Friday, October 14, 2011
Mailbag: Why are Bruins struggling?
By James Murphy
The regular season is under way and the Bruins are off to a slow start, with just two points in their first four games. Is it a Stanley Cup hangover? Why isn't the first line producing more? How does Tyler Seguin look in his second season in the NHL? We'll answer those questions and more. Also, don't forget to send in your questions for our next mailbag.
Q: What's been the problem with the top line so far this year? They've had a couple of flashes, but definitely nothing consistent. -- Jeff (Western Mass)
A: If you look back at last season, the top line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic was very streaky, and it looks like they've started this season on a bad streak. If we don't see them snap out of this funk after the first 10 games or so then we should worry, but right now I say be patient. There is too much skill there to panic just yet. That being said, I do wonder about the season Lucic will have. He was invisible down the stretch last season and not that much better in the playoffs (just 12 points in 25 games). He also hasn't had his physical edge for a while now. The last time we really saw the Lucic fans grew to love -- the one who could score, but was also a physical force -- was when he scored his 30th goal of the season and dropped the gloves with Jay Rosehill in a March 31 loss to the Maple Leafs.
Q: Do you think offense might end up being a problem for this team? I thought it was last season at times -- obviously it didn't end up being one because they won the Cup, but without any real snipers (unless Seguin develops into one) I think they'll always have some stretches where they struggle to score. -- Franklin (Boston)
A: You have a valid reason to worry. But as you pointed out, when the Bruins play to their abilities, they find ways to score. That being said, it can't hurt to add more scoring. The Bruins team tend to rely too much on defense and goaltending. I should note too that I don't think that is Claude Julien's fault, because I know he has given them the green light to translate their forecheck into offense. The current roster -- specifically the top line of Lucic (one point in four games), Krejci (one point in three games) and Horton (one point in four games) needs to step up. If they don't, the rumors of Coyotes veteran winger Ray Whitney being dealt to the Bruins may become reality.
Q: What have you seen so far from Tyler Seguin this season? -- Jason T. (Worcester, Mass.)
A: I have seen a player who is a lot more comfortable and as a result more confident. Seguin -- as a result of an up-and-down rookie season-- seems to have a better understanding of what he needs to do to utilize his vast skills. The way he sees the ice now and reads plays is evident and it's paying off on the stat sheet (1 goal and 3 assists). I said it here in the past few weeks and even more so now: I believe Seguin is in for a huge season.
Q: Obviously it's early, but do you still think Marchand is in line for a "sophomore slump?" -- William (Burlington, Vt.)
A: You're right, William, it is early, but I'll eat my words now and say that Brad Marchand is definitely proving the naysayers (like me) wrong! I have been very impressed with the passion and hard work he has displayed in the early going here. He is hustling, agitating and making his presence felt. He has arguably been the Bruins' best player through four games. It's a long season but if his work ethic thus far is an indication of things to come, he is in for an even better season.
Q: Pouliot has looked solid in the last couple of games. Do you think he keeps getting ice time or do the B's give Jordan Caron another shot here in the next few games? -- Nate (Hingham, Mass.)
A: Nate, I agree, Benoit Pouliot has been a pleasant surprise thus far. I was very skeptical of that signing, but so far he is really working hard both on and off the ice. I like the speed he brings, and with him using his size as he has thus far, he could prove to be a very valuable asset for the Bruins. As for Caron, I see him sticking in Boston even if Pouliot is playing well. It's worth watching how long Pouliot keeps this up. He self-admittedly lacks consistency, so if his play slips, it won't hurt to have Caron ready and waiting to step into the lineup.
Q: I know it's early but the Bruins' lackluster play has concerned me. The Colorado game showed how teams are going to give the Bruins everything they have from an effort standpoint. Do you see the Bruins matching the opponent's intensity being a problem moving forward? -- Rob (College Park, Md.)
A: This is definitely an issue right now, but as you say, it's early. To be honest, I expected this to happen. I believe this squad has a strong core of leaders who should be able to push through a slow start. But the question is whether some of the younger players can do the same. If this "Stanley Cup hangover" -- and make no mistake, that's what this is -- continues, the Bruins will need some of their younger leaders to step up. Players like Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Dennis Seidenberg and Chris Kelly will be there, but it is on the younger leaders-to-be like Lucic, Horton and Krejci to do more. If that doesn't happen, we might still be discussing this in January.
Q: For a long time the Bruins front office has been criticized for not bringing in a "gunslinger," a top 5 goal scorer if you will. With the slow start this year and the fact that the city and fans are pacified for now, should management take a chance and still try to find that player? -- Lance (Manchester, Conn.)
A: I can see where you're coming from. Phil Kessel was the closest thing they had to that "gunslinger" you refer to. But Kessel got them Seguin and plenty of prospects. Ironically, I pictured Seguin as a playmaker but the more I watch him, I see some sniper potential in him. So maybe that solves that vacancy? Also, I think management looks at their roster and sees enough scoring depth that they don't need to break the bank via trade or free agency for the guy you're looking for. But right now, I agree, a player like that could help.
Q: One thing that seems to be lacking a little for the Bruins so far is physical play. I'd like to see them get a little nasty in Saturday's game against the Hawks. Thoughts? -- Richard T (Connecticut)
A: Richard, you couldn't have said it better! The Bruins need to get back to their bread and butter and that is physical, tenacious hockey. I have spoken to numerous players, coaches, management and scouts around the league and the common theme is that the Bruins won the Stanley Cup with "entertaining, old-school, tough" hockey. It's not like they're intentionally straying from that and changing their style, but through four games they're just not playing their game and don't seem in sync. A Saturday night tilt with an Original Six team in Chicago could be just what the Bruins need to get going.
|Tyler Seguin is tied for the Bruins scoring lead with four points in the team's first four games.|
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.