By Eric Converse
The first month of this season for the Boston Bruins has been a roller coaster for the players and it’s fans. Between multiple injuries, chronic changes to the line up, inconsistent performances in the first few weeks of October, and general discontent among a good portion of the fan base regarding the Johnny Boychuk trade, many fans were/are very concerned about the direction of the organization.
Opening night against the Philadelphia Flyers was an unconvincing 2 to 1 win, marred by an inconsistent transition game and generally loose play. It was opening night, so I personally gave them a pass. It was the first game of REAL hockey and the team was still adjusting to the recent trade to Johnny Boychuk and the sudden injury to David Krejci. The three games that followed, especially that 4-0 drubbing to the Washington Capitals, shook up a portion of the fanbase and shook up the roster.
Providence Bruins regulars Craig Cunningham and enforcer Bobby Robins were sent back down to the AHL due to the team’s slow start and the return of Gregory Campbell. As a fan of the Bobby Robins story and his blog, I was VERY excited to see him reach the NHL after all these years. Unfortunately he was a victim of both the slow start by the team as a whole and the growing trend around the league to put out a more skilled 4th line. The signing and placement of the aging Simon Gagne on the 4th line is an example of this trend.
Frustration is likely growing with the organization with Ryan Spooner being sent down to Providence again not even a full month in to the season. Coach Claude Julien continues to be unimpressed with Spooner’s defensive inconsistencies. He arguably could be better if he was placed at center on a consistent basis rather than being pushed to the wing, but that would just further expose his current defensive issues. For him to stick with Boston, it would help if he bulks up another 20 or so pounds to better handle the physicality of the NHL and the Bruins style of play.
The B’s play became more consistent with the return of David Krejci and Gregory Campbell, who of course provide the strong core down the middle and further stability to the make up of the 1st and 3rd lines. Now if being healthy was the only thing on the roster providing the team success in later October, The Bruins would not be on the current streak they are on now.
With the long term injury to Zdeno Chara and the recent injuries to Kevan Miller and Torey Krug, the defense core has become further exposed during a time they were trying to re-define themselves without Boychuk. Ironically, just before the season started, my last post discussed the significant depth the Bruins have at the defense position. Some disagreed, stating that having numerous borderline NHL players in Providence does not constitute having true depth.
Providence Bruins regulars Zach Trotman, David Warsofsky, and Joe Morrow have gone a long way in proving that they are competent NHL defensemen. Trotman and Morrow have been steady, generally making the critical first pass out of the defensive zone, along with Warsofsky exhibiting his Krug-esque foot speed. All of them are not without their rookie mistakes, but have demonstrated their ability to be on NHL rosters for a lot of other organizations without as much depth as the Bruins.
Of course, as mentioned during tonight’s broadcast by NESN color commentator Andy Brickley, a factor in the Bruins continued success is the structure provided by Claude Julien’s system. The Edmonton Oilers are the perfect antithesis to the Bruins, as their team has gone on a 4 game losing streak with the recent injuries to forward Taylor Hall and defenseman Andrew Ference. With less structure, more emphasis is placed on individual players to create and develop chemistry with line-mates, so changes to the line up creates havoc.
So, despite the bit of panic that went through Boston in the first few weeks of the season, the Bruins just wrapped up their 4th straight victory tonight defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5 to 2, placing them one point behind first place in the entire eastern conference. Phew!
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