Here we are in the fifth month of the 2009-10 NHL season and we're still trying to answer one question: What's wrong with the Bruins?
Well, the list of problems is long. And with time running out before the Olympic break, and the end of the regular season, Boston has to start solving those problems now. Some of the solutions are already wearing Bruins uniforms, and some might be currently under the employ of one of the other 29 NHL teams.
The best part of being an Eastern Conference franchise right now is that outside of the top four, any of nine teams could fill the bottom four playoff spots by the time the season concludes. And better yet, those teams right now are separated by just three points. That's right, even with the Bruins in their current tailspin -- they carry an eight-game losing streak into Thursday night's tilt with Montreal -- they still sit just two points out of the eighth spot.
With six games left before a handful of Bruins will head to Vancouver for the Olympics and the rest of the team will take a respite, here are four things the Bruins need to accomplish to rectify their struggles and at least finish among the top eight in the East.
It's as simple as that. The Bruins have a two-time 30-goal scorer (Michael Ryder), a perennial 25-plus-goal scorer (Marco Sturm) and a handful of other players with proven scoring ability. Yet they sit at the bottom of the NHL in goals per game at just 2.31. It's time for every Bruins player, including the less-maligned defensemen and even pass-first center Marc Savard, to shoot with some poise and confidence and bury a couple of pucks. There should be enough offensive firepower in the Bruins' dressing room to win more than one game a month.
2. Get a goaltender hot
The Bruins have been trying to get Tim Thomas on track and onto one of his hot streaks. But with the offense struggling, he's been just an overactive version of his former scrambling self and it's costing the Bruins. He cannot seem to steal a game the way he used to. Tuukka Rask, whose last win was on Dec. 30, has shown the ability to be much more relaxed in net than Thomas. Maybe a couple of starts in a row for the rookie would do everyone involved, including Thomas, some good. This doesn't mean Thomas gets relegated to No. 2 status, just that he gets some time to clear his mind, which would continue during his time as the backup at the Olympics.
3. Get the power play juiced
This obviously is related to the offensive struggles, but now that they're at full strength health-wise, the Bruins have a chance to form two balanced, consistent power-play units and build up some real chemistry. The decision by head coach Claude Julien to reform last year's first unit of Savard, Ryder and Sturm up front with
Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron manning the points is a wise move. That quintet puts each player in the position in which they've historically been most successful. That unit should be able to get something going if it can stay together and avoid injuries.
4. Import some help
A scoring winger alone is not going to cure every Bruins problem. To be a true title contender, they're definitely one puck-moving defenseman shy as long as Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick continue to struggle. Even if Andrew Ference's imminent return aids the cause, his recent injury history makes it hard to count on him. But obviously, the Bruins' most glaring need is offense. Maybe the price will come down and they can coax Atlanta into trading Ilya Kovalchuk, maybe they can get in on Ray Whitney. Or maybe there's another winger in St. Louis, Columbus or Edmonton -- three teams that are definitely sellers -- that general manager Peter Chiarelli can import. Bottom line, he has to do something. If he doesn't make a move and the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, there could be consequences. At least making a couple of trades will show an attempt was made to save things. Either way, not making the playoffs isn't an option. A failure to qualify would set the Bruins back, in terms of their standing in Boston and their long-range plan.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.