The Boston Bruins have a certain reputation for toughness. They’re known as the Big Bad Bruins, after all. They can hit, intimidate and drop the gloves. Right off the top of my head, I can name at least four Bruins who have fought before and do it with a degree of regularity–which is to say that the list does not include players like David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron, for whom a fight happens once in a blue moon and is considered very unusual when it does.
But lately it feels like the Bruins aren’t being as tough as they could be. No one in a Spoked B has engaged in a fight since Feb. 10, when Gregory Campbell took on Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres. Shawn Thornton is probably being more careful these days after he got a concussion from fighting John Scott. Lane MacDermid fought the same guy twice on Feb. 2, but he isn’t really a permanent member of the Boston roster yet. Adam McQuaid and Milan Lucic haven’t fought since January.
Thornton has a good reason to be more fighting-averse, but it’s been proven–in past Bruins games, no less–that sometimes a little physicality can turn the tide of a stagnant game in the direction of the Black and Gold. As shown above, he’s not the only guy on the roster capable of dropping the gloves, either. Considering that there have been times recently when the team has needed to play an excellent third period just to come back and get the win, a bit of fisticuffs could be a helpful spark for everyone and prevent the need for nerve-wracking third period comeback attempts.
But the physical presence hasn’t come. By the time the Bruins play their next game, it will have been exactly two weeks since Campbell’s fight. It’s not 100 percent equal to compare this season to the 2011-12 campaign since this one is half as long, and February 2012 was a thoroughly forgettable month for Boston, but even in that month, there were eight bouts and sometimes more than one in a single game. By contrast, there have been just three fights in February 2013 so far.
Fighting isn’t the only area in which the Bruins haven’t been as tough as they could be, though. They are routinely out-hit by their foes, even if they do go on to win the game. Consider their five most recent games.
Against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Lightning out-hit them 27 to 22. The Winnipeg Jets out-hit them 25 to 21. The Buffalo Sabres were able to beat the Bruins at their own game and out-hit them 23 to 14. When playing the New York Rangers, they were pretty evenly-matched in terms of hits. In the earlier 3-1 win over the Sabres, the Bruins executed exactly 10 fewer hits, 25 to 15.
In that five-game sample, the Bruins played with a lead in two of them, but won three of them in the end.
Perhaps that is why, despite the team putting up their best 10-game start ever, despite Brad Marchand leading in goals, despite the good offensive work of many players on the roster, despite both Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin playing well except for a few blemishes here and there, the Bruins don’t feel quite right yet. It’s the physicality. The toughness has been diminished somewhat when I know it could be at a higher level than it is right now.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll start to bring the physical presence back into the fold in these upcoming games. Or maybe they think they’re better off being out-hit and not dropping the gloves if they can manage to claw their way into wins no matter what. I’d greatly prefer the first option because it brings the team back in line with the image they have cultivated and taken pride in, so here’s hoping they bring back the hits and engage in fisticuffs when necessary.