Bruins’ Early Season Struggles Against Top Teams is Concerning

We’ve reached the quarter mark of the season, and while there is always time for surprises, we now have a general idea of what teams are good and what teams are bad. For some of the teams at the bottom, changes have already begun.

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The Boston Bruins are in a bit of a weird spot, at least by the standards they have set in recent seasons and in terms of the expectations fans in Boston have for their sports teams. They currently sit fifth in the Atlantic Division with a 12 – 8 – 1 record. They have been entirely average and at the end of the day, average might make it into the playoffs, but it definitely won’t win a Stanley Cup. 

Generally, I try to focus on the positives, and there is still plenty of season left to be played. But, the lack of quality wins so far in 2020-21 is and should be a reason for concern for the team, management, and fans. 

Who the Bruins Have Beat Versus Who They Have Lost To

For the most part, the Bruins have been winning games that they are “supposed” to be winning. In the month of November, all the teams they beat (Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, and Vancouver Canucks) are in a similar spot in the standings to them or lower. But three of those teams have either fired their general manager or head coach within the last two weeks, and the Red Wings also beat them in November and currently sit fourth in the Atlantic. 

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins
Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When it comes to teams that are higher than them in the standings, the Bruins have failed to rise to the occasion. So far this season, six out of their eight losses have come from teams that are currently in one of the top three spots in their division. Their one overtime loss came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which considering they were without Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand, was an accomplishment that the game was as close as it was. It’s one of the few close games they’ve had against a top team.

Generally, they are beating who they are supposed to beat and losing to who they are supposed to lose to. Outside of maybe their Oct. 30 shootout win against the Florida Panthers, there have been no games that have been convincing that this team is anything above mediocre. 

When they play teams that aren’t very good, they look great and when they play teams that are higher than them in the standings, they look outclassed. Part of the problem is that they look inconsistent in games. Take their loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the beginning of November. They looked great for the first period and were completely controlling the flow of the game, and then could not hold it together in the second and third periods. They went on to lose 5 – 2.

So far this season, there has been no game where the Bruins felt like they were robbed of a win or where they really had to fight for a win. Through the first 21 games, the Bruins have just seemed to coast.

Not Built for Extraordinary

There could be a number of reasons for why the Bruins are not playing as well as past seasons, but when it comes down to it and you look at this roster, it isn’t built for a deep run at success. Almost every team in the league has their superstars. But the teams that win Stanley Cups are the ones with the best depth. Look at last year’s Tampa Bay team, one of the biggest contributing factors to their win was the terrific play of their third line. 

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The Bruins don’t get enough contributions from their depth pieces and that’s a difference maker when they are matching up against these team that are higher in the standings. The first line can drag this team to a playoff appearance, but certainly not to a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I will give general manager Don Sweeney kudos for being more aggressive this offseason in trying to find depth pieces, but it hasn’t necessarily paid off and they’ve ended up overpaying for guys. His tenure has been marked by an inability to draft and develop players. This has led to a lack of options within the organization, meaning in recent years, they’ve had to resort to free agency and the trade deadline for quick fixes. Rarely do those all completely work out.

If they want to be more, they need to play like they don’t only want to be a top team, but that they truly believe they should be a Stanley Cup contender. At this time, I don’t think anyone is convinced that they are.

Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

As mentioned at the beginning, I always try to be optimistic. But, at the end of the day, this team is doing about as well as expected. The teams that are beating them are objectively better. The Bruins can certainly hang with any team in this league, but overall, they’ve been right around average in all aspects of the game (offense, defense, goaltending) and are right where they should be in the standings. 

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Tuukka Rask has been in the news a lot recently with reports that he may be ready to sign with the Bruins soon. While the unnecessary hate towards him has certainly come out in full force again, there is no denying that goaltending has not been as good this season without him. Jeremy Swayman has been impressive, but is still a rookie and has made rookie mistakes. Linus Ullmark has been fine, but given how the rest of the team is playing, fine isn’t good enough. 

Still, signing Rask wouldn’t be an end all be all solution to this team and poses a difficult conundrum given the development of Swayman and Ullmark’s contract. The Bruins will also need a big return for Jake DeBrusk and need to be aggressive at the trade deadline to have any chance of going far in the playoffs. 

There is still plenty of time left to turn it around. But it can’t help but feel like this is a wasted year of the greatness of Bergeron and Marchand, who are only getting older.

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