March 12, 2009
Having lost 11 out of their last 15 games, the once mighty Boston Bruins are slowly losing their traction atop the Eastern Conference standings. Currently sitting six points ahead of the red hot New Jersey Devils and a little over a month away until the playoffs begin, the Bruins are picking the wrong time to go through a slump. And just when ESPN's Bill Simmons was gearing up for his annual playoff bandwagon jump!
According to head coach Claude Julien, the commitment flu might have seeped into the Bruins locker room:
"Maybe it's not so much the compete level as it is the commitment to staying with it the whole game," Julien said. "You see commitment at some times, and other times it slips. Full commitment, not half commitment. At the same time, it's timely goals and timely saves and we're not getting either."
By timely saves, Julien is likely referring to any time he decides to put Manny Fernandez in net lately. In his last five starts, Fernandez has allowed 17 goals, posted a .859 save-percentage, and most important, lost every one of those games. One of those losses included Sunday's matinee against the New York Rangers, where Fernandez did "the sprinkler" while the puck dropped into the net and later was caught embarrassingly too far out of position on the game-winning goal late in the third period. Gone apparently is the Manny Fernandez who was a true challenger to Tim Thomas for the starting job earlier this season (as well as stud fantasy hockey backup). It also doesn't help when the offense has supported Thomas more than Fernandez of late.
After general manager Peter Chiarelli added some depth in Mark Recchi and Steve Montador, the Bruins have gone 1-3 and scored just nine times in that stretch, something you wouldn't expect from the NHL's second highest scoring team. Three of Boston's top producers earlier in the season, Phil Kessel, David Krejci, and Blake Wheeler have each scored just three goals since February 1.
Every team goes through a slump at some point in the season, but with the Bruins dealing with this with a month to go in the season, at what point does Julien or the players hold the infamous "closed door meeting" after a practice or another loss? I think Chiarelli has enough faith to not pull a "Lou Lamoriello" on his coach, but if Boston can't get things clicking again like they were a few months ago, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they get picked off in the first round, no matter whether they finishing first, second, or third in the Eastern Conference. With teams like Pittsburgh and Carolina among the bottom half of teams in the Conference that have been playing well this recent stretch of games, an early round match-up might be as much of a no-brainer as it was before.