Boston Bruins Growing Pains

( Above Photo Credit:  NHL .com / @NHLBruins )

By: Billy Stramiello             Follow Me On Twitter @WJStramiello

So our best player is still out.  Injuries to anyone are always something that a club needs to be able to absorb.  But it is true, that a loss to a player like Bergeron puts a considerable amount of responsibility on younger players.

In the horrendous home-and-home series versus the Avs, the younger players played hard and made plenty of mistakes, that is the way it goes and the way it should be:  Learning opportunities.  The real let-down came from the veterans and most notably, the coaching staff.

The coaching staff kept talking about execution and playing to a standard, but in the past two years, since the whole “quicker pace” game has become the mantra, I have not seen much of willingness from the staff to adapt.   Certain teams have absolutely owned the Bruins since this new strategy has been in place:  The Wild, the Leafs, the dreaded Habs, and Oilers.  These are all fast aggressive teams full of youth and strong on the fore-check.  Let’s now add the Avalanche to that mix.

I get it. The rules, the refs, the owners, and I guess even the fans are all pushing to make the game faster with more scoring.  But this is not basketball, and THIS team is still the Boston Bruins.  Youth and veterans alike should be smart, responsible players with high hockey IQ.  Skill, speed, or super-stardom notwithstanding, Bruins teams win with sandpaper.

Both games might as well be lumped together as a two-hour affair worth four points because the Bruins did not play any differently from one night to the next.  When their game plan did not work, they just told themselves they needed to try harder and kept doing the same thing. Turns out they just sucked harder.  Numerous problems in each zone were compounded instead of being strategically corrected.

In the d-zone: Chasing the play

Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) pushes Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) from the crease during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

What the coaches want: Pressure the puck and cause a turnover

What really happens: one move or one slick play by a talented opponent causes a blown coverage and a sniper with too much time in a dangerous position.  Soooo many of the Av’s goals were scored with one or more Bruins below the goal line and everyone looking at the puck carrier.

What needs to happen: patience. Let the opponent skate around behind the net and in the corners and focus on limiting options the and covering the dangerous areas.

What the Bruins did well:  the boys are much better about boxing out the front of the net and staying between their check and the goalie.  The few times this has lapsed, the outcome has been disastrous.

The Break-out: The wish sandwich

BOSTON, MA – MARCH 12: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Detroit Red Wings during a shootout at TD Garden on March 12, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Lightning 3-2. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

What the coaches want: A turnover to quickly be moved out of the zone to a streaking forward in the neutral zone creating instant offense against a shocked and back-peddling defense.

What actually happens: the forwards fly the zone too early leaving a defenseman on an island, surrounded by patient yet dedicated fore-checkers who are quickly able to limit his options and create a badly timed turnover at the blue line.

What needs to happen: always make the safe play – with or without the puck. The d-man needs to be very ready to chip the puck out and let forwards swarm in the neutral zone.  Forwards need to support their blue-liners and assume that the puck will stay in the zone until it is actually out of the zone.  This possession game is maybe fine for some teams, but I have not seen it work for the Bruins in years.

The Neutral Zone: Skate smart not just hard

What the coaches want: Good question.

What actually happens: The Bruins have been scattered and disorganized – skating hard but not skating smart and overplaying or skating past the play and stubbornly trying too hard to maintain possession.

What needs to happen: vary the strategy a little.  Be willing to chip and chase in order to back the D off the line.  That is how the game briefly got turned around in the third period with B’s fourth line.  They wanted to make it a pretty game when they should have made it a dirty game.  Puck possession and pretty plays are fine as a novelty, but if the other team knows it’s coming, nobody is going to fall for it.

Offensive zone: Cycle and make it dirty

( Above Photo Credit:   realsport101 .com )

What the coaches want: Another good question, but it looks like they are hoping for a transition game and when they don’t get it, well, nothing happens.

What actually happens: puck carriers turn it over at the blue line, pretty plays fail, cross-ice passes get picked off, ill-advised pinches and blocked shots get turned the other way.  This all stems from being too predictable on the entry.  This is especially evident during the power play but is a plague at all times.

What needs to happen: The Bruins are not a transition team; they should not try to be.  Play Bruins hockey: chip it in, turn the defense, and then pound somebody into the boards.  One guy takes the body, the next guys take the puck.  Play a simple game by getting, pucks deep, crowding the front, and please hit somebody.  Most importantly, start by eliminating dicey neutral zone play.

Ultimately, it is a long season, and I don’t see any problem with talent, personnel, the vet/youth mix, goal-tending or injuries.  There will be ups and downs, and hopefully, these will level out as the season progresses.  The onus is on the coaching staff.  They should not be over-committed to a particular playing style but instead, adapt to the strengths of the players on the roster and the way they match up against their opponents.

 

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