simply wondering if the Bruins need a little more toughness in their lineup to bring the team together as a more cohesive unit.
The Bruins showed some toughness in their 4-3 shootout loss against Columbus. There was a period toward the end of the first period where the Bruins were getting hit out of the building to the point where it was actually embarrassing.
The team regrouped. Zdeno Chara got in a fight after throwing a hit, Kevan Miller took an extra minor jumping in to help Torey Krug and the team fought back on the scoreboard too.
Was it because of the physicality? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly didn’t seem to hurt, and Bruce Cassidy said as much after the game.
The Bruins are a young team, a fast team, a team that can be fun to watch at times, maddening to watch at others. If there’s a toughness issue, guys like Chara, Miller, McQuaid and Beleskey should be able to help solve it.
The team needs to continue to gel and come together as a unit, and that crystallizing moment is going to come at some point this season.
Let’s hope the team is ready to seize that moment and run with it.