We Still Don’t Know What the Bruins Can Be

Zdeno Chara Bruins
Zdeno Chara (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

With a 3-0 shutout win on Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils, the Bruins concluded their seventh back-to-back series of this season. It was also the first time they’ve won both games.

This one game, however, wasn’t close.

After firing off only 44 shots in the last two games, a shootout loss against Carolina and an overtime win against Pittsburgh, the Bruins out-shot the Devils 43-14 and controlled possession for almost the entire game, finishing with a CorsiFor of 65%. The win gives the Bruins a little more ground on their wildcard spot, even though the Florida Panthers are three points behind with four games in-hand.

The wins are validation for a team that has been called out by new CEO Charlie Jacobs earlier in the week. In terms of evaluation, two back-to-back wins and getting back into the playoff picture at the halfway point of the 2014-15 NHL season is a start, but it’s far from defining what the Bruins are.

“We seemed like a real focused and energized team tonight,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the game. “I think the biggest thing we did was we executed the way we were asked to execute…What impressed me the most tonight was how hard the guys worked to get back and the layers were there, so we didn’t give them much room or too many opportunities. That was the kind of game we like to see our team play. You want to build on that kind of stuff. Again, you never consider yourself out of the woods, but certainly something that’s real positive to build on.”

This season for the Bruins has been a series of steps in the right direction followed by unmotivated efforts that set the team back to mediocrity. Two back-to-back wins can certainly be considered steps in the right direction, but how the team produces against Philadelphia on Saturday and then against top teams, Tampa and New York, next week will carry more weight in the argument that the Bruins have begun to turn it around.

“It’s nice that you’re winning games now and even we are not over the hump, we know that,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “We won two games and we have a tough schedule before the All-Star break. We want to continue to play the way we’ve been playing the last two games and finish strong before the break. You can sense that the team is regaining the play and what we’re used to so, like I said, we have to stay on top of that.”

Of course, there are some things that bode well for the team going forward. The Bruins are finally a healthy squad and Julien is making lineup decisions based on performance rather than filling gaps due to injuries. After almost a month since returning, Chara is getting back to fully normal, even if does still look like he’s lost a step. Most importantly though, the players that have been needing to step up and produce are beginning to do just that.

Milan Lucic’s name has been followed by trade rumors ever since his production dipped. However in the last two games, Lucic has two goals and two assists, and has played well on a newly formed line with Patrice Bergeron and Daniel Paille.

“I think when he plays like that he’s definitely created a lot of chances for himself, but also for his teammates,” said Bergeron, who also has two goals and an assist in the last two games. “Definitely what we need for him, he’s definitely stepped up his game the last two games, for sure.”

By switching up lines and shaking up trios that may have worked in the past, Julien is showing a new dedication to creating chemistry on the fly. While the Lucic-Bergeron-Paille has done well the past two games, putting Brad Marchand with David Krejci and the recently-recalled David Pastrnak has increased the amount of shots that number 63 has taken. Marchand has six shots in the past two games when paired with Krejci, after being held without a shot against Carolina. Looking back at the Detroit game two weeks ago, Marchand took four shots in his first game paired with the Czech playmaker.

Julien is attempting to create some type of offense by breaking up the norm and getting players to step out of their comfort zones. It’s another step in the right direction to get effort from all four lines.

“I’m not going to change anything until I feel the need to change things,” said Julien. “Danny [Paille] is skating as good as I’ve seen him skate so far this year. He seemed energized and Looch is finding his game again. So, that line’s been good for us and the other lines too are good. You know, Krejci is playing with different players trying to find him some players that have chemistry with him and Marchy has had some.

“I thought four lines, six D, did a great job for us tonight in winning this hockey game.”

Unless the Bruins go on a run of New York Rangers-like proportions (they’re 9-1 in their last 10), or a stretch where they’re just playing good hockey and winning games, it’ll be more of the same from everyone writing about the team. The Bruins are good, but then they’re not good, but then they’re decent again, but then not great. It’s the make-up of this team for the time being. Once the Bruins stop taking steps in the right direction and move forward to being back to a good hockey team, it’ll continue.

But here’s what makes everything different – the Bruins are starting to grasp it. Maybe it was a wake-up call from Jacobs or maybe it was Julien forcing players to step out of certain roles, but whatever it was, it’s starting to happen. What happens next though, who knows.

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