4 Areas Where the Boston Bruins Need to Improve
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It is hard to criticize a team that leads the Eastern Conference with a 7-1-1 record, but after a rather unconvincing 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, there is plenty of work to be done for the Boston Bruins.
There is no doubt that the Bruins can compete for another Stanley Cup with how they are presently constructed. However, there is also no doubt that there are a few places where the team can improve which would make them an even stronger contender.
After all, Boston started last season with a 3-7-0 record, so they have already made a 180-degree turnaround through the first nine games this year.
The fact that the Bruins' performance can still be nit-picked despite one of the best starts in franchise history speaks highly of where the standards are for a team that was at the bottom of the Boston sports hierarchy not too long ago.
Here are four key areas where the Bruins can improve as their season progresses.
Consistency is one of the mottoes Claude Julien preaches to his team.
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One of the most noticeable warning signs for the Bruins has been their inability to consistently put a 60-minute effort together.
According to NHL.com, Boston has scored 14 goals in the first two periods this season, but has allowed 15 goals. Although they have outscored opponents 10-4 in the third period, the Bruins must focus on stringing together more consistent efforts early in games.
On a few occasions this season, the Bruins have looked extremely sluggish to start games. Offensive chances have been rare, breakouts have been poor, and the fore-checking and skating game have been missing altogether.
Last night against Montreal, the Canadiens blitzed the Bruins' defense with several quality scoring chances. In fact, it took the Bruins over 10 minutes to register a shot on goal. Boston could have easily been trailing by two or three goals, if not for the stellar goaltending of Tuukka Rask.
Earlier this season, the Bruins quickly fell behind 2-0 against the New York Rangers in the first period. Although they outplayed the Rangers and fought back to send that game to overtime, the slow first period cost the Bruins a valuable point.
In Boston's lone regulation loss this season against Buffalo, they also blew a 3-1 lead. Several defensive breakdowns occurred in the Bruins' zone, and the Sabres exploded for four goals in the third period to grab a 7-4 win against their division rivals.
Expect the Bruins to focus on completing stronger wire-to-wire efforts going forward.
Dougie Hamilton has given the Bruins a spark on their blue line.
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Alright, so speed and finesse are not what the Bruins are known for.
Boston has always been a tough, physical, grind-it-out team. It is simply the culture that has existed on Causeway Street since before Bobby Orr led the 'Big Bad Bruins' of the 1970's.
With that said, there are times when the Bruin skaters just look slow.
Boston's inconsistent skating ties in directly with their inconsistencies on the power play and their occasional lapses during the first period.
Against Montreal, the Bruins lack of speed was repeatedly exposed, as Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec each had breakaway opportunities for the Canadiens.
Effort has never been a question for any players on Boston, but it will be interesting to see how their bruising style will match up against the quickness of teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.
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Would it somehow be possible for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to institute a "decline option" before teams go on the power play? If so, the Bruins would benefit greatly from it.
It is well-documented that Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with a historically bad power play as well, so it is not like this is unfamiliar territory for them.
However, Boston's power play has scored just three goals this season and one of those came on an empty-netter. It currently ranks 29th in the NHL at 8.8%.
The frustrating thing with the Bruins' man advantage is they have as much difficulty just getting their power play set-up as they do generating legitimate scoring chances. On the occasions when Boston does get set-up in the offensive zone, they still have trouble with quick puck movement and finding high-percentage shooting lanes.
Against Montreal, Bruins' announcer Jack Edwards even chimed in via Twitter to describe Boston's woes with the man advantage:
The contrast between the Bruins' power play and Tampa Bay's (which you will see Saturday at 1PM on NESN) is Alpha and Omega. #NESNLive
— Jack Edwards (@RealJackEdwards) February 7, 2013
Speaking of the Tampa Bay power play, they are tied for the NHL lead with 13 power play goals and have the second highest success rate at 32.5%
The Bruins are consistently one of the top even strength teams in the NHL, so turning their dreadful power play into a serviceable unit would make life much easier for the Black and Gold.
Tyler Seguin is Boston's X-factor on offense.
One of Boston's advantages over many teams in the NHL is that they have the ability to play effectively with all four lines.
As mentioned earlier, the Bruins have outscored opponents 10-4 in the third period. This speaks volumes of their performance in high-pressure situations and their ability to wear down opponents over the course of a game.
Boston ranks 15th in the NHL with 2.7 goals per game. By no means is this a bad number, but Boston's offense has not found a consistent rhythm yet this season.
Of the 24 goals the Bruins have scored this season, only five of them have come from the third or fourth lines. Do not be surprised to see Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli try and acquire a veteran winger when the April 3 trade deadline approaches.
Furthermore, Boston needs to get production from third-year center Tyler Seguin who has scored just two goals in nine games. Last season, Seguin recorded 29 goals and 38 assists.
Against Montreal, Claude Julien paired Seguin with Milan Lucic and David Krejci to start the third period. The result immediately paid dividends as the line scored two goals on their first two shifts together, with Seguin netting his second of the season. Perhaps this could be a sign of good things to come for the 21-year old forward and the Bruins.