Between March 17th and the 31st the Bruins are 3-4-1, which represents a struggling span of time for a team that is not only struggling to amass points, but goals, as well.
Over the same stretch the team averaged 2.25 goals for, had limited power-play success, defensive gaffs, third period collapses, and yet remained to exemplify outstanding goaltending. Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have been the silver lining in a rather bleak span as a Bruin’s fan.
The tandem has allowed 19 goals, two of which were empty net goals. In those seven games Rask and Khudobin’s GAA was 2.42, which may not seem remarkable, but is quite skewed from a 5 goals against performance against the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins Canadiens game was wide open, with stretch passes and open lanes as a result of shaky defense and excellent passing from both teams alike. If you take away the 5 goals Rask allowed in that game, the GAA drops to an even 2, which is more representative of the goalies’ numbers throughout the season. Rask continued this trend with a 40 save shutout last night against the New Jersey Devils and had a key save at 9:25 of the first to keep the game knotted at 0. After an abysmal 1st period and a complete lack of effort out of the gate, allowing a goal would have deflated the Bruins’ spirit even more. Therefore, if goaltending is not the problem, and both Rask and Khudobin are putting together relatively consistent and strong starts, what is the problem for this team? It rests in their inability to score on the powerplay, inconsistency of top line players, and a struggling defense that is riddled with injuries, and fraught third period presences.
During these last seven games, not including the Devils contest, the Bruins cannot hold third period leads, which is in part due to their struggling defensive core that has been wrought with injuries. Adam McQuaid has been out with a shoulder injury and has put strain upon the Bruins to find a replacement, all while Andrew Ference has been struggling. He is having trouble clearing out the front of the net, playing the man, and controlling the puck all while the defense is trying to incorporate youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski into their system. In response Dougie Hamilton has increased his defensive responsibility by taking the body and ramping up his physical play, while clogging passing lanes and being in the proper position. Bartkowski will have to continue to fill in as a 6th man defensemen paired with Dennis Seidenberg and Ference will have to step up his game to increase defensive stability in order to protect third period leads.
The team and general manager Peter Chiarelli attempted to solve their other problem, the powerplay crisis, by acquiring 6-time All Star Jerome Iginla. It was hoped he would create more of a net presence and scoring threat on the man advantage. Chiarelli had a deal done, thought Iginla was coming to Boston, then lost out on the sweepstakes due to Iginla’s desire to join the Pittsburg Penguins. With this, Chiarelli needed to look elsewhere for powerplay support. This would come with the availability and future acquisition of Jaromir Jagr, the all time leading European scorer. What, if anything, will Jagr change on this struggling squad?
Jagr brings many intangibles to the Bruins, including a sense of leadership, which with Bergeron’s absence will be extremely valuable:
““I’ve been around a long time. The game has changed so I’ve had to change. I’m not the guy who wanted to score the most goals in the league or scored the most points in the league. Don’t get me wrong, I like to score. But there are more important things for me in the whole picture: to win as a team. In that kind of way I’ve changed a lot.”
Jagr, maybe in part due to his age and decreased physical ability, has shifted his game and mentality from an individual efforts and rewards to a collective vision to win as a team. This may have an affect on the Bruins’ younger players, who want to win, but also focus on their own individual goals. He could create a central goal for a team that has the pieces to make a deep playoff run.
Not only does Jagr bring veteran leadership and presence, but he also possesses some great talent. His game fits that of the Bruins style, which has been fading and nearly non-existence of late. The Bruins style is centered around cycling and chipping the puck down low, working it around the side boards, back to the defenseman, and the process continues until an opening in the defense presents itself or the they lose possession. They have strayed away from this type of game and have played up and down hockey, with most of their scoring chances and goals coming on the rush. This was clear versus the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators game, which saw Khudobin face 47 shots and the Bruins amass 50 shots. In the Bruins puck possession games they average around 30 shots on goal and 20 shots against. While Jagr is on the ice he can A-frame along the boards, draw defenders, dish the puck, and therefore create scoring chances and help return the Bruins to their cycling ways.
In Jagr’s first game he was slotted on the powerplay in the right point, a great place from where he can operate the half wall, draw defenders, and open up space for the other four members of the powerplay team. His ability to draw defenders had him moving from the point, down the boards, causing movement on the powerplay, which hasn’t been there all year. This ability seems to have translated to even strength play, and even though the Bruins only scored one goal last night, it was evident that they were able to develop more chances and maintain possession of the puck for the latter two periods.
If the Bruins are to return to their winning ways they must increase defensive stability and awareness to prevent third period collapses and cycle the puck to maintain possession. The powerplay, which Jagr will assist and increase its efficiency, must be better (I know that’s obvious). The goaltending tandem of Rask and Khudobin must continue to make consistent starts and the penalty kills, one of the most impressive aspects of the team, must remain stellar.