By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
The Bruins are now a couple of days into their Collective Bargaining negotiated mid-season week plus break – one that they seemingly started earlier than was scheduled, as losses to the lowly Flyers and Rangers will serve as evidence to in the three games prior to their league-enforced January vacation – now is as good as a time as any to assess their chances as the NHL’s second half is set to begin for the B’s next Tuesday.
Up until their pre-winter break siesta, head coach Bruce Cassidy’s crew was about a resilient a group that could be found in the league. Despite losing the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Charlie McAvoy – aka, the heart, soul, and future of the Black and Gold – the should be Jack Adams Award candidate for Coach of the Year honors in the NHL has kept his team in contention without any kind of secondary scoring that will be necessary if the team that calls Causeway Street home wants to avoid early tee times this spring.
Somehow the club that general manager Don Sweeney still hasn’t quite finished building yet, found a way to enter this stretch of nine days between games – at a time that hockey fans are craving the NHL product the most – are still sitting third in the division, trailing the much ballyhooed Maple Leafs for the title of finishing a distant second behind the seemingly unbeatable Lightning in the greatly improved Atlantic.
When questioned about his club’s focus after their second bad loss in four nights 3-2 to the bumbling Blueshirts at TD Garden last Saturday night, Cassidy didn’t pull any punches.
“I was asked this morning would our focus be on – maybe it was on the break, but I don’t want to use that as a crutch because it’s happened to us how many games now – four, five, six where we’ve kind of let off the gas, got comfortable, maybe thought it was going to be an easy shift the next one and wanted to extend the lead but not playing the right way,” said the B’s bench boss.
“So, there’s a lot of those things that go into it. Yeah, we’ll address it, but you’re not a teacher to the student that listens, right? That’s kind of part of it. We have to buy in.”
He later added, “Are we playing down to the level of competition or are we going to play to our standard? I think that the message from us as a coaching staff over the last two, three years is we need to play to our standard. So, I guess that’s the message we have to get back to and start measuring ourselves against our best selves, so to speak.”
And that is a message that needs to be driven home and in a hurry.
Unlike their unexpected breakout season last year, the Bruins find themselves in what looks to be a dogfight straight until April to claim one of the eight spots in the Eastern Conference that will punch their ticket into the NHL’s second season. Points that are pissed away in January almost always come back to bite a team on the playoff bubble come the first week of April.
And make no bones about it, the Bruins – as currently constituted – are very much a bubble team.
As of Tuesday afternoon, they are a never to be made up 17 points behind the blockbuster Bolts, while they are a mere five points away from being bumped to the playoff curb by the much improved Buffalo Sabres. They are also just another brainfart away from the eighth spot in the conference, that would give them the team that Phil Esposito gave birth to in the first round.
Early spring vacation, anyone?
For as important it is for the Bruins brass to add to the forward group that Cassidy has at his disposal heading towards the late-February trade deadline, it is just as important that the man the call Butch’s team gets their collective heads out of their behind before the second half surge towards the playoffs becomes a mad dash just to make the dance.
Everyone needs a vacation now and then. Bruins fans better hope that their team comes back from their’s more focused, or the second half of the season will not be what they envisioned last September.