That the Boston Bruins defeated the Florida Panthers last night is surprising to very few. The Bruins are coming off a season in which they were two wins away from a Stanley Cup, while the Panthers were near the bottom of the league. What is surprising, though, is that the Bruins won by the skin of their teeth, giving up a two goal lead before winning 3-2 on Reilly Smith‘s goal in the final minute.
Points are always great, but the Bruins should hardly be patting themselves on the back for this win, or for their early season performance as a whole. Of their four wins, only their 4-1 thumping of the Detroit Red Wings on October 5 could be considered a convincing victory. They were just OK against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the season opener, and took advantage of some sloppy play from the Columbus Blue Jackets last Saturday. Last night’s victory started off looking lopsided, with Boston taking a 2-0 lead early. However, the Panthers clawed their way back into the game, and had the Bruins on their heels until Smith’s late tally.
For many Bruins fans, last night’s game looked pretty familiar. The blown leads, the lack of urgency and, despite a Dougie Hamilton goal on the man advantage, a shoddy looking power play. All things we saw last spring during the Bruins’ mind-numbing slump.
To be fair, this is a game Boston loses if it were last March, most likely on a really sloppy play. That said, these mistakes that occurred last season and more than a few times early on this year are unpleasant sights for the Bruins faithful.
The team is also seeing low results from a few of their star players. While players such as Chris Kelly and newcomer Loui Eriksson have started to make an impact, Patrice Bergeron sits with just one goal so far. David Krejci, who dominated last postseason, has yet to put the puck in the net. Resident goon Brad Marchand has one goal, but was recently demoted to the third line. Free agent pickup Jarome Iginla has been doing everything he can to net a goal, but is coming up empty so far.
One of the more troubling issues is the lack of physical play. Bruising, hit-filled hockey is what Boston prides itself on. However, save for a couple fights here and there, the team isn’t really instilling fear in their opponents just yet. To be fair, teams like the Panthers, Lightning and Blue Jackets aren’t exactly rivals, so it may be tough to get physically engaged. However, many of the Bruins players deliver their best results when they get in the faces of the opposing team.
For someone like Marchand, that’s exactly what he needs. Last postseason, he thrived when he started chirping at the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. He barely agitated any of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, which would explain why he had no goals in those series.
Inexplicably, the power play has been an issue for years now. Yes, they scored a power play goal last night in Florida. But they also had a four minute man advantage later in the game, which they hardly even attempted to cash in.
Boston has only played six games, so there’s no need to hit the panic button yet. Eriksson and Iginla are still in the feeling out process, and the hope is that, once they’ve gelled with their new lines, the team will look better as a whole.
At the same time, we’ve seen these types of performances from the Bruins before. Calling them productive would be an insult to productivity. Boston has to take advantage of the fact that weaker teams, such as the Panthers and Lightning, are on their calendar multiple times this year thanks to the recent realignment. Just barely surviving against Florida is no way to handle this situation.
Again, there’s no need to freak out about the Bruins early season lull yet. There’s still 76 games left, plenty of time to get back on course. However, you can’t blame the fans for freaking out when they see reminders of just how unbearable last spring was to watch. Its up to Boston to reassure them that there’s no need to worry.