What we learned: Bruins bounce back from goalie woes, losing streak
What we learned: Bruins bounce back from goalie woes, losing streak
Here’s what we learned over the last four games for the Boston Bruins as they endured a rough three-game losing streak, but ended it with an important 1-0 shutout win over the Detroit Red Wings.
1. They need Rask
The “trade Tuukka Rask” crowd needs to sit out the next few plays. If it wasn’t plainly obvious that the Bruins desperately needed their No. 1 goaltender before, then it is now after watching the Bruins try to piece together their goalie situation with Rask battling a lower body injury, and Anton Khudobin out three weeks with an injured right hand that was in a cast at TD Garden last week. The 24-save performance in Saturday night’s win over the Red Wings was a strong one for Rask where he didn’t falter with zero margin for error with the Black and Gold. The Bruins are 4-0-0 with Rask healthy and ready to play this season, and the Finnish netminder has a 1.25 goals against average and a .958 save percentage. Without Rask, the Bruins are 0-4-0 with a 3.60 goals against average and a .818 save percentage between Khudobin, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre. Khudobin wasn’t nearly good enough in losses to the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, Subban is a first round bust in the making unless he makes a major turnaround in his fourth pro season and McIntyre looks like he might potentially be backup material after he gets some further development time in the AHL. But for this Bruins team with a very thin group of forwards up front and a mistake-prone group of defensemen, they need a capable, sometimes dominant No. 1 goalie. Rask has been that and then some while giving the rest of his B’s teammates that boosted confidence when he’s between the pipes. That’s something that can’t be found in any goaltender off the street, and there aren’t more than 10-15 goalies in the league that have that ability like Rask to play a heavy schedule while maintaining a high level of performance. It might be time for some around the Bruins to simply appreciate how good Rask really is, understand that he looks primed for a big rebound year as long as he can stay in one piece and start to forget about how last year ended.
2. Krejci coming around
David Krejci is finally beginning to look like himself, and that’s a welcome sign for the Black and Gold. The offense is still pretty one-dimensional right now with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron helping to provide steady pressure from Boston’s top line, and the fourth line occasionally kicking in a goal as they did with the Tim Schaller game-winner on Saturday night against the Wings. But the second and third lines have done virtually nothing all season, and that’s taking a toll on all of the other areas of the hockey club. It’s also a bit of a shock for a Bruins team that was top-5 in team offense last season, and was clearly banking on its goal-scoring being just as prodigious this season as well. Krejci created some offensive chances for his teammates – most notably the backhanded saucer pass to Austin Czarnik for a one-timer that forced a save from Jimmy Howard – but he’s still looking for his own offense after he didn’t get a single shot on net in his nearly 20 minutes of ice time. But Krejci was dominant with a 16-for-25 performance in the face-off circle, controlled the pace of play when he was on the ice with the puck on his stick and is beginning to resemble the No. 46 that’s been so dominant as a frontline center for the last 10 years. He’ll need to be that guy as long as Ryan Spooner and Czarnik are the two smaller, speedier players on the wings with him, but at least it looks like his game might be coming around. The Bruins can’t survive without Bergeron and Krejci as the two frontline players around which everything else flows and revolves.
3. Earth to Hayes and Beleskey
Time for Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey to show up. Beleskey had three shots on net in the Saturday night win over Detroit, and has begun to show signs that he’s close to snapping out of his offensive funk. The same can’t really be said for Hayes, who managed a shot on net and hasn’t really justified his place on the B’s second power play unit to this point in the season. Combined they have zero points on the entire season, and have managed a combined 25 shots on net in 16 games. They’ve also combined for a minus-14 mark on the season that tells you the third line hasn’t accomplished anything offensively, and is getting dinged for goals as they can’t hold the puck in the offensive zone. Clearly it’s been a challenge with rotating centers on the line: Austin Czarnik started the season as their center, Ryan Spooner has been there for a game and Riley Nash has been there for the second half of the eight game stretch to start the season. But that’s no excuse for a couple of big-bodied power plays that should be able to get to the front of the net and coax in a greasy goal every once in a while. It’s time for both of these players to wake up, step up and begin shouldering their share of the offensive burden for a team that needs all hands on deck. There are plenty of players that have played far below expectations to this point in the season for the Black and Gold, and Hayes and Beleskey are certainly in that category.
Plus: Austin Czarnik
Austin Czarnik scored the first goal of his NHL career in the loss to the New York Rangers last week, and finished that up with a couple of shots on net in 14:48 of ice time in Saturday night’s win over the Red Wings. He’s playing with the speed and tenacity that he showed prior to getting the concussion from Radko Gudas at the end of the preseason, and he’s managed to survive well enough while playing the wing rather than center. He looks like he wants to stay in Boston at this point, and that’s a good thing.
Plus: Tuukka Rask
Tuukka Rask showed just how valuable he was to the Bruins when he was out, and then sucked it up through an injury that’s still bugging him while posting a 24-save shutout against the Red Wings. Rask is showing everything he didn’t last season while struggling behind a suspect defense, and stands as the one thing that the Bruins can really rely on right now. They need to keep his legs healthy and functional right now.
Plus: Tim Schaller
Tim Schaller posted the first goal of his Bruins career in the win over the Red Wings, and has been a nice combination of toughness, energy and occasional offense on a fourth line that needs all of those things along with his good straight-line speed. Schaller didn’t get much of a chance to make an impression after he was injured for most of training camp, but he’s made up for it when it mattered most in the regular season.
Minus: Torey Krug
One shot on net in 22:01 of ice time for Torey Krug, who has zero points in eight games this season while serving as Boston’s best offensive defenseman over the last couple of years. Look no further than the struggles of Krug and David Krejci when wondering why the B’s power play has struggled so badly this season.
Minus: Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey
As mentioned above, Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes haven’t done anything to positively help the Bruins this season. To make matters worse Beleskey took the key interference penalty that led to the game-winning power play goal for New York in the loss to the Rangers. It’s at a point where one of them, and perhaps both players, should be yanked from the power play until they can actually do something productive on the ice.
Minus: Power play
The Bruins are dead-last in the NHL in power play production while scoring at a 7.1 percent clip (2-for-28) this season. Some of that is David Backes’ absence, some of that is a guy like Jimmy Hayes playing an important role on the second unit and some of it is about the slow starts to the season for David Krejci and Torey Krug. But the power play is drawing momentum away from the Bruins, and they need to find a way to get better despite all these detractors.