For the past four or five seasons, the Boston Bruins have consistently been the best team in the Eastern Conference. This season many of us expected more of the same. Even when the Bruins started off slowly we all thought it was just a matter of time until they got healthy and took over the Atlantic Division.
Well, the Bruins have played 34 games and they're still on the outside looking in, which begs the question: What's going on in Boston?
The thinking for most of this season was to let the injured guys get back in the lineup. Key players like Zdeno Chara and David Krejci have missed significant time. But Boston's injured players are largely back now and even after an overtime win Sunday night, the Bruins are still struggling.
I think a lot of it has to do with the talent that's left Boston in the last season or so. We all know about the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars, and you can't underestimate the importance of that move, but this is a team that also traded Johnny Boychuk prior to this season because of cap reasons, thinking a young defenseman could take his place. None of those guys have replaced the grit or snarl of Boychuk. Adam McQuaid and Chara have both been hurt and suddenly this is a totally different defense. Then you take away an injured Krejci and you let Jarome Iginla leave this offseason and suddenly you've got a lot of talent to replace.
Center - BOS
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 10
SOG: 32 | +/-: 1
I don't think the Bruins are done yet. We still need to give this team some time to play five or six games together now that it's healthier. Chara has been OK since returning from injury and he will get better. When Chara improves, the defense will improve. Krejci will help the offense get its top lines and chemistry together. I still think there's time and Boston will be a Stanley Cup Playoff team, but the first half of this season has certainly shown us these aren't the Bruins of four or five years ago.
DOUSING THE FLAMES
The Calgary Flames were a great story for most of this season, finding ways to win and having everything go their way. Suddenly though, the Flames have won just two of their past 10 games and have come back to earth. I think we knew this was going to happen at some point. Calgary wasn't going to fly this high all season. Now though, we're seeing the Flames get their first test. You're never going to go through a season without any test and we're going to find out if Calgary can handle it. Are they as good as they were a month ago or as bad as they are now? We'll see which is the real team.
Coach Bob Hartley got a new contract extension this past week and deservedly so, but now he's got to earn it. He's got to turn a team that's doubting itself into one that can make the playoffs.
We're going to see in the next few weeks if the Flames are good enough to get things back on track. When they were winning they were getting tons of goals from Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman on the blue line and the forwards were all playing very well. The Flames need to regain that style of play. I think they'll be able to come out of their current funk, but I also don't think the Flames were as great as they've played. Calgary is a decent team that had a great stretch because it was working hard. If they want to make the playoffs, the Flames will need to find a way to be great again.
Since the Winnipeg Jets returned to the NHL, they've had impressive stretches but never been in the postseason and an appearance never seemed imminent. Suddenly though, in the loaded Western Conference, the Jets are in playoff position almost halfway through the season. This is a very talented team. Mark Scheifele is a star in the making, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien give them big bodies to put out there, Evander Kane is a very strong forward. This team has a very good mix.
The obvious obstacle for them, however, is how beat up they are on defense. When guys like Zach Bogosian and Jacob Trouba are out there, this is a very strong unit, but Bogosian, Trouba and now Mark Stuart are all on injured reserve. The Jets brought in Jay Harrison to help on defense, and I like that addition because he and coach Paul Maurice are familiar with one another from their time in Carolina, but Winnipeg has to find some way to get through this injury period.
The Jets will need to decide how they're going to play in light of the injuries. Are they going to attack more offensively and keep the puck out of their own end, or will they sit back and lock down their own end? Winnipeg is going to have to find a way to help out goalie Ondrej Pavelec, because right now the deck looks stacked against him. I don't know if Pavelec can play much better than he has. How well the Jets can help him out over the next month will probably determine whether or not we'll see games in Winnipeg this spring.