There are so many “fancy stats” being computed around the NHL, it’s hard to keep track.
Surfing the Web after the Bruins’ 6-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, I couldn’t find the one stat – fancy or plain – that summed up the defeat. I wanted to know how many times a Bruins player was knocked on his rear end by a Blue Jackets player.
Maybe no one could count that high.
If ever there was a game that could prove the 2014-15 Bruins are soft, it happened Saturday night in the capital of Ohio.
The Bruins flexed their muscles once, 2:59 into the second period. That’s when forward Milan Lucic finally exacted his revenge for what he deemed a sucker punch from Columbus defenseman Dalton Prout back the last time the Bruins and Blue Jackets played Nov. 21. There’s nothing like a month-long grudge in hockey. It really does wonders for a team’s position in the standings.
So Lucic landed a bunch more punches on Prout after challenging the blueliner. Lucic scored the takedown too and by all accounts won the fight. Whoopee! The Bruins were behind 2-1 and the man who’s supposed to be Boston’s top-line left wing sacrificed five minutes of ice time because of some Mafia code in his head. Bravo.
With “Macho Man” Lucic, who has now scored one goal in his past 12 games, in the penalty box, the Blue Jackets extended their lead to 3-1. There was no spark from the fight, as Columbus kept winning the battles, kept taking the body and kept planting Bruins skaters in the ice like daisies.
Then came the ultimate embarrassment for both the officials and the Bruins. A deflected shot in the Columbus end hit the protective netting behind the end boards. The officials missed it and play continued. You could almost excuse the Bruins for what ensued after that missed call, as Milan Lucic and Craig Cunningham were both manhandled in the Boston zone before Matt Calvert gave the Blue Jackets a 5-2 lead. I say almost forgive the Bruins because if they thought the clock was going to be rolled back at the next whistle and that anything they did before the whistle wouldn’t count, you could almost excuse them getting run over. Except that shift was indicative of a team-wide, night-long unwillingness to compete, sacrifice and do the things that the Bruins love to spout off about as part of their culture.
The goaltending was bad, but the play in front of the netminders was atrocious. There was Matt Bartkowski flinching and screening Niklas Svedberg rather than going for the blocked shot on a wrister by Kevin Connauton. Dougie Hamilton lost almost every battle and did his share of screening Svedberg and Tuukka Rask. Every defenseman contributed to the miscue fiesta.
And when the Bruins were within striking distance on the scoreboard, they couldn’t do a thing with the puck. Bartkowski was wide open on a backdoor play and his shot nearly shattered the glass. Chris Kelly had a similar result on a one-timer from between the hash marks. The missed scoring chances have been the common thread in almost every game this season, even the ones Boston has won.
But what shouldn’t be a constant deficiency in the Bruins, regardless of who’s in the lineup or which team is the opponent, is hard work. Recently, grit has been nowhere to be found. Sure, the Bruins had spurts of hard work during their two-game winning streak before they visited Columbus. A 60-minute performance of grit, hard work and determination has been missing all season long.
The excuses about the injuries are no longer valid. Zdeno Chara and David Krejci are playing. Or at least they’re on the ice. It’s not always quite obvious what they’re actually doing out there. But this Bruins team is at full strength, unless you think Adam McQuaid is going to give a Hart Trophy worthy performance when he gets back.
All other excuses were invalid Saturday and the Bruins actually had things in their favor. The Blue Jackets had to sit their No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky because of illness and go with backup Curtis McElhinney, who brought in an. 895 save percentage. Both teams had the same amount of rest during the Christmas break. Both teams started the evening out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
And that’s the funny thing. The Blue Jackets came out and played a game like the Bruins used to, when they were the underdogs, when they didn’t look for excuses and they just wanted to prove to the world they could overcome the naysayers and win games. This seasons’ Bruins went out there, once again, as though they’re a privileged team that the NHL will just place in the playoffs once the regular season ends. Just because president Cam Neely loves to talk about being in the playoffs at Thanksgiving means you have a better shot at reaching the postseason doesn’t mean a team should just shift into neutral for the next five months. But that’s what the Bruins have done. The Bruins are 5-6-2 since Turkey Day. I haven’t seen anyone do a study on teams that are in the playoff picture at Christmas and what happens to them by the end of the season. The Bruins have played like they think a playoff spot will be a gift.
Undoubtedly there are roster issues with these Bruins. They let their leading goal scorer [Jarome Iginla walk before the season, traded a top-four defenseman [Johnny Boychuk] just before the start of the season and one of their better defenseman [Joe Morrow] was shipped to Providence of the AHL because … well, just because. Every game the Bruins lose, coach Claude Julien talks about defensive breakdowns and poor decisions, yet Morrow is skating for the P-Bruins.
Everyone, including the players, seems to know there’s a trade coming. Maybe it’ll happen Sunday on the first day after the end of the holiday roster freeze. Maybe it’ll come in the weeks ahead. You could understand a little bit of a distraction among the players.
However, that’s where character and leadership are supposed to take over. All these Stanley Cup-winning veterans that make up the Bruins’ core that general manager Peter Chiarelli is so devoted to keeping together should be able to rally the troops. One look of the standings should humble these Bruins and make them play like every point in the standings is life or death. Instead, you get a performance where the Bruins look like the grass and the Blue Jackets are the lawn mowers.
Roster changes could be on the way. They might not help. Even a trade or two isn’t going to change the overall makeup of the Bruins. The team that’s treated this season like a practice round will mostly still be intact after any moves are made.
The Bruins’ attitude as a group has to change. No more personal vendettas. No more harkening back to how great they were in past seasons. No one wants to hear about the past, they want to see something meaningful in the present. The Bruins have to go out and grab some wins and some points in the standings. Otherwise anyone that comes to the Bruins in a trade is going to be watching the playoffs come late April with the rest of the squad.