Boston Bruins celebration (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Boston Bruins once again absorbed some big off-season body blows when it came to losing on-ice personnel, but the new group has proved to be faster and more offensively adept than the old one.
You could make the argument that there has been no team in the NHL – with the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks – that has lost more young talent over the years than the Boston Bruins. Since they won the Cup in 2011, the Bruins have parted ways with Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk. All but Boychuk were under 30 when they left and the average age of the players leaving was under 26.
Even losing a 36-year-old Jarome Iginla was a kick in the slats, considering he scored 30 goals in his only season with the Bruins, then scored 29 in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche.
But there’s a transformation going on with the Bruins. They’re not so big and bad anymore and they’re more unpredictable in their own end. On the other hand they’re a lot faster and getting more offensively dynamic. All of those qualities and shortcomings were on full display in the Bruins 4-3 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night, a game that kept them third in the league in goals per game with 3.30, but an uncharacteristic 24th in goals against with 2.95 per game.
The Bruins, in terms of height, weight and average age, are almost identical to last year’s team, but the loss of Lucic and Hamilton has given them something of a new look. But there’s a difference between being a team that is heavy and one that plays heavy and these Bruins play far less heavy than they have in recent years. “We’re not as heavy as we used to be, so to speak,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. “But I think that’s the trend of the league in general. You have to be able to push the pace forward and have that extra attacker ‘D’ joining the rush and that’s what we’ve been practicing. We’ve been scoring a lot of goals, but I don’t think we’ve found the balance of defense and offense yet and that’s something we’ve been working on.”
The Bruins have 10 regulars in their lineup who were not with them at the start of last season, so there has been a bit of an adjustment. Perhaps that’s one reason why the win over Toronto vaulted them into a playoff spot for just the second time this season. The first time occurred early in the month when they held down a post-season spot for a week, only to lose it when they went on a three-game losing streak. Part of that is a function of having to catch other teams in games played, and one encouraging sign is they’ve won four of their past five in a time when they’re making up ground in that department.
“The team has changed a little bit, so you’ve got to be a little bit patient,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who came perilously close to being one of those departures last summer. (For the record, firing Julien would be a terrible decision. He’s simply one of the best coaches in the NHL.) “You’ve got to allow yourself time to let your players adapt to what you’re trying to do here, but I feel we’re a good enough team to be in the playoffs. It’s a natural adjustment, just like here in Toronto with Babs (Mike Babcock). They’re coming along here, but the start here was painful, like anybody would have expected. We’re in the same boat.”
For all the talk about the changes, the Bruins have a higher-octane level now because players such as David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron have picked up the pace offensively and Loui Eriksson, playing on a line with Krejci, is having a nice bounce-back season. They can be a bit of disaster in their own end as the Monday night game proved, but they’re certainly a team that pushes the pace.
“We have a different team,” Krejci said. “We tried to get a little bit faster and I think we did that. And you can see the difference. We’ve been scoring lots of goals. All four lines chip in. I felt going into the season we had a playoff team and we’re climbing up. We had a slow start, but we’re finding our game.”