By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
We are just over a week into the 2021 NHL regular-season and already, we are seeing potentially how the remainder of the year will go. Early on, it is clear that teams are going to get underneath their opponents’ skin especially during the inter-division matchups that will take the entire course of the season. In a pair of games with the New Jersey Devils, animosity and tension were already growing and the two still have to play five more times.
Another thing to note – the number of games played. With the hopes of starting next year’s 2021-22 season on time as a normal NHL season would go, the league was forced to play a shortened schedule of 56 games this year to stay on track. The biggest thing regarding this, every single game matters – even these early ones.
In previous years, the first ten-or-so games aren’t as important. Don’t get me wrong, wins are wins and points are points – no matter what month they come in. They add up and can possibly prevent a more stressful end of the season. However, this year, a reduced timeframe means if a team wishes to compete for one of the four playoff spots in their respective division, they better start winning sooner rather than later. Every lost point stays in your division.
The Boston Bruins, at the time of this article being typed, are 1-1-1 – most recently getting blanked by the New York Islanders 1-0 the final score. Boston opened their campaign with a 3-2 shootout win over the Devils with Brad Marchand scoring a goal and an assist in regulation before scoring the game-winner in a shootout. A couple of nights later and the B’s would fall short to those same Devils 2-1 again in extra time, this time late in overtime.
As of January 21st, the Bruins have not yet scored a 5-on-5 goal. That is a massive issue going forward. In Boston’s defense, David Pastrnak has been out following offseason surgery, second-line right-winger Ondrej Kase has missed time (and will miss more) due to an upper-body injury, and newly-acquired from free agency right-winger Craig Smith has been teetering on a minor injury that has obviously kept him from playing at a full 100-percent.
With that said, the Bruins need depth scoring. If they wish to compete for a top-four spot in the MassMutual East Division, they need to have more scoring than just the top line of Marchand, Bergeron, and eventually Pastrnak. Lack of consistent 5-on-5 scoring has held Boston back in the past few seasons and will do so again this year if not fixed.
Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has tried his best behind the Bruins’ bench to try and spark something. We’ve seen him try Jack Studnicka, Anders Bjork, Ondrej Kase (before injury), Jake DeBrusk, and even David Krejci on the first-line right-wing position to no avail. DeBrusk, though, looked the best with the duo, having significantly out-chanced the Islanders while together.
Another aspect that needs work is the penalty game. Since the conclusion of the Isles game, the Bruins have taken more penalties than they have drawn. While yes, their penalty-kill is one of only two teams that is still perfect, the Bruins are taking too many penalties – ranking seventh in the league for most penalties taken (16). It’s hard enough to score 5-on-5 for this team, going shorthanded only makes it more difficult.
There are most definitely positive things to the Bruins’ 2021 season thus far. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have been lights-out so far and Boston’s defense has allowed the second-least amount of shots on average in the NHL (23.3 SA/GP). The PK, as mentioned, has been phenomenal and even scored a shorthanded goal in the process.
To reiterate, without question, the biggest issue right now is the lack of goal scoring. Regardless of injuries, Boston needs to have the ‘Next Man Up’ mentality and have unlikely role players to put the puck in the back of the net while Pastrnak and Kase are out of the lineup. A deeper, more offensive Bruins team joining the defense, assuming they continue their strong play and that the elite goaltending keeps up – this Boston team could be a contender for another year.
Right now, betting sites believe not only the Bruins can come out of the MassMutual East Division, but also be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year. According to the Stanley Cup odds here, Boston is considered as a top contender with current odds listed at +1500 to win. To make that come true, consistency in the offensive zone needs to come and it needs to come fast.
If the scoring doesn’t come, the pressure then falls on General Manager Don Sweeney to make moves to bring that scoring into town. This team, with the veteran core of Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, and Rask still here, can compete for a Cup in 2021 – all the pieces just have to line up and it has to happen now.