The Boston Bruins have a real chance to win the Stanley Cup this season, and there will be absolutely no excuses if the front office stands pat and fails to make a significant upgrade or two to the roster.
Tuesday night's loss to the New York Islanders -- who are 4-0-0 versus the B's this season -- further proved that the Bruins must be ultra aggressive in pursuing a top-six forward addition before the April 12 NHL trade deadline.
Scoring depth is a potentially fatal weakness for the B's. Sound familiar? It should, this issue is arguably the biggest reason for their defeats in the last three Stanley Cup Playoff runs.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney wasn't even afraid to label a lack of secondary scoring as a "major concern" during a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.
"Well, not at the current rate that we’re going. Clearly, we’ve played well defensively in the last five games and such. We just haven’t generated – or finished I should say, inarguably. Five-on-five is just not where it needs to be to consistently win or to extend leads if you do get them," Sweeney said.
"It’s a concern across the board. Not so much about the top-heavy part of it. Just overall. I think that injuries have played a little bit of a factor there on the back end, but we’ve also as I’ve said, not given up that much. Goaltenders have played pretty well. So yeah, I think it’s a major concern for us."
Too many times this season -- and Tuesday's defeat was yet another example -- the Bruins rely heavily on their top line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to dominate puck possession, create scoring chances and find the back of the net.
Here's a look at the disparity between the four lines from Tuesday's 1-0 loss:
|Bruins lines 5-on-5 vs. Islanders||Shot Attempts For||Shot Attempts Against||SOG For||SOG Against||Scoring Chances For||Scoring Chances Against|
The Bruins are not having issues controlling puck possession. They rank No. 3 in the league in both shot attempt percentage and shots on net percentage during 5-on-5 action. The issue is they can't finish these scoring chances.
Boston ranks 27th in 5-on-5 goals scored, and of those 39 goals at 5-on-5, 22 of them were scored by Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak.
David Krejci still is a quality playmaker with 11 assists in 19 games, but he's scored zero goals. Jake DeBrusk has one goal in 17 games and was benched Tuesday. Charlie Coyle is a good third-line center but has three goals in his last 17 games. Craig Smith was signed to a three-year free agent contract to provide scoring depth, but he's scored two goals in his last 17 games. Sean Kuraly has two goals in 21 games. Anders Bjork has one goal in 22 games. Jack Studnicka has plenty of potential, but he's not a top-six forward at this stage of his career. Ondrej Kase has played in only two games because of injury.
One line scoring more than half of your 5-on-5 goals can get you through the regular season. It can even earn you a high seed in the postseason. But it's not good enough to lead a team to victory in a playoff series versus a top Stanley Cup contender.
Sweeney needs to make acquiring a top-six forward his No. 1 priority at the trade deadline. Someone like a Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators.
This season easily could be the last chance for the Bruins' veteran core to win a championship. Bergeron is 35 years old. Marchand is 32 years old. Krejci (UFA), Sean Kuraly (UFA), Kevan Miller (UFA), Nick Ritchie (RFA), Brandon Carlo (RFA), Tuukka Rask (UFA) and Jaroslav Halak (UFA) are all free agents this summer.
If there was ever a time to mortgage the future for a title run, it's right now. Just look at the ages and contract statuses of the players listed above. The uniqueness of this season's playoff format, and the fact the Bruins won't play a juggernaut like the Lightning until at least the third round, also strengthens the case for being aggressive at the trade deadline.
The Bruins have been excellent defensively this season. They rank No. 3 in shot attempts and shots on net against, and they've allowed the fifth fewest 5-on-5 goals. Boston is fourth in goals against per game at all strengths.
The team's recent slump has nothing to do with defense:
What the Bruins need is a scoring punch. Another top-six forward to bolster the second line and maybe finally give Krejci a reliable goal scorer to create chances for.
How many more championship opportunities is this Bergeron-led core going to have? It's a very small number. Sweeney and ownership must go big at the trade deadline and take advantage of this really good roster. If they don't, it could be a while before the Bruins are lifting the Stanley Cup again.