Boston Bruins

Feb 1, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy looks on from the bench against the Washington Capitals in the first period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins are a damn good team. Maybe even one of the best in the league.

They’re powered by one of the best lines in hockey, a strong goaltending tandem, and often find themselves mentioned as one of the more efficient teams in the league on both the penalty kill and power play.

Boston’s netminding tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak has been especially sharp in the last week plus, surrendering just one goal in five straight games, and posting a .962 save percentage over that run. But that five-game sample has come with just two wins and three losses, including a Tuesday night shootout loss on Long Island. Bruce Cassidy thought the Bruins did enough to win that game. He’s completely right, too.

The aforementioned pillars of this team’s success is what makes them elite. It’s been enough to help the Bruins overcome being without half their Opening Night defense corps, and help ’em stomach the offseason departures of a 14-year captain and top pairing defenseman, as well as a premier power-play quarterback.

But their fatal flaw remains a glaring, debilitating one: secondary scoring.

Year 800 of that struggle has already left too many points on the table for the suddenly fourth-place B’s. But the fight to find internal help below the first line and outside of the crease feels more hopeless than ever. Hyperbolic? Maybe. I’ve dabbled in it before. But the shots are once again staring us in the face and going wide.

Jake DeBrusk has been booted from the Boston 18 after scoring just one goal and posting a career-worst 2.9 shooting percentage through his 17 games of the season. Free agent addition Craig Smith has just one goal in his last 14 games. Charlie Coyle, in the first year of a contract worth over $30 million over the next six seasons, has found the back of the net in just two of his last 17 games. Anders Bjork, though primarily utilized in a fourth-line role, has complemented the offense with just one goal and one assist (and 10 shots on goal) in his last 15 games.

David Krejci, who was straight-up robbed of a power-play goal last night, remains without a goal on the year. Krejci is one of 241 NHL forwards to play at least 300 minutes this season. He’s one of five yet to score a goal.

(Imagine how they’d look if Nick Ritchie wasn’t playing the best hockey of his career?)

The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio, meanwhile, has scored 32 of the team’s 64 goals this year. Half. If that number holds, it would be their largest single-season share of the team’s scoring load since becoming a line.

That line has scored their 32 goals on 202 shots (a 15.8 percent), and the rest of the B’s have scored their 32 tallies on 525 shots (6.1 percent). There’s more than a few factors at play when it comes to that massive, massive, massive difference — the top-line trio is made up of three of the best players in the world, and gets a ton of offensive-zone work and power-play time — but the complete picture paints one of a rather limited attack.

Jan 18, 2018; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate a goal by Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) against the New York Islanders during the first period at the Barclays Center. (Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports)

Through 23 games, the Bruins rank 25th in goals for (2.12), 25th in expected goals for (2.02), 28th in high-danger chances for (8.57), and 28th in shooting percentage (6.99) per 60 minutes of five-on-five play. Their frequent neighbors in these categories? The Sabres, the Red Wings, and Predators. A true nightmare.

The common refrain is that the Bruins aren’t going to shoot and attack this poorly forever. Sure, but the Bruins also won a Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20 while ranking 28th in expected goals for (2.12) and 25th in high-danger chances for (9.73). They were a true middle pack of team in goals for (16th) and shooting percentage (15th), too. But we saw how that played out for ’em in the Toronto bubble. It was infuriating and awful as a more complete team, and one that added even more secondary firepower at the deadline, bodied them in five games.

Even when the Bruins made it to the Cup in 2019, they were 25th in high-danger chances per 60 and 26th in shooting percentage at five-on-five. The Bruins nearly got away with it, too, until a battered Bergeron Line went cold in the second half of the Stanley Cup Final while Karson Kuhlman became the B’s best option on line two.

This is what they are and what they have been. For years now. There’s no ‘law of averages’ here. Masked by a league-best layer of top-heavy production and special teams dominance, this has sneakily become the team’s norm.

Buying into these balance problems being over and done with the next time the B’s open up a six-pack on some unsuspecting goaltender seems Charlie Brown-esque.

And there’s no cavalry on the way to save the day. DeBrusk could snap out of his funk, but he hasn’t been himself for almost two calendar years now. 2020 deadline pickup Ondrej Kase hasn’t been seen since the second game of the season, and his Bruins career to date features zero goals in 19 total games. The Zach Senyshyn hype train is picking up steam in the minors, but he’s played just six NHL games.

If they’re the saviors, let’s just skip to the end because I’ve seen this movie before.

It’s a problem where everybody involved shoulders some of the blame, too.

Cassidy has tried about a hundred different combinations this year in search of the perfect balance. It’s yet to come. It’s fair to say that some of that may come back to his itchy trigger finger for jumbling it up when things aren’t working. That’s not always easy, and every player handles mid-game changes differently. At the same time, the production (or lack thereof) has often forced his hand there.

General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speaks during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speaks during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

B’s general manager Don Sweeney deserves criticism for making Craig Smith his lone priority of free agency. This was a buyer-friendly market and there was plenty of names that could’ve been had and would’ve looked good in Boston. It’s hard not to wonder what could’ve been had the Bruins also made Tyler Toffoli (15 goals in 24 games) or Mike Hoffman (seven goals and 18 points in 25 games) a priority. It gets downright maddening when you think about the potential of the Bruins potentially trading assets for one-time free agents like Taylor Hall this deadline.

And as outlined earlier, the players failing to deliver certainly deserve some blame. DeBrusk and Bjork, both with new contracts, have failed to take that next step in their progression. Coyle’s first year of his big-money extension is concerning in the sense that he’s been more Minnesota Coyle than Boston Coyle. And the frequent defensive-zone drowning from Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner has left the Bruins scrambling for other fixes.

It’s as infuriating as it is predictable, and the fact that this is still an issue is straight-up exhausting. The worst part isn’t even that it’s once again costing the Bruins either. There’s still another 33 games to go. It’s that until rectified, it’s the kind of flaw that’s going to put an inevitable ceiling on a team with the foundation to do so much more.

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