Final Report Card for the Boston Bruins' 2013-14 Season

Al DanielCorrespondent IIMay 15, 2014

Final Report Card for the Boston Bruins' 2013-14 Season

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    The Boston Bruins looked like overachievers in the defining, deciding stretch of their 2013-14 regular season. As a consequence, they set themselves up to wear an underachiever label in the playoffs upon spilling a seven-game second-round series to Montreal to determine who would represent the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    A 3-1 falter on home ice in Wednesday's Game 7 magnified a missed opportunity to put the Canadiens away in Game 6 two nights prior. It will also serve to neutralize some of the flavor from the Bruins' preceding achievements.

    Virtually everything that precipitated the letdown is going to cost the team a few points across its report card. Just as springtime papers and tests carry more weight in high school and college courses, springtime performances tend to count a little more in the NHL. Although, that does not mean the plus points and the context of those accomplishments should be dismissed.

    As 2013’s losing Stanley Cup finalist, Boston entered this season facing the automatic challenge of warding off residual wear and tear. The middle of the journey featured the test of overcoming a multitude of key injuries, particularly on defense.

    The Bruins kicked ice chips over that adversity by finishing first overall in the league at 54-19-9. Their 117 total points eclipsed those of six Western Conference teams with triple-digit points. Part of that was because they went 18-4-6 against that conference.

    But those ice chips melted against Montreal. In turn, this particular construct of the Boston roster will not have a chance to test itself against the best of the West next month.

    With balanced priority to the buildup and breakup, here is a full evaluation of the Bruins in 2013-14.

     

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

Offense

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    The Bruins were one of three teams to tally more than three goals per night in the regular season. They averaged 3.15 to place third in the league, trailing only Anaheim and Chicago.

    Boston’s 1.53 five-on-five rate was easily the best in the NHL, eclipsing the runner-up Ducks, who retained a 1.39 rate.

    That output mirrored what this franchise has made commonplace in recent memory. The cause was likewise a characteristically balanced strike force.

    No individual reached the 70-point plateau, with David Krejci’s 69 leading the team. Nobody surpassed 30 goals, with Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla co-leading the Bruins in that column.

    In all, 10 skaters (eight forwards and two defensemen) cracked double digits under the goal heading. Had they not missed 25 and 10 games, respectively, depth strikers Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille would likely have joined that group. They both finished the regular season with nine.

    Offseason acquisition Loui Eriksson managed a 10-27-37 scoring log despite missing 21 games with separate concussion episodes. Other relatively new faces, such as Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg, emerged to fill in for those injured or, in Brad Marchand’s off-and-on case, slumping.

    But like virtually everything else that percolated the regular-season surge, the offense hit a speed bump in May. While Montreal goaltender Carey Price radiated when necessary, the Bruins did not test him enough.

    Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant led his Game 7 account by noting that Boston "scored 16 goals and hit 13 goal posts" against the Habs. Meanwhile, official event summary scoresheets counted a cumulative 81 wide shot attempts over the seven games.

    A little more timely authority and a little more finish would have granted the Bruins a little more hockey action in the coming weeks. 

    Grade: B

Defense

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    How daunting a task was it to fill Dennis Seidenberg’s skates when the 32-year-old blueliner suffered a season-ending ACL/MCL injury?

    Through 34 games played, Seidenberg was on the ice for a mere 26 opposing goals in 742 minutes and 29 seconds of ice time. That would translate to a 2.10 goals-against average on his part.

    Yet after he made his last appearance on Dec. 28, his allies went on to finish the regular season with a collective 2.08 GAA. They did most of that without another veteran in Adam McQuaid, who last played on Jan. 19.

    Only the Los Angeles Kings repressed opposing offenses better in 82 games, confining them to 2.05 strikes per night. St. Louis was a distant third with a 2.29 team GAA.

    Boston’s achievement on that front had a melting pot of explanations, hence Bergeron’s Selke Trophy candidacy and Zdeno Chara’s Norris nomination. Beneath that, one out-of-the-blue highlight was the emergence of midseason Providence call-up Kevan Miller.

    But there was still time for the blue-line brigade’s flaws and shortcomings to resurface in the playoffs. That happened when four first- or second-year NHLers played the majority of the second round and fatigue caught up to the likes of Chara.

    General manager Peter Chiarelli addressed the itch for veteran seasoning by acquiring Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter at the trade deadline. Those moves proved inadequate when Potter played one first-round playoff game and Meszaros stopped suiting up after Game 3 against Montreal.

    Turnovers, including 78 giveaways, and generally shoddy coverage defined countless key Canadiens goals. For that reason, Boston’s team defense could not crack the “A” range for the full scope of its 94 regular-season and playoff games.

    Grade: B+

Goaltending

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    Tuukka Rask was by no means perfectly consistent for the entire 2013-14 ride. In 26 appearances between the Oct. 3 season opener and a Dec. 14 venture to Vancouver, he posted a single-night save percentage of .903 or lower eight times.

