The Boston Bruins have had a spectacular unofficial first half of the season, compiling a 31-14-2 record for 64 points, a division lead, and second best record in the Eastern Conference, behind only the New York Rangers. In recent weeks however, amid a rash of suspensions, injuries, controversies, and playing five games in seven days, the Bruins have sputtered into the All Star break like an old car in need of a tune up.
Most recently, goalie Tim Thomas decided not to join the team attending President Barack Obama’s invitation to the White House to congratulate the Bruins on winning the Stanley Cup. Thomas’ decision has created a barnstorm of opinions from politicians and fans alike. Some people praise Thomas for standing up for his rights and beliefs. Others criticize him for letting his team down and being unpatriotic.
Either way, with that heavy decision starting to weigh on his mind, did it affect Thomas’ play in recent weeks? The numbers can say that it did. Through his first 22 starts, Thomas had not given up more than three goals in a game, but in his last eight starts he gave up 4 goals or more on four separate occasions. And in his last four starts, Thomas has a save percentage of just .891, far off his season average of .933. Hopefully now, with the Presidential visit behind the Bruins, and Thomas off to the All-Star festivities, Thomas can focus more on playing hockey.
During game three of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome hit Bruins forward Nathan Horton seconds after Horton dished off a pass. The hit was deemed late and high, and Rome was suspended for the remainder of the finals. Horton was left laying on the ice in front of a stunned Boston crowd, later to be diagnosed with a severe concussion. Horton missed the remainder of the series, as well. When Horton returned at the beginning of the year, fans were excited. He was after all, a playoff hero, scoring series winning goals against the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. Not to mention the pouring of Boston water onto the ice in Vancouver before Game 7 of the finals. Although it took a while for Horton to really get going this year (possibly due to concussion recovery), in recent games he showed great emotion and was starting to play really well, netting three goals in two games against the Lightning and New Jersey Devils on January 17th and 19th. Against the Philadelphia Flyers on the 22nd, Horton was hit by Flyer forward Tom Sestito in a manner similar to Aaron Rome’s hit months before. Ironically, Sestito is from Rome, NY. Horton has been diagnosed with a mild concussion so hopefully, the break in the action will give Horton a little extra time to recover without missing many games.
On January 7th, in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch between the Bruins and Canucks, late in the second period, Bruins forward Brad Marchand hit Canucks defenseman Sammy Salo low near the knees. As Salo closed in on Marchand along the boards, the pesky forward ducked, sending Salo flipping over Marchand’s back landing awkwardly on the ice. Marchand got a five-minute major penalty for clipping and the subsequent powerplay was vital for the Canucks to gain the 4-3 victory. Salo was later diagnosed with a concussion and missed some time, but has recently returned to game action. The league deemed Marchand’s hit to be illegal and suspended him for five games.
In a recent game against the New York Rangers on January 21st, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference hit Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh into the boards. Ference received a five-minute major penalty for charging and later received a three game suspension from the league. McDonagh was taken off the ice, later saying the wind was knocked out of him, and did not miss any more games. The penalty led to an overtime goal for the Rangers.
After the Marchand incident the Bruins organization and Marchand said they will not change the way they play. But once again, lets look at the numbers. The Bruins were 23-3-1 leading up to the Vancouver game. During Marchand’s suspension, the Bruins played sub-par hockey, seemingly just going through the motions on the way to a 3-2-0 record. The losses were to the Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, both teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. In a win over the Winnipeg Jets, the Bruins played sloppy for two periods, but scored three goals in the third period for a 5-3 win. When Marchand returned, the Bruins played a terrible first two periods against the New Jersey Devils, mustering up just 12 shots on goal. In the third period, the Bruins once again turned on the afterburners and exploded for four goals for the win. The following game after that was the 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers that had the Ference incident. The two games after that with Ference out of the lineup, the Bruins were 1-1, but gave up five goals in each game, including back to back hat tricks to Scott Hartnell of the Flyers and Mathieu Perreault of the Washington Capitals. Ference still has one game to serve in his suspension.
November and December were great months for the Bruins as they laid waste to everyone in front of them. January however, has been one to forget. Between the suspensions, controversy and losing their first line winger, the Bruins may be able to regroup during the current All Star Break. We’ll see what February has in store.