While hockey enthusiasts nudge to the edge of their seats over the presumably positive turns in the NHL and NHLPA’s talks, there is suddenly less harm in considering the implications of an abbreviated 2012-13 season.
For the Boston Bruins, who in defense of their 2011 Stanley Cup title last season were among the NHL's best performers in numerous team stats, it will mean a slimmer margin for error. In turn, it will mean needing to remedy all outstanding shortcomings so as to better ensure a more savory outcome to the coming campaign.
On the one hand, such plus points as a top-echelon offense and defense, fantastic even-strength play and an unmatched ability to defend leads and defy negative shooting differentials, gave Boston an altogether irreproachable second-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Even so, the Bruins’ blights amounted to a seven-point gap between themselves and the first-place New York Rangers. For what it’s worth, in the subsequent playoffs, the Bruins were dislodged in the first round by the Washington Capitals, while the Blueshirts warded off an upset-minded Ottawa team.
The simple takeaway, which has now had seven-plus months to chew on, is that specific seeding counts for something, although learning lessons from the regular season still takes the front seat in the playoffs.
Boston’s abrupt fizzle last spring was, in no small part, the product of a lack of improvement in the following key areas over the course of the 2011-12 campaign. If and when the lockout ends and gives them the OK to conduct a shortened 2012-13 season, the Bruins must spend every business hour addressing these flaws as they build up for a run to redemption.
The Bruins went 6-8-2 during the 2011-12 regular season in games starting at 3 p.m. local time or earlier. They were otherwise 43-21-2 on the year for a .667 winning percentage, .055 points better than their actual finish.
Granted, Tyler Seguin allowed them to fight for one more night when he won a mid-afternoon Game 6. But if they had found an extra liter of fuel in either of the preceding matinees, Seguin’s sudden-death strike could have instead parlayed them into the second round.
The Power Play
Finishing in a tie for 14th with the eventual Eastern Conference finalist New Jersey Devils and two slots ahead of Los Angeles might not seem like much to fret over. However, the Bruins are miles past the point where middle-of-the-pack status is satisfying on any leaderboard.
Consider this: Boston tied Philadelphia for the second-most prolific overall offense in the 2011-12 regular season and trailed only Pittsburgh in that department. The two Pennsylvania parties were tied for the fifth-best power play.
Had they been a consistent force with the man-advantage, the Bruins most likely would have pole-vaulted over the Penguins and Flyers in the goals-for department. In addition, they might have better resisted a stretch of mediocrity over February and March and thus maybe, just maybe, have pole-vaulted over the Rangers in the conference standings.
All of this is to say nothing of the nearly barren power play Boston deployed against the Capitals in the postseason. They converted just two of 23, or 8.7 percent of their chances, which only helped to give unproven Washington goaltender Braden Holtby the confidence to unveil an otherworldly level of his game.
Besides their iffy conversion rate when they do muster a man-advantage, the Bruins could stand to shore up the number of opportunities they garner in the first place.
They tied Nashville for No. 25 in the league last year with only 250 power-play segments and tended to draw progressively fewer chances over the course of a game. Boston accumulated 97 chances over 82 first periods, 81 in the middle frame and 70 during the final regulation stanza.
In addition, the Bruins were one of 14 teams to spend more time on the penalty kill than with a numerical upper hand.
A combination of more frequent power plays and at least a mild increase in the conversion department ought to make the Bruins more formidable. They should strive to physically wear down the adversary by way of more shorthanded labor and also ensure not to give them a psychological booster by staving off protracted spells of power-play frostbite.