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Atlantic Division notebook

Bruins struggling to score goals; Maple Leafs in playoff mix

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

In one respect, the Boston Bruins have remained remarkably consistent. Throughout the 2016-2017 season, they have been near the top of the NHL in shots per game. The problem is that, until recently and again on Monday, the Bruins weren't converting many of them. Not nearly enough to be considered an elite team.

That was what led Bruins general manager Don Sweeney to tell the Boston Globe in the first week of January, "You can look at shooting percentages and say, 'Well, eventually it's going to come along.' It doesn't come around if you miss the net. The amount of times that we do, I think is a real problem.

"We have a tendency, even in quality chances, whether that's picking corners or not making the goaltender make the save and creating a rebound as a result. Getting to rebounds, that's another one I'd like to question. We don't give ourselves a chance on either side of it. You miss the net, you don't give yourself a chance at a rebound. We get a rebound, do we have the conviction to go in there and get them?"

Over the 10 days after those comments, the Bruins' goals per game had been creeping up, with 22 goals in a six-game stretch before Monday, when Boston was shut out in a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders. The Bruins had raised their goals per game from 2.34 to 2.50, before falling back to 2.45. Even though it's better, it's far from where they want to be, 24th in the NHL.

"Sometimes you need a little bit of luck, sometimes you need some breaks, and sometimes you just need to line up your shot a little bit better and things are starting to go in more," coach Claude Julien said before the disappointment against the Islanders.

That might be best epitomized by the play of defenseman Torey Krug, who scored in three consecutive games from Jan. 10 to 14 after entering that stretch with one goal on 121 shots this season for a 0.8 shot percentage. Over the recent stretch, he scored three goals on nine shots. That is not a sustainable pace, but it was an important bounce.

Not that he was concerned.

"I don't read into the shooting percentage," Krug said. "I think it's a garbage stat at times because I'm taking so many shots up at the point, my main job is just get it to the net and hopefully someone tips it or creates a rebound. I'm not always looking to shoot to score."

But that brings up the point that the Bruins have not been able to, in general, get those tips or those rebounds or those goals in close. Or, at least, not enough of them. The majority of their shots have been coming from long distance, with Boston ranked No. 24 in the League in average shot distance from goal, according to Corsica Hockey.

"That's a good question," forward Patrice Bergeron said, when asked about the Bruins' lack of finish. "I think it's one of those things where every game we probably generate close to 40 shots a game, so maybe those shots are not always coming from the dangerous area. We have to get more there.

"But that being said, I think we're doing a lot of good things, generating chances and shots and it's about us bearing down and I think the second and third chances, opportunities around the net, are huge. Teams are doing a good job now of boxing guys out. It's about fighting to get there."

Video: PHI@BOS: Bergeron snaps home a power-play goal

There was more fight in those areas of late. But there wasn't on Monday, when the Bruins had 32 shots on goal and failed to score.

"People can call it bad luck. You can also look at, yeah, maybe not all those shots are coming from a prime scoring opportunity area," Krug said. "But we think our game is solid and if you continue to play that way and you continue to get shots on net, the talent level in this locker room, I think the goals will start to come."


Maple Leafs in mix

Things are getting a little tighter in the Eastern Conference, after the Metropolitan Division opened up a wide margin in the standings earlier this season. That leaves the door open for potentially four Atlantic Division teams to make the playoffs, which would be a boon for a division that includes intriguing teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Maple Leafs, in particular, have positioned themselves well. Toronto sits behind the Montreal Canadiens and Bruins in the Atlantic with 48 points, three behind Boston. But the Maple Leafs have six games in hand on the Bruins and four in hand on the Canadiens (60 points).

Video: TOR@NJD: Maple Leafs strike twice in 35 seconds

If the Maple Leafs continue their current pace, they'll finish the season with 96 points, something few people likely saw coming entering the season.

"We're maturing at a pretty rapid pace," said Maple Leafs rookie forward Auston Matthews after a 4-2 win at the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. "Early this season we definitely folded in these types of games, but now we're building it up. We're definitely coming out with confidence. We're playing the right way. We're being able to get these very important points."


Stat pack

Bergeron has been off his pace in terms of goals scored this season, with nine in 44 games one year after scoring 32 in 80 games. But there's one place in which his pace is ahead of almost anyone: game-winning goals. Of those nine goals, five of them are game-winners. That puts him tied for sixth in the NHL, but he is the only player in the top seven in that category - players with five or more - who has fewer than 14 goals this season. Bergeron's career high is seven game-winners, set in 2013-2014. … While the Columbus Blue Jackets have been rolling with a well-publicized 26.0 percent conversion rate on the power play, the Maple Leafs' rate isn't far off at 23.8, ahead of the Lightning (23.3 percent).


Games to watch

Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens (Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, RDS, ROOT, NHL.TV) -- Two of the best teams in the East meet for this Wednesday night matchup in a rematch of a New Year's Eve game that featured a last-minute comeback and overtime win by the Penguins.

Florida Panthers at Edmonton Oilers (Jan. 18, 9:30 p.m. ET; SN1, FS-F, NHL.TV) -- There aren't many opportunities to see one of the best of the current generation of players and one of the best of the previous generation on the same ice, but that will happen when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Jaromir Jagr and the Panthers.

New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs (Jan. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET; TSN4, MSG) -- The high-flying Rangers take on the high-flying Maple Leafs in a game that is sure to offer goals aplenty.

Chicago Blackhawks at Boston Bruins (Jan. 20, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, SN1, TVAS, NESN, CSN-CH, NHL.TV) -- It's been four years since the Blackhawks and Bruins played against each other in the Stanley Cup Final, but they continue to have a respect for each other - and an always entertaining race for the Selke Trophy between Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron.

Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs (Jan. 25, 7 p.m. ET; SN, FS-D, NHL.TV) -- These teams played a wildly entertaining game at the Centennial Classic on New Year's Day, one that Toronto won in overtime. Here's hoping the rematch will be similarly eventful.

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