After the first quarter of the season, the 2021 Boston Bruins are very similar to the Bruins of 2020.
Goaltending, special teams, and their defense have been excellent, which has landed the Bruins in a very familiar spot at the top of their division and near the top of league’s standings (2 points behind the Leafs with 2 games in hand). If you’re a Bruins fan, there hasn’t been much to complain about, which is also very much like the regular season last year.
But last year’s playoffs revealed the Bruins’ greatest flaw: their inability to generate consistent offence at 5v5.
In 13 games (including the round robin), the Bruins scored 17 goals at even strength while giving up 29 to their opponents. Against Tampa Bay, the B’s only managed five goals 5v5 in their five-game series, while Tampa lit up the Bruins for 15 goals. This series also saw Boston go almost 160+ minutes of even strength hockey without a goal.
Fast-forward to this season, and the B’s are still plagued by the same problem 14 games into the season.
We all remember when the Bruins went almost four full games without an even-strength goal to start the season. And while they were able to score several 5v5 goals for a few games after this drought, the problem has resurfaced. In their first 14 games the Boston Bruins have scored just 21 5v5 goals, good for exactly 1.5 goals per game.
There are only 6 teams with fewer 5v5 goals so far, and all of those teams have played less games than the Bruins.
The Bruins were without their top scorer David Pastrnak for half of those games; however, the Bruins have only been marginally better since he returned, scoring 12 times at 5v5 in the seven games that Pastrnak has played.
So why can’t they score?
While there is plenty of blame to pass around for the lack of scoring, none of it can fall on the Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, who have scored 52% of Boston’s 21 5v5 goals.
The number one problem is probably the lack of consistency with the Bruins middle six.
Sadly for David Krejci, this season has resembled many of the past years in that he still does not have consistent wingers to play with. And since Krejci doesn’t have consistent wingers, neither does Charlie Coyle, who unlike David Krejci, has struggled to find his offensive game thus far.
Sure, injuries are to blame for a lot of the line juggling each night, but the lack of familiarity with linemates, certainly has not helped Boston’s offense.
Even when healthy, there are too many Bruins simply not putting the puck in the net. This season, David Krejci has 0 goals (although he has an impressive 10 assists), Jake DeBrusk has 0 goals, Trent Frederic has 0 goals, Anders Bjork has 1, Coyle has just 2, and the 8 defenders who have suited up for the Bruins have 2 combined goals. Ondrej Kase, who was brought in to bolster Boston’s offense last season, has unfortunately only been able to play in two games for the Bruins due to injury and has not scored this season.
The Bruins as a team have difficulty creating high-danger scoring chances on a consistent basis. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Bruins have just 90 high-danger scoring chances this year and just 12 goals off of high-danger scoring chances, numbers that put the Bruins near the bottom of the league.
A lack of good scoring chances is certainly contributing to the fact that the team has a shooting percentage of just 6.33% (4th-worst in the NHL).
So what do the Bruins do next?
Going into the offseason, the Bruins knew they had trouble scoring at 5v5, but chose not to make a big splash via free agency.
They did sign Craig Smith, who is on pace for 19 goals over an 82-game season, but you can’t help but think the 2nd line still needs a dynamic right wing to accompany David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. Nick Ritchie has been a pleasant surprise; however, the Bruins would be wise not to depend on a guy whose career high for goals in a season is 14.
Kase could also still be “that guy,” but given his play in a Bruins uniform to date, plus his injury troubles, and it’s looking less and less like he’s the answer.
Internally, the Bruins have some options, but they’re probably long shots at this point.
Jack Studnicka showed glimpses of the talent he possesses, but also showed that he may need more seasoning in the AHL (or at least an opportunity to play center, his natural position, in the NHL). Jakub Lauko is off to a hot start in the AHL this season with five points (1 goal and 4 assists) in his first three games with the P-Bruins, but expecting him to fill a top-six NHL role at this point might be quite a stretch.
Externally, there are a number of big names scheduled to be free agents following this season, meaning they could be available at the trade deadline.
Pending UFAs include Taylor Hall, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel, Johnny Gaudreau, Joe Pavelski, Filip Forsberg, and Mika Zibanejad, though it’s fair to say that not all of them will be traded and not all of them are realistic targets for the Bruins.
Regardless, the problem with the trade option is that if teams are in playoff races these players become unavailable, and if they are available, the price to trade for a rental player has been off the charts the last few seasons. The Bruins have some good young players in their lineup that would be good trade chips, but it would be tough to part with a guy like, say, Jeremy Lauzon (plus a bunch of prospects/picks) for a star player that will leave in the offseason.
The Bruins could also choose to do nothing as well.
As mentioned earlier, injuries have had a significant impact on Boston so far, and may be the culprit for the lack of 5v5 offense. And hey, the Bruins are still playing some pretty damn good hockey right now.
But if the B’s are waiting until they’re healthy again to assess their scoring woes, they could be waiting a long time.
Moreover, as last year showed us, regular season success doesn’t mean much if you can’t score goals when the games really count.
What should the Bruins do to address the team’s lack of 5v5 scoring?
This poll is closed
Bring up an AHL player
Try new line combinations
Trade for a forward
Stand pat with the lineup they have