It seemed that the Boston Bruins had no flaw statistically as they rolled through the regular season with the NHL’s best record. They were their usually excellent selves defensively, and finished in the top five offensively while spreading out the offense among the entire lineup.
The depth and balance carried over into special teams play as the Bruins finished top 10 in the penalty kill, and finally turned the corner on the power play to become one of the NHL’s most dangerous teams on the man advantage. But statistics don’t always tell the full tale of a hockey club, and they didn’t reveal the Black and Gold in full.
That’s what the playoffs are for.
The Bruins were talented, balanced and deep enough to overcome any roster weaknesses during the season, but their alarming lack of team speed was apparent in their second round failure at the hands of the Canadiens. The Bruins defense was consistently put on their heels by the stretch passing game plan set into place by the Habs, and Zdeno Chara showed some real difficulty keeping up with the speedy Montreal attack in the final couple of games.
But beyond that there was a predictability and fundamental lack of explosiveness to the Bruins offensive attack. After dealing Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Dallas Stars last summer and watching Nathan Horton sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Bruins lost three of their faster skaters and replaced them with average skating players in Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Jarome Iginla.
Those moves left Daniel Paille as the only Bruins forward with real zip in his skating legs, and nobody among the B’s top six group with explosive speed and game-breaking ability. The KIL (Krejci, Iginla, Lucic) Line had great puck possession time in the offensive zone and had some epically long shifts this season, but took on the look of a football team with long drives that never scores touchdowns during the postseason.
The line was physical, grinding and punishing, but there was little margin for error in the scoring department without speed to really make opposing defenses feel the pressure.
It was stark in contrast to watch the New York Rangers in their first game of the conference finals against the Canadiens, and to see the kind of pressure that the speed of Chris Kreider was putting on the Montreal defense. The jets in his skating legs are exactly the kind of player attribute the Bruins would value highly in a winger that’s also 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds. Kreider finished with a pair of points and five shot attempts while also crashing into Carey Price all as a result of attacking the Habs defense with breakneck speed.
A game-breaking player with the speed and finishing ability of a Kreider is something the Bruins simply don’t have on their roster, and something they need if they’re going to improve on a disappointing playoff run. Players with elite skating speed don’t exactly grow on trees, but the Bruins have a need for speed when they put together their offseason improvement plan.
“I thought we played two of the fastest teams in the conference in Montreal and Detroit. I thought we did quite well against Detroit. I thought we were maybe challenged a little bit against Montreal,” said Peter Chiarelli. “The ironic thing is that they muscled up a little more, so they got less fast. We always try and create speed, and Claude [Julien] does a really good job in creating speed from the back end.
“That’s on one of the lists of topics for me to go over and look at and see what players are available. It certainly creates another diminution, so it’s something that we are going to look at.”
It might be easy to explain away the series defeat to Montreal as a random event or bad luck, but the Bruins had the lead less than 20 percent of the time in the seven games. They were chasing the game in the worst sense of the hockey cliché, and never had enough speed generated to break up the vicious cycle instituted by the speedy, aggressive Canadiens.
Since the Bruins will likely be facing the very same Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings in the future given the new divisional playoff format, they need to be able to match up better against the Habs and the Winged Wheels. That means adding more speed to the front of Boston’s attack to go along with young defensemen like Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski dialing up the transition game from the back end. If they don’t ratchet up the speed on the Boston roster then the Bruins run the same risk in future playoff series as they did heading into a tough matchup with the Habs.
“[It’s] very emotional and it is my job to be unemotional about it. This is a good team and, there are some trends in hockey that we have to address in this team,” said Chiarelli. “It may be that we don’t get addressed until fall or half way through the year, or July first, or before. You have to let things unfold sometimes. We’re not going to make too many changes to this team but there will be some changes.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien was a little more optimistic than Chiarelli just a couple of days removed from being eliminated by the Habs, but seems to understand a playoff loss to Montreal is something that will stoke the Bruins moving forward.
“All of a sudden we lost to Montreal, and we need to overhaul because of that? No, I think we need to look at the things that we need to tweak here and there,” said Claude Julien. “You make those kinds of adjustments. Some of it will be minor adjustments. Some of it is that you can have some young players that are going to be that much better next year in those kinds of situations.
“So year-to-year, things change, and I can only speak as a coach and this is not necessarily what Peter thinks or may think or may not think. But you explode a team that’s pretty good just because of the situation that is not based on one reason only, that could be dangerous.”
What would be far more realistic for a Bruins team looking for self-improvement this summer is adding a forward or two that’s a straight burner designed to stretch opposing defenseman. Or perhaps elevate the speedy Ryan Spooner to the NHL level where he’s certainly an upgrade in the speed and skill department. It should be at the top of Boston’s shopping list for players, and could be exactly the kind of player the B’s target in trade talks
The Bruins have a need, a need for speed.