By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
An original six team ends a lengthy Stanley Cup drought, yet embarrassingly stumbles out of the gate the following season. That’s the current state of affairs for the Boston Bruins, just as it was in 1994 for the New York Rangers. In fact, Boston’s 3-7-0 record is the worst start for a reigning Stanley Cup champion since the blueshirts’ 2-4-0 start, in what was a lockout shortened season.
Sure, the majority of losses haven’t been blowouts (4 of the 7 were by a margin of one goal), but it makes no difference in the standings. Speaking of which, if you’ve dared to take a look at the standings, you’ll notice that Boston currently sits at 14th place in the Eastern Conference, and 29th overall in the league.
So, the question becomes, now what?
It’s easy to point out that many Cup champions do have a slow start the following October as part of the ever popular “Stanley Cup Hangover”. But at a certain point, the Bruins won’t have time to fully recover.
A few coaches and general managers have pointed out that one really can’t tell what kind of team they’re dealing with until after the first 7-10 games have been played. That deadline has passed for the Bruins, and it has yet to be determined as to whether or not they’ll be granted an extension.
Boston can not afford another series of losses in order to determine their identity. That identity is already in the process of being formed.
Looking up and down the roster, it’s hard to believe just how little the Bruins have been able to do right thus far. Goaltending has once again been an area of strength for the black and gold. Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask are clearly not the problem. Boston’s 25 goals against has them tied for 13th in the league along with Chicago, and Florida.
The defense has been decent, neither awful or particularly impressive. Zdeno Chara seems to be lacking a certain fire that he usually possesses. Dennis Seidenberg has been okay, though he currently has a +/- ratio of -4. Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid have gone virtually unnoticed. Joe Corvo has struggled, as has Johnny Boychuck, whose name found its way into trade speculation when rumors began popping up late last week.
Any of Boston’s defensive lapses have been greatly overshadowed by the futility they’ve displayed on offense. Beyond the point-per-game pace Tyler Seguin has been on, and the recent resurgence of Milan Lucic, there has been little to be excited about for Boston fans.
Last year’s playoff points leader, David Krejci, has so far been invisible in his contract year. Through seven games, Krejci has only posted one point (1 G, 0 A, 1 P). Combine #46’s slow start with Seguin’s recent tear, and you’ve got a recipe for baseless trade rumors.
Boston sports fans have never been credited for having particularly rational reactions, especially in hard times, and the suggestion that Boston should trust a 19-year old who was inconsistent in his rookie campaign over the proven veteran in Krejci is both reactionary and irresponsible.
In order for a conservative general manager like Peter Chiarelli to even entertain the idea of trading away their #1 center, the return would have to be astronomical (ex. Zach Parise). This scenario is unlikely to say the least.
Krejci is not the only Bruin struggling, however, as most every offensive player on the Bruins’ roster has been M.I.A. Those struggles are personified by the ineffectiveness of Boston’s forth line, which would often times set the pace for the rest of the team last season. The trio of Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille is a combined -10, and have exactly one point on the season (a Paille assist).
Jordan Caron has been perhaps the most overlooked, but also most disappointing development of the young season (5 GP, 0 P, -2). Offseason acquisition Benoit Pouliot has been equally disappointing (8 GP, 0 P, -3).
It’s becoming quite clear that in order for Boston to regain their footing, something has to change, and quickly. That change does not necessarily have to come in the form of a trade, but at this point a trade is certainly a possibility. But, somehow, the reigning Stanley Cup champions need to find a spark.
The spark Boston so desperately needs probably won’t present itself in the form of fisticuffs. As Eliotte Friedman pointed out in his ’30 Thoughts’, “Opposing coaches are ordering their players not to engage them after the whistle. No team feeds off those scrums/battles/fights more than Boston (and its fans)”. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to Boston players like Brad Marchand who have already taken some unnecessary penalties by roughing up an unwilling opponent. Boston will have to look to other aspects of their physical game in order to establish the dominance they displayed in the playoffs.
Ex-Bruin Aaron Ward once said in order for a team to break out of a losing streak they have to get “sick and tired of losing’. Every player in the Boston Bruins locker room has been saying the right things. They’re all saying that they’re frustrated, that they need to turn things around, that they have to find a way to win, but until those words are put into motion, they’re simply words.
On Tuesday the Bruins will face the Ottawa Senators, winners of six straight games, in yet another game in the confines of TD Garden. While Boston has been trying to find their stride early on, they’ve also been squandering opportunities to establish home-ice advantage. From the Bruins’ perspective, right now every game has to be seen as an opportunity to start fresh.
No one knows more than the players in the Boston locker room how far a little momentum can carry a team. The pendulum swings again when the puck is dropped Tuesday night. —