    That was all before the injury bug began to bite the blue line. Afterward, Rask barely hovered above or dipped below .900 in 10 more regular-season games.

    With that being said, for every iffy performance on his game log, there were multiple gems. He confined the opposition to two goals a dozen times, allowed one goal in 19 games and posted seven shutouts.

    Teams that Rask restricted to that degree included such top-10 offenses as Anaheim, Chicago, Colorado, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. He allowed two goals or fewer an aggregate 13 times against those teams.

    Those performances lend the best context to Rask’s final regular-season record of 36-15-6, coupled with a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage.

    Save for one appearance by Niklas Svedberg, backup Chad Johnson carried the rest of the load. The veteran of merely 10 NHL games going into this season posted a 17-4-3 record with a 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage.

    In that context, some of Rask’s regular-season radiance is a credit to the system in front of him. But in the playoffs, he was the least of Boston’s detriments. The highlights of almost every Montreal game alone (but particularly the third, sixth and seventh) indicate that many of the 19 goals Rask allowed would not have happened if the skaters were more in sync.

    Grade: A-

Special Teams

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    Several new faces gave the Boston power play a facelift compared to the state it has been in since around the start of this decade. Four players in their first full-length season as Bruins—Iginla, Smith, Soderberg and Torey Krug—all tallied at least four man-up strikes and 14 power-play points.

    Krug’s proficiency as a point patroller and the towering Chara’s net-front presence brought almost instant gratification. The rookie and veteran blueliners combined to finish 10 power-play conversions alone within the first 34 games of the season.

    By season’s end, 12 different skaters had combined to insert 50 man-up goals. In the three previous 82-game seasons, the Bruins had buried 44 in 2009-10 and 43 in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

    Alas for them, that upward trend halted for the better part of the second round of the playoffs. Boston went silent on the power play against Montreal until clicking twice in Game 5 and once in Game 7.

    Meanwhile, the Canadiens cultivated eight strikes against Boston’s penalty kill, which took an inverse direction from the power play in 2013-14. At 83.6 percent (220-of-263) in the regular season, the Bruins' PK plunged from its 87.1 success rate in 2012-13.

    Hardly a reprehensible finish in that category, but short of outstanding.

    Grade: B+

Coaching

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    The 2013-14 Bruins never had a winless skid last longer than two games. Of their seven sets of consecutive shortcomings in the regular season, only three were pairs of regulation losses.

    After dropping a 4-2 decision against Washington on March 1, they went unbeaten for the balance of that calendar month (15-0-1). They went on a 12-game winning streak and swept five sets of back-to-back games in that stretch.

    This despite fielding a roster permeated with players who barely had three months to recharge in preparation for the season. This despite variously using 10 skaters as reinforcements from Providence as part of dealing with key injuries. This despite having five players and head coach Claude Julien involved in the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, during everyone else's respite.

    Resistance to easy excuses comes in no small part from coaching leadership that trickles down to the captains onward. Assimilating unripe newbies such as Miller for 47 games, Ryan Spooner for 23 and Matt Fraser for 14 is a product of employing a workable system and maintaining a welcoming locker room atmosphere.

    Managing malfunctioning sectors of a roster by, for instance, demoting Marchand amidst his early-season struggles is critical to salvaging team consistency. Julien and his colleagues did all of that for the better part of 2013-14.

    Julien did not quite garner a spot among the Jack Adams Award finalists. In addition, there needs to be a measure of accountability behind the bench for the lack of determination in those would-be closeouts of the Canadiens.

    Still, the pluses of the last seven-plus months overwhelmingly outweighed the minuses for Julien.

    Grade: A-

Overall

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    By exceeding their preseason expectations as the regular season progressed, the Bruins elevated their postseason expectations on the fly.

    Since 1992, only two reigning Stanley Cup runners-up have so much as made it back to their conference final the next year. Those were the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins.

    By the end of their prearranged 82-game itinerary, this year’s Bruins looked primed to join that exclusive company. The way they rapidly fostered so much youth on defense, in particular, suggested that getting past the divisional portion of the playoffs was a reasonable proposition.

    That proposition was within hooking distance when Boston stamped a 4-2 victory this past Saturday to raise a 3-2 upper hand in the second round. The Bruins proceeded to tally one solitary goal over the next 120 minutes of play, relinquishing the series to the Habs.

    Regardless of circumstances, investigative questions are an automatic occurrence when one team attains its third win first, only to lose a best-of-seven bout.

    A shortage of seasoning on defense definitely played a role in the defeat. If any of the Boston faithful had harbored a little apprehension about that in the 10 weeks between the trade deadline and Game 7, no one could blame them.

    But more assertion on the part of a fettered, frostbitten strike force could have cancelled that out for at least one extra round. Easy excuses (or explanations) such as residual fatigue, injuries and inexperience for some simply waited until the season-deciding moment to emerge.

    The straightforward database concludes that these Bruins had 54 regular-season and seven playoff wins in them. That is more than one could have logically expected going in. But they come out of their campaign emitting the unresolved impression that they should have had one or two more in them.

    Grade: B+