Returning from a five-game road trip in which they went 1-3-1, the Bruins are looking forward to tonight's game against the Panthers for many reasons.
First, it is a return home to TD Banknorth Garden, where they haven't played since dropping a game to former Bruin Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks on February 10.
Since that contest, where shots bounced off of Bruins defenders, Sharks' sticks, and even Joe Thornton's toes for goals, the B's have been victimized by pure bad luck. When they left for the road trip, Boston didn't show the same aggressive style that had been their calling card since the beginning of the season.
The Bruins were shut out twice over those five games—once by the gritty New Jersey Devils, and by the Florida Panthers, who the Bruins will host tonight.
Over the past few games, the power play has been a source of frustration for Claude Julien and the Bruins, although Andrew Ference finally scored a PPG against the Lightning. Some fans have wondered why veteran PJ Axelson is on the first power play line, as he is certainly not one of the team's playmakers, at least in terms of scoring ability.
Another area of concern has been the Bruins' aversion to dropping the gloves. I don't think that it is a coincidence that the Bruins went eight full games without a fight and won only one of those games.
Earlier in the season, the Bruins were one of the more aggressive teams, both offensively and defensively. It seems that they need to be less conservative going forward and force teams to adjust to them, not the other way around.
It starts tonight with the Panthers, in the Bruins' first of three games in six days. After the Panthers, they will face the Ducks on Thursday night and then the dangerous Capitals on Saturday.
Some good news is coming for the B's however, as Michael Ryder is expected to make his return to the lineup after missing the last seven games with multiple facial fractures. Ryder will supposedly wear a protective cage tonight as a precaution.
“My guess is that—and it’s a guess right now, but it’s an educated guess—is that he’ll be in the lineup for tomorrow,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli in a conference call yesterday.
This just goes to show how vital Ryder has become to this team's success, even though he struggled to get it going to start the 2008-2009 season.
There is still no indication as to who will start in net tonight, but after Manny Fernandez' pedestrian performance against the Lightning, I would guess that it will be Tim Thomas between the pipes tonight.
These next few games are huge for the B's, as they will probably dictate whether or not Chiarelli will pull the trigger on a trade deadline deal.
Make no mistakes about it, the Bruins are legit contenders for the Cup, and a trade may put them over the top—even at the expense of losing some core youngsters.