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Lack of production has Kaberle under microscope

by Shawn P. Roarke /
BOSTON -- It's hard to be a savior.

That is a lesson Boston defenseman Tomas Kaberle is learning this spring.

Obtained in late February, Boston hockey fans viewed his acquisition from the Maple Leafs as the final piece of a championship puzzle for their beloved Bruins -- a premiere puck-moving D who would help with Boston's transition game and jumpstart a power play that many viewed as a potential Achilles' heel.

In the eyes of many, Kaberle has failed miserably on both counts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The criticism has reached such volume that on Sunday afternoon, Boston coach Claude Julien admitted the rampant negativity was having an effect on Kaberle.

Monday, he went a step further as he tries to pull Kaberle out of the vicious cycle of subpar performance followed by intense recriminations in which the defenseman finds himself as the Bruins try to rebound from Saturday's Game 1 loss with a much stronger game in Tuesday's Game 2 at TD Garden.

"I think there's no doubt people have looked at him as a savior because their power play had been struggling," Julien said after Monday's practice, which featured a significant amount of work on the man-advantage units. "He's just a piece of the puzzle. And it's unfortunate, but there's the other guys on the power play had the responsibility to do the job, as well."

But while others may also deserve to share the blame, there is no denying Kaberle's decline has been stunning.

A top defenseman with Toronto for the past several seasons, he has been reduced to third-pair minutes on the Bruins. He's now averaging less than 14 minutes of even-strength duty per game and he has not played more than 20 minutes in a game since Game 5 against Montreal in the first round.

His statistical production is even more jarring. He has just 2 playoff points -- neither coming on the power play -- and had only 9 points in 24 regular-season games after reporting to Boston. This production coming from a player with 38 points in 58 games with the Maple Leafs this season and 45 or more points in five of the past six seasons.

"I think I can play better, obviously," Kaberle said Monday. "I would like to help my teammates more."

Yet for all his struggles, there is no denying his skills are world class.

"He sees that open guy and he can make the pass when you don't even see the open guy," defenseman Johnny Boychuk said, admitting he watches Kaberle regularly in an attempt to refine his developing offensive game.

So why can't Kaberle deliver like Boston fans expect?

Nobody knows, but they are all adamant that the blame should not be placed at Kaberle's feet alone -- especially for the anemic power play, which is 2-for-41 this postseason and went 0-for-4 in Game 1.

"Even though the power play is struggling, it isn't because of him," said forward Michael Ryder, who endured his own struggles this season.

But the attempts of both teammates and coaches to insulate Kaberle from being paralyzed by the pressure of producing are beginning to have less effect.

Monday, Kaberle admitted he can't ignore the negativity and he must just soldier through this crisis of confidence.

"Obviously you always have to be (hard on yourself)," Kaberle said. "Some guys take it too hard. You just have to go on the ice and do your best. That's what I am going to focus on tomorrow. Game 1 is behind us and we all know we have to play much better."

If Kaberle can find a way to pull out of his slump, the Bruins believe they will be far more equipped to handle this current challenge from the Lightning. It's just that nobody knows when, or if, Kaberle can reverse the curse that is currently bedeviling him.

For now, there is only hope that the answer lies around the corner.

"He's one of those guys that is probably feeling the pressure because people seem to think he should be carrying the power play," Julien said. "He's an important part of it. And I think if he finds his game, it's going to be an important part of (the power-play revival).

"But he's not the reason that our power play isn't going at the rate we'd like it to go. And we've got to take some pressure off him and just let him play his game. I think if he plays his game, he's going to help us a lot."

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