Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Slump? Rut? Inevitable Rough Patch? or Something Worse?

So here were are. It's March 11th. The Bruins have 14 games left in the regular season, and they're in their worst stretch of the season. Of that we are sure. But the bigger question is, why? They're 3-6-1 over their last 10 games. They've now lost 5 of their last 6. This despite some decent performances from the majority of the roster.

So what gives? Is it the goaltending? yes and no. Manny Fernandez may have turned in his worst performance as a Bruin against the Rangers. And we all know that's saying a lot.

He turned what probably should have been a 4-3 Bruins win into a 4-3 loss to the Rangers. As Pierre McGuire said during the NBC telecast of that fiasco "you simply can not with goaltending like that" I couldn't agree more. For some reason Manny has simply lost all confidence. He was starting to play pretty well for awhile, then the wheels fell off in a hurry (you can trace it back to the loss against Ottawa when he stormed off the ice after giving up the winning goal in OT)

I would like to think that it would take more than that game to make a veteran goalie lose his confidence so completely. I'm sure it wasn't JUST that game, but it appears to be the tipping point. Thomas turned in a fine performance last night against Columbus. He battled as always, but he was also seemingly always in the right position, a sure sign that he is seeing the game well right now. You can't blame any of the recent losses on Timmy. He can't put up zeros every night, and he can't score goals. What I wish he WOULD do, is carry a spare mask at all times. Once again last night, he got hit and his mask broke. Forcing him into wearing Manny's for a stretch (bad mojo aside, a goalie more than any other athlete is "in tune" with and more comfortable with their equipment. Any change is bad thing) Sure enough, he finally cracks and surrenders a goal while wearing Manny's (cursed) mask. You could just see it coming.

What about the defense? Well, the D has been....interesting lately to say the least. They've shown flashes of their dominance, but don't seem as committed for a full 60 minutes as they need to be. The physical play has come in spurts, but consistency is lacking in a big way. For whatever reason, they don't seem to be moving the puck out of their end nearly as crisply as they are capable of. That has been a huge part of their success this year, and something they need to get back in their game ASAP. Of course that's easier said than done. I think the jury is still out on how all the competition for playing time will pan out. Now, I'm a huge fan of Julien's philosophy of earning your ice time. I think having extra legitimate NHL defensemen on the roster is a good thing. It should push everyone that much more to earn their spot in the line-up. On the down side, I wonder if the added pressure hurts younger guys, specifically Hunwick. His (Hunwick's) versatility, while certainly as asset, may also work to his disadvantage. He's a young guy that now spends half of his practices as a defenseman, and half as a forward on several different lines. Could he in the long run be running into a "jack of all trades, master of none" type situation? Could be, but for the time being the positives of his flexibility outweigh the negatives by far. Julien's juggling of the D-pair combo's seemed short-lived last night, but I love the thought of breaking up the under-sized pair of Wideman and Ferrence. Not sure if I love Wideman being paired with Chara, but it's worth a shot to see how everyone gels.

Well then, it HAS to be the forwards.....right? Yes it is. And well, then again, no it isn't. The forwards, just like the D have been inconsistent (which may be being kind). They haven't put together three solid periods in a game in ages. Every one of them seems to be in the classic "gripping the stick too tight" mode right now. The young guys like Wheeler seemed to have hit that proverbial "wall" we hear so much about. While the vets like Savard and Ryder just can't seem to buy a break. But breaks come from hard work, and they're simply not giving enough of it on a shift to shift basis.

Wheeler's night in the press box seems to have done him a world of good. He's skating harder and playing to his size much better since the one game break.

Kessel has had much more of an "edge" to his game lately as well. And I give him huge credit for coming back into the game last night. The way he left after smacking into the boards, I assumed he was done....for awhile. He sure looked to be in pain for the rest of the night, but he gutted it out. Say what you want about him, but he is a pretty tough kid. He did miss practice today, so we'll see if he's able to bounce back now that the adrenaline isn't pumping.

Krejci... I don't know what to make of at this point. He has incorporated some edginess and grit into his game of late. But that almost seems to be the result of frustration, rather than of a n acknowledgement that physical play is a requirement. I was really hoping that the tough angle (lousy) goal he scored the other night would open the floodgates for him. After he scored it, there was literally a noticeable change in his posture and demeanor on the ice. Like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. He clearly is pressing and trying too hard. If he goes back to having some fun, I think he'll be fine.
Savard is frustrating to watch lately. last night's game a great example of it. He made several great defensive plays, picking off careless Bluejacket passes. But then he committed many of the same type of bad plays. He's always been a high risk type player, with a penchant for blind passes. Lately his success rate with those has been awful. When a team is struggling to score goals, it can't afford to keep giving up possession of the puck.

Ryder, I thought was back on track after his 2 goal game last week. So much for that. Now it's not uncommon for him to have 1 or 2 shots per game, if that. He's a sniper, he needs to be shooting the puck. But in order to shoot it, he has to get himself in better positions to do so.

Lucic is starting to come around a bit. At least his physical play is starting to show up more often. He's not exactly as intimidating as he had been, but it's coming. Hopefully his health is improving, and his game will follow.
Without going through every player on the roster, you can apply parts of everything written above to every player on the team. So where does that leave us? In a pretty decent spot I think. Nothing I've mentioned above has anything to do with talent or a lack thereof. It is all correctable and in the players hands. All they have to do is look at themselves in the mirror and make an honest assessment of their play. As long as nobody thinks they're giving everything they have on every shift, and sets out to do something about it, they'll be fine.

They have the talent to win. They're a young team that has hit a rough patch. It's now up to the veterans on the team to get the ball rolling in the right direction again. Up front, Ryder, Savard, Recchi, Axe, Thornton, yelle, Kobasew and Bergeron to lead the way. On D, Chara Ward and Montador have to set the tone. Keep it simple and punish the other team at every turn.
In net, Timmy just has to keep playing as he has been. He'll have to make some big stops to keep the boys in some games until they get things fixed, but I don't see that being a problem. But Timmy can't play the rest of the games and be expected to be fresh for the playoffs. Manny HAS to get his head together, and quick. And to be honest, I wouldn't be totally against seeing him sit and Tuuka Rask getting a couple starts instead. All year I've been a proponent of having Manny around as a playoff backup. But I think I'm at the point now, where I'd feel better with a confident rookie instead of a frazzled veteran stepping in if Thomas were to go down (perish the thought).

So Bruins fans, step back from the ledge. Things are always darkest before the dawn, right? The team didn't suddenly forget how to play the game. They just need a few breaks to go their way, get everyone healthy again and they'll find their confidence again. And who knows, it could come back at just the right time. Playoffs will be here before you know it. Go B's-Kynch

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