Black 'N Gold Rush: Boston Bruins Still Finding Ways to Remain Relevant

Will NortonCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2008

Here we are, 42 games into the NHL season, and the Bruins are still alive.

That’s right, a team with virtually no firepower, several key injuries, and a seemingly disconnected fan base is still hanging around in the Eastern Conference, entering tonight’s game against Montréal as the seventh seed in the conference. 

To avid and attentive hockey fans, these Bruins are starting to make their mark. A team that in the season’s first quarter looked more lucky than good is now starting to resonate as a unit capable of playing playoff-caliber hockey. Several notable hockey analysts declared just last week that the Bruins have left lasting impressions on several opponents as a tough, disciplined, and hard-working bunch.
Even amidst the ridiculous success of the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics, the Bruins are starting to garner, at the very least, some respect in Beantown again.
Zdeno Chara has blossomed in his second season as a Bruin, earning a starting spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. He has anchored a defensive unit that is much improved from years past. Let there be no mistake about it—this is a defensively minded team that tries to limit what their opponent can do between the blue lines. Offensively, they are an opportunistic bunch who thrives only when all the intangibles are in order.
Statistically speaking, this just isn’t a team that scares most club. Marc Savard leads the team in points with just 44. Chuck Kobasew—a player that perhaps best personifies this scrappy, over-achieving bunch—leads the team with just 14 goals. Despite having the league’s sixth best Power Play, the Bruins are in the bottom 10 of the league in team scoring, and the bottom five in penalty kill percentage.

So how are they doing it? Why is this team competing as well as they are?

The play of Tim Thomas is a huge reason why the Bruins are situated in the position of  playoff contender. Thomas has been absolutely outstanding,—especially given the fact that Manny Fernandez was supposed to carry the load in net this year for the black and gold.

But with Fernandez out for the year with an injury, Thomas (and Alex Auld, when Thomas went down) has kept this team alive and breathing. Thomas has the eighth-best GAA and the best save percentage in all of hockey. The long-time journeyman netminder has been a blessing for a team that often times needs other-worldly goalie play to get two points on any given night.

Look no further than the Bruins 4-3 win over New Jersey last week as a blueprint of how this team has stayed afloat. Outshot 45-25, the Bruins found a way to win—thanks to Thomas’ ridiculous play in net, the ability of their forwards to win face-offs and out-hit New Jersey’s wingers, and some opportunistic goal scoring.
On the flip side, their latest loss to Carolina serves as a microcosm for how tentative and one-dimensional this team can be some nights. The Bruins lost at home, 1-0, and couldn’t muster up any firepower against a struggling Hurricanes squad.
A bad week and the Bruins could plummet right out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and be looking up at teams with undoubtedly more talent and depth at nearly every position.
A stretch of bad play between December 18th and 29th, when the Bruins stopped doing the little things that have gotten them this far, showed how little room for error this unit has. They gained one point in six games, and got out-worked and out-classed nightly.
This team cannot forget what’s gotten them here. They simply don’t have the talent to make up for mental mistakes and sloppy puck possession in their own end.
With half of the year left to play, this Bruins fan could see the boys on Causway St. finishing anywhere between the fourth and tenth spots in the East. Success hinges on these little things, and the continued health and production of the team's irreplaceable players: Thomas, Chara, and Savard.
Getting Patrice Bergeron back late in the season would be a huge plus, but don’t count on it. Likewise, a significant move by GM Peter Chiarelli for some offensive firepower would likely boost the team’s confidence and potency in the offensive end a great deal.
But the Bruins upper management has a history of staying still during the trade deadline. I don’t believe this year will be any different. Chiarelli values the development of his young ones and has taken a small-market, cost-effective approach with past transactions. Nothing points to him changing that philosophical approach now and making a big deal at the deadline.
The Bruins simply must focus on grinding out wins with the roster they have. Adhering to Claude Julien’s defensive scheme and the continued dominance of Tim Thomas are two things that will help their playoff push greatly.
But at the very least, this is a team you can get behind due to their workman-like approach to the game and their over-achiever status.

It’s something we haven’t seen in the Hub of Hockey for a few years now. Let’s see how far it carries them…