Throughout the 2018-19 season, one thing was obvious about the Boston Bruins: this group of guys wanted to play, and win, for each other. Although the team fell just short of accomplishing its ultimate goal, this strong leadership and all-for-one mentality produced amazing results.
Now, the Bruins are struggling. Yes, the team is still well atop the Atlantic Division standings. However, that was due in large part to unreal early-season contributions from David Pastrnak and linemate Brad Marchand.
Pastrnak still leads the National Hockey League in goals but has come back down to earth a bit, so to speak, and Marchand experienced a significant scoring drought. His goal Monday night against the Washington Capitals was his first since the day before Thanksgiving. When production from these two stars slowed, the Bruins’ winning ways evaporated.
A Capital Performance
Although the Bruins had lost eight of their last nine games before trouncing the Caps in the last game before the Christmas break, they did look more like the never-say-die team that had so much success a season ago. The players went from saying after every loss that they were sick of losing to actually proving it on the ice. And the results were obvious.
Lines did not need to be constantly shuffled in-game to find offense, passes were crisp and well-timed, there were no penalties born of frustration or lazy play, and Boston led the entire game. Still, it remains to be seen whether Monday’s game was an anomaly or a sign that the team is getting back to what works.
The general consensus during the rough December stretch was that the team needs to find a way to play quality hockey for much closer to 60 full minutes. All too often lately, all Boston seems able to muster is 10-minute bursts of energy. Also, the power play has looked bad, and a complete ineffectiveness in overtime has been frustrating, to say the least.
Bergeron Boosts Offense
This team definitely has the star power to win. We saw it last season, and most of the key components of the Bruins that were one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup this past June are still in place today. There have been injuries, yes, but most of those players have returned. In fact, Patrice Bergeron has been one of the few bright spots on offense since his recent return from a multi-game absence.
In addition, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen, Connor Clifton, Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner have all re-signed with the team or signed contract extensions. Anders Bjork is also finally healthy and playing some great hockey. The younger contingent seemingly wants to stay together for the next few years at least in an effort to finish what they started last season. That appears to be the main issue in this recent rough patch though: the effort simply is not there.
Searching for Answers
What needs to be done to pull this team together into a cohesive unit once again? That is hard to say. Many people are starting to suggest that head coach Bruce Cassidy should be fired. Coaching may be part of the problem, but such a drastic move is not necessary at this point.
Earlier this month, the Bruins ended practice with a play-fighting activity designed to let the guys blow off some steam and have some fun. This more light-hearted approach didn’t help much in the win-loss column. However, an attempt to boost team morale is a step in the right direction.
Last season, the public saw a united front, a Bruins team that was clearly a family on and off the ice. This sentiment may still be there, but it is less obvious to the casual observer. Something has changed.
Cassidy recently made a telling comment in a press conference. He was explaining his rationale for some lineup changes and touched on the fact that examples need to be made, and that some players need to realize that last season is over. What worked then, may not work now.
Bitter Playoffs Pill
It is no secret that the team as a whole took the loss in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final very hard. After such a devastating personal and professional blow and a short offseason, it is very possible that many of these players came into training camp less mentally and physically prepared for a new season than normal.
For that reason, if the Bruins expect to truly escape this current funk and get their heads right moving into the second half of the season, it is imperative that the team’s leaders step up and take ownership of the attitude in the room and on the ice. The coaches might not be able to fix this, and they certainly can’t do it alone. The players need to lean on each other and decide now is the time to break out of it.
Whether that means more players’ only meetings, the captains and coaching staff getting more fired up during the games or even more morale-building exercises, it needs to be done. We saw a glimpse Monday of the team we missed dearly. The one that clearly wanted to show it was the better team. If the Bruins can keep that spark going, they will be a force to be reckoned with once again.