What We Learned: Is Boston Bruins' defense good enough to contend?

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What We Learned: Is Boston Bruins' defense good enough to contend?
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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The Bruins won on Saturday night, giving them their second win in three games, but also just their second since the beginning of November.

It was a concerning trend for a team that had earned points in all of their previous seven games (6-0-1), and one they seemed at a loss to comprehend. Here's Torey Krug on Friday, bemoaning an issue cited by just about anyone in the lineup and behind the bench over this borderline-futile stretch:

“I mean, we say the right things. It’s a group that, we still have a bunch of leaders in here that know who to win, and we say the right things, and [we] just don’t act on them. Sometimes it just feels like you don’t have the ‘it’ factor. We’ve got to make sure that we somehow capture it and move forward.”

The “it” factor is, indeed, missing, but it's not about being able to come back from third-period deficits as Krug later suggested. Krug also brought up lack of maturity when it comes to decision-making and accountability, but that's not it either. Nor is it about avoiding mental mistakes, like Patrice Bergeron said. And it's not about turning in a 60-minute effort, which is what Claude Julien says the team has been lacking.

If the explanations of Krug, Bergeron and Julien sound an awful lot like “intangibles” buzzwords, it's because that's exactly what they are. These are hockey people with long histories in the game. Julien in particular should know a strong roster when he sees it. Bergeron ought to have some clue as to what this team's real problems are. Krug has likewise been around good teams long enough to understand what actually ails this one.

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All those things are true in a way, to be sure, but there's a common ancestor from which all these problems have come down: The team's defensive group is flat-out not good.

Zdeno Chara, at 38, is still very good. Krug certainly has his place in plenty of lineups, but he's a specialty offensive defenseman (who until Saturday night wasn't providing much in the way of offense). Kevan Miller is just bad, and he knows it. Dennis Seidenberg wasn't good enough for the minutes he was getting before his knee injury, let alone after. Adam McQuaid shouldn't be getting 18-plus minutes a night. And all the younger players like Joe Morrow, Colin Miller, and Zach Trotman — who entered the season with a combined 44 games of NHL experience — are either scratched or looking like rookies a lot of nights.

And this is, with a few exceptions here and there throughout the season, what the Bruins defensive corps looks like. It's a major problem.

The guys in the room and on the coaching have to know this fundamentally, but they cannot come out and say, “What's wrong with our performances this year? We have about two and a half capable NHL defensemen we can put over the boards in any given situation, and one of them was born in a country that dissolved when he was 15.” Instead, they must resort to the buzzwords — they miraculously stopped short of using the term “compete” — to explain this team's problems.

It is, frankly, out of their hands anyway. You can only go so long with a team playing this way and talking about how you need to be better individually and collectively before everyone turns their eyes to the real problem, which is of course Don Sweeney's job. Anyone with a pair of eyes and an internet connection could have told you rather casually that the Bruins' big problem this winter would likely be that it was rolling a defense that would at best probably be a little better than okay.

On the balance of the season, so including that points streak of seven games plus the slow start and the sagging month of November, you'd have to say that “okay” is right around where it's been. Only one guy on this defense with 100-plus minutes at 5-on-5 can brag of a corsi-for percentage that starts with “51” or better, and that's the gently used Morrow. Last season, this same group of defensemen (minus Colin Miller, who was still in the AHL with a different franchise) saw both Chara and Krug go north of 53. The damage done by the loss of Dougie Hamilton — who himself hasn't been great with Calgary this season, but how could he be given that team's quality? — perhaps cannot be understated here, even if losing him was in some ways seen as necessary.

It's a worrisome trend. These are, after all, the possession-juggernaut Bruins. If there's one thing they do well, it's get the puck and keep the puck until they score on you. Even when everyone bemoaned this club's problems in attack over the last several years, it was producing goals at some of the best rates in the league, and that was largely due to the fact that it had a number of forwards who are well above average, but also due to a strong D corps that could, systemically, play every team in the league into a meat grinder in the middle of the ice. Combine an offense and defense like that with a goalie like Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask, and you're going to win a lot of games.

But the offense has slowly been cleared of most of its real threats, and the defense has certainly lost its fastball due to age and attrition as well. Rask remains very good in theory, but his save percentage right now is an unthinkable .896, largely because the team in front of him has deteriorated badly.

And things are getting desperate, too. Saturday was the first game in the last three in which Julien had Brad Marchand playing with Bergeron. There probably hasn't been a more effective forward duo in the league over the last four years or so, but he split them up because someone needs to kickstart something.

Despite what everyone is saying right now, the answers aren't “in the room.” Jimmy Hayes isn't going to look in the back of his stall and find the answers to what's ailing this team. Sweeney has to be squarely in the crosshairs on this one, because he put together a roster that is, at best, just pretty good in the East. And now he can't materially improve it without either weakening it in other areas, or weakening it for two or three years from now, to address its current problems.

