The B’s closed out the “first half” of the NHL season with a 4-3 win over the Penguins, in what was perhaps the team’s best win of the year. Right now the B’s find themselves in 3rd place in the Atlantic, but it’s a tenuous spot to be sure as team’s behind them have games in hand. Toronto has FIVE games in hand, if you can believe it. While the games in hand is a bit overblown, considering the chances of a young team like Toronto winning all 5 is slim, particularly if you look at their schedule after the break (two 4-in-6 in February alone). But if the B’s don’t keep pace it’ll be hard to catch up given they only have 30 games left. Plus they have A LOT of time off in February including their bye week.
So, where does this team stand after 52 games? The short answer is …. no one really knows. The Bruins have shown that on any night they can beat anyone (Montreal, Pittsburgh, St. Louis) or lose to anyone (Calgary). Weaving more young players in and out of the lineup has given the Bruins some long-term hope, but short-term bumps in the road particularly with the schedule, younger players have to have a tough time handling it.
This team will go as far as their core takes them, that much is obvious. Health is vital, as always, and the Brandon Carlo injury is less than ideal. But, if by some miracle, the Bruins pull off a deadline deal that actually helps, they could make for an interesting playoff opponent. No one is under any illusion that this is a championship team, but is it a 2nd round team? Perhaps, with a bit of luck.
Much has been made of the team’s shooting percentage, and whether that will correct itself at all. It seemingly already has, the only one you can see improving is Patrice Bergeron’s 6%, but the B’s have shown that when they score, they can’t defend (6-5 OT loss to DET) and when they defend they can’t score (basically every other game this year).
And the coach? Players staunchly defending him is nice, but then laying eggs like MLK Day against the Isles and last Sunday in Pittsburgh don’t help matters at all. Radio silence from upper management is strange, but perhaps no news is good news on that front, as Julien is far from the main reason why this team is as inconsistent as they are. He’s not blameless, mind you, but he’s not the sole reason. Now, if you miss the playoffs again? All bets are off. But changing coaches isn’t the answer, at least not right now.
So, it falls to Don Sweeney to determine what the team’s potential is for this season, and act accordingly. This passage from Elliotte Friedman is, on the surface, encouraging:
“GM Don Sweeney would rather make a trade and see how things play out. I’ll always remember a conversation with him when he took over, Sweeney bristling at the suggestion he wouldn’t give Julien a fair shot. He didn’t like that assumption, and it stuck with me. Second, the Bruins know Julien is a good coach. He’s going to go somewhere else and make that team better. You can make the argument it’s time but fans forget that your guy can go elsewhere and improve another club. Sweeney strikes me as the kind of guy who knows you make your worst trades when your team is taking on water. People despise inactivity, but in a salary-cap world, panic mistakes bleed you dry.”
If this is accurate, that’s good. No need to get hoodwinked on a deal and set your team back even further. If it’s not there, it’s not there. And perhaps Sweeney has learned from his early mistakes in trading away Dougie Hamilton and trading for the likes of Zac Rinaldo. We can only hope.
Bottom line? As currently constituted, the Bs likely aren’t going far. And if that’s how it ends, that’s OK, in a way. It would at least be a tacit acknowledgement that this team is in transition and a couple of years away from really contending, ownership’s mandate to make the playoffs notwithstanding. It would also be encouraging to see Sweeney and Cam Neely putting their feet down and be unwilling to mortgage a promising future for a couple of extra playoff dates.