Back in 2011, the Boston Bruins won a hugely entertaining Stanley Cup final over Vancouver. There were face-punchings, there were blowouts, there was an annotated lack of tire-pumping…it was good times, unless you lived in Vancouver and in particular, suffer from an aversion to broken glass and open flames.
The Bruins were a nasty, heavy team that relied on superb goaltending from Tim Thomas, excellent two-way play up front and a no-go zone in their own end thanks to Zdeno Chara.
Five seasons later, much of that has changed – but have the Bruins? Opponents think the B's may be living in the past, much to the team's detriment.
Boston missed the playoffs last year and if the post-season started today, the Bruins would be on the outside looking in again. Some of the teams that have played them recently have quietly noted that the Bruins seem to think they're the same big, bad squad that can intimidate and bash their way to victory – and it ain't happening.
Most obviously, the Bruins have lost some of their nastiest customers from that Cup season: Shawn Thornton is in Florida, Milan Lucic is in Los Angeles and Gregory Campbell is in Columbus. Sure, Tyler Randell and Zac Rinaldo will drop the mitts for Boston's honor now, but those two literally get the least amount of ice time of anyone who has suited up for the squad this season – Lucic was a first-liner, Campbell killed penalties and Thornton was a heavyweight option who also set the tone in the dressing room.
On the back end, trades have wrecked what had been an impressive core. That Johnny Boychuk deal was way more impactful than many had anticipated, especially now that Chara is experiencing injury troubles. Dougie Hamilton would have been a big-minute guy, but he was dealt to Calgary. Dennis Seidenberg has played three games this year due to back woes.
That has meant a heavy learning curve for youngsters such as Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow. And the great two-way forwards in Boston have been accommodating:
“We take pride in our two-way game and we try to help them out as much as we can," said center David Krejci. "They’re trying to help us on the breakout, so it works both ways.”
But there is a breaking point. And with starting goalie Tuukka Rask struggling (he has some of the worst numbers in the NHL for a goalie who has played at least eight games), the Bruins find themselves producing a good amount of goals, but still chasing a wild card slot. And while opponents still believe Chara isn't someone you want to see in the playoffs, it's also been a lot easier to speed by him in recent years.
If you look at teams doing well right now, many of them are fast – Montreal, Washington and the New York Rangers for example. It's a speedy league these days, is it not?
“One-hundred percent," Krejci said. "If you look at the top guys in the league, they’re usually younger. The speed is taking over and if you want to play in this league you have to be a really good skater.”
The Bruins' top three scorers (Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson) will all be 30 before the season ends, however. And while Krejci believes that Boston's "hard, strong, grinding game" has gotten them wins this season, it clearly hasn't garnered enough of them.
They can look to the Kings out West, where Lucic and another bunch of heavies are back in first place – but Los Angeles also has a better defense, better netminding and better puck possession game. Big and bad may play well in Boston, but so do wins – and right now the Bruins aren't getting enough of them.