How Concerning is a Slumping First Line for the Boston Bruins?

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How Concerning is a Slumping First Line for the Boston Bruins?
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Boston Bruins first-line center David Krejci is in the middle of a particularly ill-timed scoreless skid. His wingers, Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, have been almost equally arid in the same stretch, one that juts a little more than the average cold spell.

Multi-game droughts will occasionally happen each season to virtually every NHL non-superstar forward, and that is every Bruins forward as they currently stand. (There was a time when Iginla was a superstar in Calgary, particularly circa 2002, but the 36-year-old is beyond his peak at this point.)

When a top line slides like this, it will stand out for the worse depending on other factors. These include recent opponents, recent game locations, how much the rest of the depth chart compensates and the recent team record.

None of the above circumstances is doing much to fog the first line’s funk right now. This is coming at a time when road games and prospective statement games are picking up in frequency and the Bruins are collaborating to let more points get away than not.

With another empty offensive performance in Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss to Toronto, Krejci has extended his slump to five games.

He has had only one other scoreless skid lasting longer than a single game in 2013-14. As it happened, that was also a five-game hex, spanning Nov. 14-21.

Seven of Krecji’s last nine pointless performances, 10 of his last 13 and a dozen of his 18 overall this season have been on the road. That acrid assortment most recently included all three stops during last week’s swing through California, which boasts three bona fide NHL heavyweights atop the Pacific Division.

Meanwhile, Lucic is pointless in his last four games and did not play against Anaheim last Tuesday. If he does nothing productive against Dallas on Thursday, he will match his own season-worst skid from a month ago (Dec. 10-19).

Iginla garnered an assist against Anaheim last week, but has otherwise been as fruitless as his linemates for the last week-and-a-half. In addition, six of his last eight scoreless performances have occurred away from TD Garden, including visits to such formidable foes as Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Jose.

While the top troika’s nosedive is not the sole factor in the Bruins’ freshest output, the fact is that they have been sub-.500 concomitant with Krejci and company’s struggle. They went 1-2-0 on their latest road trip and sandwiched that with a win over the lowly Winnipeg Jets and their seesaw loss to the Leafs on Tuesday.

In addition, Krejci is Boston’s leading power-play playmaker with 10 assists on the man advantage this season. Lucic and Iginla are among the team’s top seven point-getters in that situation with seven and six points, respectively.

Dating back to the Anaheim game, though, the Bruins have earned exactly three power plays every night and squandered them all. In fact, they are 0-for-17 dating back to the third period of their Dec. 31 tilt with the Islanders.

One productive drop in the middle of that drought could have amounted to a timely turn in momentum amid what would instead be a losing effort.

Tuesday night was only Boston’s fifth regulation loss on home ice in 2013-14, but it came with a virtual four-point package at stake, Toronto being an Atlantic Division adversary. Now the Bruins are tied with Tampa Bay, albeit with a game in hand, for first in the division while the Canadiens still trail by only three points.

The second offensive line, particularly Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, clicked to give Boston initial 1-0 and 2-1 leads on Tuesday. The fourth line factored in to a third period strike, with Gregory Campbell converting Daniel Paille’s feed, to at least halve a 4-2 deficit into the eventual 4-3 final.

With the game unfolding the way it did, it is hard to dismiss the notion that one more productive line could have made a difference. The Bruins could have put the Leafs away early or at least salvaged an invaluable regulation point if their top line reaped results as if they were, well, their top line.

One could make the same argument about a 4-2 loss in Buffalo on Dec. 19 and a 2-1 falter in Montreal two weeks before. The top unit was largely stifled and the Bruins spilled one-goal leads on both of those nights, ultimately contributing to an iffy 11-10-0 road record and 11-7-0 divisional record to date.

It does not matter whether the hindrance has been a simply inexplicable frostbite, a genuine mental and/or psychological rut or a mixture of the two. Iginla, Krejci and Lucic need to concoct a quick cure to ensure a turnaround in Boston’s fortunes.

The immediate future is not going to take it easy on anybody as the Bruins are hitting the road for Dallas on Thursday and Chicago on Sunday. They will promptly follow that with a Monday matinee at home against the defensively regal Kings.

Those games will provide more than an opportunity for a do-over. They offer a chance to put a "fluke" label on this slump in the most convincing fashion and instill better habits away from home, where the Bruins shall play 20 of their 35 remaining games.

Once playoff seeds are being cemented and the postseason itself gets underway, the Bruins will need the Lucic-Krejci-Iginla unit to pilot their ensemble offense against reckonable, divisional opponents at home and on the road alike.

With Krejci’s recent history of saturating the scoresheets in the 2011 and 2013 playoffs, there is not necessarily much cause for worry on that front. Likewise, the aging Iginla and the hulking, hustling Lucic can benefit from next month’s Olympic respite and have ample energy for the homestretch.

None of that, however, excuses the three from setting a tone in the here and now, especially with the hole they are leaving open during a team-wide downturn. They need to restore their rhythm and get back to gratification no later than the upcoming long weekend.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com

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