If we’re being honest, things aren’t really THAT bad right now.
Sure, the Bruins suffered an embarrassing defeat at home on Tuesday night, but it’s only the middle of November. The Bruins are in 1st place in their division, 2nd place in their conference, and 3rd in the entire league, so the sky certainly isn’t falling, per se. The Bruins are slumping, but they’re also a little banged up, and were never going to go the entire season with an out-of-this-world point percentage.
Still, there’s clearly something amiss with the team right now, as teams that are humming don’t allow 4 goals in the third period on home ice.
The offense isn’t the problem. The B’s still boast the league’s leading goal-scorer in David Pastrnak. Their offense is tied for the 3rd-most potent in the league at 3.56 GPG. They’ve got the league’s best power play at a ridiculous 30.5%. Goals aren’t the issue, but preventing them certainly is.
The Bruins are, somewhat remarkably, 4th in the league in goals-against per game (2.50). Lately, however, things have been trending in the wrong direction. Over the first 6 games of the year, the B’s allowed 10 goals. Over their last 6 games, they’ve allowed 23.
That’s a pretty big swing.
It’s easy to put the blame on the goaltenders, and that blame isn’t exactly misplaced. While neither Tuukka Rask nor Jaroslav Halak has stunk up the joint over the past few games, neither has played particularly well. Rask could be better. Halak could be better.
But really, the entire team’s defense has been subpar for a fairly extended stretch. It’s just one game, but last night’s third period is a pretty good microcosm of the last few weeks: blown assignments that lead to wide-open one-timers, coverage confusion that leaves a guy wide open. The Pittsburgh game was particularly ugly, even though it ended up being a win: it seemed like the Bruins gave up a breakaway or an odd-man rush on every other shift.
Ideally, your goalie steals a game when the defense is struggling, but it’s hard to ask Rask and Halak to steal anything when the defense is as consistently leaky as it has been.
More recently, the penalty kill has been a bit of an issue as well. The Bruins have allowed multiple power play goals in 2 of their last 3 games. It’s hard to nail down the exact problem. Some if it could be the team coming back to Earth a little but, as a pace of “points in 13 of 14 games” isn’t really going to be sustainable long term.
Some of it could be sloppiness creeping into their game after such a smooth start. Some of it could be bad luck (though that’s generous).
A more reasonable possibility would be that the injuries and line-shuffling up front have thrown guys out of whack. Blown coverage is a lot more likely when you’re playing with a different guy every night, both up front and on the back-end. Still, a lot of it sounds like excuse making. The reality is that they’ve had a whole bunch of guys start playing poorly all at once. You can ride out one defenseman in a slump. It gets harder when it’s 2 or 3 guys.
How do they get out of it? It’ll probably be a big goalie performance in the short term, as that’s the ultimate slump-buster. Aside from that, however, it’s probably going to be some hockey cliche: stop gripping the sticks so tightly, simplify their game, etc.
One thing’s pretty obvious, however: if things don’t change, they’re going to get worse before they get better.