By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
Well, Bruins fans, that is not the round-robin we all expected. To be fair, most of the NHL did not expect the fourth-ranked Philadelphia Flyers to sweep the competition either. But the Bruins disappointed its fans in a big way. The Bruins were the top-ranked team in the entire NHL when the league suspended its season. They were a lock to be the number one seed in the East and were feared by most. Unfortunately, looks were deceiving, and they underperformed in every game, beginning with their exhibition with Columbus. So why did the Bruins end up with the fourth-seed?
For starters, the Bruins did not once lead in any of their round-robin games. In their first game against Philadelphia, Rask did not participate due to his “cough.”
Tuukka Rask had to report his cough through a COVID-19 symptom checker. His words:
“I clicked ‘yes’ on the app and all sorts of red lights started blinking and I was quarantined for two days.”
— Ian Steele (@ISteeleABC6) August 3, 2020
Jaroslav Halak didn’t play tremendously in his absence, but neither did the Bruins. The Flyer’s goalie, Carter Hart, stole the show by stopping 34 out of 35 shots. Philadelphia scored three goals in the second period, two of which came before the Bruins’ first. Boston’s Chris Wagner scored after Philly’s second goal and seemed to alleviate some of the pressure felt by the players. However, a mere eight seconds later, Philly potted their third goal, and the Bruins dropped to 0-1.
Three nights later, Tampa Bay scored the first two goals of the game, and once again, Boston had to play catch-up. Boston’s Torey Krug tried to rally the troops by dropping the gloves, which created some nastiness throughout the game, but it was not enough, and another loss ensued.
Finally, Boston outshot Washington 16-2 in the first period, but it was Washington who capitalized and ended the first up 1-0. Boston never regained the lead and watched Washington end the round-robin with the third seed.
I just … I don’t know how they didn’t score here. pic.twitter.com/OdIVXktrOP
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) August 9, 2020
The common theme between all three nights was slow starts. It’s quite difficult to win one game, let alone three, down to teams with pedigrees that the Lightning, Capitals, and Flyers have. The Bruins were the most feared team in the NHL because they had just been to game 7 of the Stanley Cup and were not suffering from a playoff hangover.
They essentially cruised to the President’s Trophy, best regular-season record, and their players were receiving accolades. David Pastrnak won the Art Ross trophy with Alexander Ovechkin, most points in the NHL, Tuukka Rask is a finalist for the best goaltender award (Vezina), and Bergeron for the best defensive forward (Selke). Their play in the round-robin was unexpected, to say the least.
The Bruins’ slow starts in all three games can be partially contributed to the roster’s age and the speed to get their legs under them. James Mirtle of The Athletic wrote an article back in October analyzing the NHL team’s averages. James referenced and compared teams’ average heights, weights, age, draft position, etc. Interestingly enough, most of the organizations whose rosters came in older than the league average did not perform up to standards in the NHL’s Return to Play.
The Bruins’ average age when the season began was 28.5, while the league’s average was 27.3. It is no secret the Bruins core is getting older. To be frank, that’s all a Bruins fan hears any time they tune into sports talk radio. Zdeno Chara has one to two years left, Bergeron and Krejci are not 26 anymore, and even Tuukka Rask has reached his 33rd birthday. Their Stanley Cup-winning core is through their prime.
Bruins management has worked on acquiring and drafting younger players to support their core, but they lack the necessary experience. Older teams usually need more than a three-game warmup to get back on track. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals came in above the league’s average age, as well, and also suffered from a slow start. The Philadelphia Flyers had an average age of 26.5, and they swept the top three Eastern Conference teams with ease.
Scientifically speaking, younger players have a quicker bounce back and recovery time than older players. Zdeno Chara switched his diet entirely to plant-based foods a couple years back to keep up with the younger generation. But it’s nearly impossible to restart his body in such a short period and get back to peak season performance.
The two and a half week training camp was designed to allow players to get back into game shape; however, nothing can genuinely get a player ready for the playoffs other than actual playoff gameplay. The Bruins had three games to get their playoff legs under them, and if those games are any indication of their outlook, the Bruins are heading back to Boston early.
The other piece of the Bruins poor performance puzzle relates to their attitudes, or at least a few players. Tuukka Rask has always had a very relaxed approach in post-game interviews, but his recent description of the round-robin has some fans ruffled.
Rask on the round robin: “It’s over now. Now we start real hockey.”
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) August 9, 2020
It was understood that the top four teams were mostly playing round-robin games to stall while the other 12 teams compete for playoff spots. But to give the allusion that these games “didn’t matter” is a bit concerning. It’s hard to believe players can have that mentality for games that don’t matter, and all of a sudden, switch it off for games that do.
Players also never want to take their opponents for granted. Regardless of the three games not mattering, teams need to show up and keep a level mindset against powerhouses like Tampa and Washington. The Bruins could very well see these opponents in the next round, and it would have been a smaller mental hurdle if the Bruins hadn’t coughed away their round-robin gameplay.
Seeding has never been as crucial in the NHL than other sports. The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley cup in 2012, holding the eighth seed in the playoffs. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with the third overall seed.
The Bruins fourth seed may not matter, but they’re clashing with a red-hot Carolina hurricane squad who swept the New York Rangers from playoff contention. The Bruins know what the Canes are capable of because they defeated the Canes on their way to the Stanley Cup last season. The Bruins and Canes begin their series at 11am today, and Bruins fans hope the round-robin performance has been put to rest.
Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 189 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
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