November 18, 2009
There have been two positive developments for the Boston Bruins in the last few days, which is a welcome change from their pedestrian 8-8-4 start; good for 20 points and 11th in the Eastern Conference, which is a shock to the system for a team that was 11-3-4 at this point last season.
Good News No. 1: Bill Belichick decided to go for it on 4th-and-2 against the Colts, which caused the mass mobilization of all Boston sports media assets in order to dissect the call down to the quarter-inch. Hence, as Matt Kalman pointed out, there was little-to-no discussion of the Bruins' putrid 4-1 loss against the New York Islanders.
Good News No. 2: Marc Savard(notes) and Milan Lucic(notes) are both skating and both practicing; they could both return to the lineup this week. Savard hasn't played since Oct. 17 thanks to a broken foot; Lucic hasn't played since Oct. 16 because of a broken index finger. The Bruins record without them: 5-4-4. Their heads have been above water, but treading it has been exhausting.
Will Lucic and Savard spark a team that's looked disinterested in so many situations this season? Or, as one Boston writer asks, are we looking at a Bruins team that's going to need a major change on the ice or behind the bench to turn them into the Stanley Cup contenders many believed them to be in 2010?
Obviously, the offense should improve. The Bruins scored just 11 goals in their eight losses without Lucic and Savard, and only 6 in 7 if you remove the five-goal explosion against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 14.
Without Savard's vital participation, the power play has sunk to 12.9 percent, which is worst in the NHL. The Bruins were fifth with the man advantage last season. He recently said he's confident he can help boost it.
Kathryn Tappen of NESN, an on-air personality, blogged about the players' potential return this week:
At this point, the best help the Bruins will get is not from themselves, but rather from teammates Milan Lucic and Marc Savard. Expect these two to have a huge impact on the team when they return. Not only will their presence boost the morale and confidence of this team, but their talent is sure to bring a flurry of points.
Savard is a playmaker, bottom line. He's incredibly gifted at getting the puck to his goal scorers, and he isn't too shabby at putting the puck in the back of the net himself. Lucic is a strong force to be reckoned with. He creates space on the ice for his linemates, scores goals and energizes his team night after night.
So things could be looking up as soon as Thursday, when the Bruins take on the Atlanta Thrashers. Unless, of course, the lack of Lucic and the scarcity of Savard aren't really the issue.
Again, the Bruins were one game over .500 without them, which means they were one game under with them. There are problems on this team that go beyond the injuries, and Here We Go Bruins! tried to summarize that vibe:
At first it seemed it was a case of a good team that for some reason just didn't show effort on certain nights and wasn't playing hard 60 minute games every night, thus the extended Win-Loss pattern to start the year off. But now they are showing consistency, consistent sloppy play and some bad luck on the side. With the exception of a game here or there I haven't seen anything from this team yet this year that has given me any reason to believe they can rise to the occasion and start playing how they should.
Which is why James Murphy of NESN is a little doom and gloom about the B's prospects, to the point where he reminds readers that "we're only 12 days shy of the four-year anniversary of the Joe Thornton(notes) trade that shocked the hockey world."
Yes, he believes it might take a move of that magnitude to whip the Bruins into shape. From Murph:
They're approaching that point where either the players will be dealt or the coach will pay the price. That's just part of the way it goes in today's NHL. Obviously, the players don't want to see one of their teammates be dealt away, and they don't want to see their coach -- the reigning Jack Adams Award winner -- become a sacrificial lamb.
There was already a quiet shock wave sent through the dressing room when Chuck Kobasew(notes) was dealt away for cap relief on Oct. 18. The next move, however, won't be made to create more cap space, but rather to try and salvage a season that began with Stanley Cup aspirations.
It's still hard to imagine Julien, a winning coach, paying the price for his team failing to fulfill the potential that management believes it has.
Oh, wait -- no it isn't.
It'll be an interesting six weeks for the Bruins, because we imagine the NHL pictured the Winter Classic at Fenway as a battle between Eastern Conference powers; rather than one playoff team and another more concerned with where the Leafs are in the lottery.