On the other hand, because the Bruins spent so much time arguing through the media that their real problem last year was an intangible one (lack of Bruins Identity), perhaps it makes sense that the only explanations they can find for being out of a playoff spot in mid-November boil down to lack of “it.”

The Bruins had “it,” once upon a time. “It” has escaped them. And “it” isn't coming back any time soon.

The “it” in this case is a great roster. And “it” can make you believe “it” somehow extends beyond what “it” is.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Don't look too hard now. You might not like what you see

Arizona Coyotes: After a month-plus of bafflingly good results, getting walloped by Columbus seems just about right.

Boston Bruins: Nice, nice goal from David Krejci here. And that was Loui Eriksson's 13th point in 16 games for all the “Eriksson is bad” people out there.

Buffalo Sabres: Oh well, sometimes you lose to the dang Sharks. Very sometimes, though, because it was the first San Jose win in Buffalo since 2005.

Calgary Flames: If Gaudreau had the same kind of supporting cast Patrick Kane has in his career, there's no doubt they'd be mentioned in the same breath without caveat already. Gaudreau is that good.

Carolina Hurricanes: Speaking of former Boston College Eagles with high ceilings Noah Hanifin is going to be very, very good in the near future.

Chicago: Hmm, yes, getting Duncan Keith back will help you I feel like.

Colorado Avalanche: Is two goals in 13 seconds good?

Columbus Blue Jackets: If ever a team needed more bad news, it was this one.

Dallas Stars: It is perhaps early to start the Norris talk, but Klingberg has been awesome for two years now.

Detroit Red Wings: Also maybe get Justin Abdelkader off the top line. Just spit-balling here.

Edmonton Oilers: This team has big problems but a lot of them are still in goal, and boy wouldn't it be nice to sort that out?

Florida Panthers: Ooooo, bad news about this one, guys.

Los Angeles Kings: Nick Shore with a nice little goal here. Oh and it was the game-winner with 1:37 to go in regulation. That too.

Minnesota Wild: This is the Wild's best 15-game start in franchise history. Having three regulation losses will do that.

Montreal Canadiens: Pretty surprising that Mike Condon couldn't continue playing better than Carey Price did last year. 

Nashville Predators: Good lord.

New Jersey Devils: What if Cory Schneider is one of the best goalies in the league and has been for years? His current .928 is a whopping .002 better than his career average in 226 games.

New York Islanders: The effort by Anders Lee to make this pretty passing play happen is unreal.

New York Rangers: Please stop acting like it's a good thing for Chris Kreider to fight people! He's good, and it's stupid and a waste!

Ottawa Senators: The Senators have been past regulation eight times in 17 games, and they're 4-4 overall. Maybe if they actually played 3-on-3 instead of just trying to get to the shootout they'd be in better shape.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers won on Saturday (but it required OT). It was only their second win of any kind since Oct. 24. Fun.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have only won three of their last 18 visits to New Jersey? Doesn't seem possible.

San Jose Sharks: Weird way to snap a 10-year losing streak, but I guess you take it.

St. Louis Blues: Another two goals for Vladimir Tarasenko on Saturday (in a losing effort) bumps him into double-digits and a tie for third in the league.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop is in favor of making the nets bigger, presumably because he's 6-foot-7. Make 'em two feet wider and it doesn't matter; he still covers the entire bottom with ease. Your vote is not representative, Ben. 

Toronto Maple Leafs: Oh boy here we go folks.

Vancouver Canucks: Maybe not a good idea to have four guys under 22 on the ice at any one time.

Washington Capitals: Do you think Ovechkin only having one power play goal is a product of “The Ovie Spot” having been figured out after a decade, or bad luck? Hmm, it could be literally either one of those!!!

Winnipeg Jets: Mark Stuart was really bad on Saturday.

Play of the Weekend

Yeah this is a goal but oh well Chicago won and it looked nice anyway. 

Gold Star Award

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) blocks a shot by Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, during a shootout at an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. The Maple Leafs won 2-1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) blocks a shot by Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, during a shootout at an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. The Maple Leafs won 2-1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Bless James Reimer and his 43-save performance against Vancouver. He's up to .925 on the season and .945 in seven appearances in November alone.

Minus of the Weekend

Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp (9) falls to the ice as he battles for the puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp (9) falls to the ice as he battles for the puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Time to dismantle the Jets. This team can't compete in the Central as currently constituted.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “tml1489” is brilliant.

Trade #1

To Calgary:
Nazem Kadri

To Toronto:
Rasmus Andersson + 2016 2nd round pick + Brandon Bollig (or another cap dump)

Trade #2

To Calgary:
Jerome Iginla

To Colorado:
Dennis Wideman 

Signoff

Yes, eat all of our shirts.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)

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