Although they fell just short of the ultimate goal, 2019 was a pretty good year for the Boston Bruins. The team also started off the 2019-20 season with a bang but has faltered of late.
Despite the December skid, the Bruins sit well atop the Atlantic Division standings, and halfway through the season look poised for another playoff berth. However, the path to the postseason could be a rocky one if the team is not able to fix a few glaring problems. Here are the keys to a successful 2020.
Find a Right Wing
It feels like this dead horse has been beaten for far too long, but there is no denying that Boston needs to find an everyday right wing to play alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. With options from the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins essentially exhausted, if they ever truly existed, this help will likely have to be acquired via trade.
So far this season, head coach Bruce Cassidy has tried numerous options. Although Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle have seen the most time at 2RW, especially since Karson Kuhlman suffered a broken leg, neither seems to be the ideal fit there.
Kuhlman was recently activated off injured reserve but was assigned AHL Providence. That likely means the team either wants him to get some games under his belt to shake off any rust acquired from a long layoff or that he no longer fits into the big club’s current plans.
It is true that Krejci is getting older and DeBrusk has been inconsistent, but many of the line’s issues can be attributed to the fact that the right-wing position has been in flux. If a player can be brought in before the trade deadline to shore up the second line, the team should see marked improvement out of its top six. A boost to scoring much like the one the Bruins got when they traded for Marcus Johansson last season would certainly be welcome.
Improve the Power Play
This is a tough one, especially when the Bruins’ power play consistently ranks near the top of the National Hockey League in power play efficiency. Still, there is no doubt that the team could be much better with the man advantage. Even in the midst of a power play scoring streak, it is not hard to see how many scoring opportunities are left on the table.
A big part of the problem is the pass-first mentality that the first unit, in particular, seems to have adopted. Too much time is wasted relaying the puck around the offensive zone looking for the perfect shot. This results in turnovers and missed opportunities
David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have combined for 50 goals already this season. These guys can score, no question, but they have to shoot first. If the approach doesn’t change, perhaps players with a more straight-to-the-net style should be mixed in.
Stick with One Lineup
It’s understandable that Cassidy is trying to figure out the best possible line combinations to return the team to its early-season winning ways. However, the constant line shuffling, from game to game and often shift to shift, can prove counterproductive.
If no line is able to develop chemistry, the team suffers. In the 2018-19 season, the Bruins stumbled through an abysmal first two months. But once the coaches stopped experimenting with different combinations on a whim, the wins started to come. However, the old ways of constant shuffling and in-game benchings have returned.
Of course, injuries play a role in the need for changes, and all players go through slumps. But those variables aside, Cassidy may be wise to figure out once and for all which combinations work best and stick with them. At the very least, it seems fair to suggest that lines should get more than one game to develop rapport before changes are made.
Play a Full 60 Minutes
To be blunt, the Bruins have been playing like a team that knows it is in a comfortable place in the standings and only wants to put out the minimum amount of effort required to stay there. At some point, this lackadaisical attitude is going to backfire. With so many blown leads and games where the coaches and players themselves admit that the team did not put in a full 60 minutes of work, the results of late show that it already has.
It is difficult to say from the outside looking in exactly what needs to be done to motivate the troops. The brain trust behind the bench obviously has to juggle to keep players fresh, avoid fatigue and deal with impossible scheduling demands while still getting in quality practice time. This is a Herculean task, no doubt. Only the players and coaches know what is said in the room and observed behind the scenes.
The Bruins’ 2019 playoff run ended in a crushing defeat that was followed by an abbreviated offseason. This probably had a significant impact on the players’ ability to mentally and physically prepare for the new season. However, half the season is over, and the team needs to find a way to dig deep and move on.
Find a Way in OT
Ugh. Overtime. There is no denying at this point that the 2019-20 Bruins just are not good enough in the three-on-three overtime period or the shootout. In fact, of the 13 games Boston has gone into extra time this season, it has come out on top just twice. This includes zero victories in six shootout appearances.
The team has reportedly been practicing three-on-three drills and shootout-style breakaways in recent days. The players and coaches know there is a serious problem, as well.
All of the other factors that have contributed to the Bruins’ poor play of late are magnified when the game goes beyond 60 minutes. There is a good chance that fixing the other issues in regulation will result not only in more overtime victories, but also in an all-around successful season.