By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Certainly, the sky isn’t falling but the clouds are thickening on Causeway Street as Christmas rapidly approaches next Wednesday. After beginning the season as if their hair was on fire – the Bruins were a remarkable 18-3-5 in October and November – head coach Bruce Cassidy’s bunch have had what you would describe as a merry time so far in the month of December.
Despite showing signs of cracks in their game leading up to Thanksgiving, the Atlantic Division-leading B’s still found a way to win games despite underwhelming performances, especially in the first and second periods.
Relying on a red hot powerplay and the emergence of David Pastrnak becoming one of the most feared snipers in the NHL, Cassidy’s crew just outclassed opponents when it came to nut cutting time in the third period of contests.
The timely scoring that seemed to be a given almost every night combined with the best goaltending tandem in hockey for the first eight weeks of the season, the team that calls TD Garden home was looking like a train at full steam, rolling downhill in the Eastern Conference.
Not so much anymore.
Since the start of the month, the Black and Gold are a middling 3-4-2. Number one goaltender Tuukka Rask – who traditionally would start the season slow and heat up as the holidays approached – is a chilly 0-2-2 with a .878 save percentage and a 3.39 goals-against average. And the mental lapses that were overlooked late in November are beginning to bite the Bruins in their collective behind.
In the past two weeks alone, they have lost to draft lottery hopeful clubs come spring in the Chicago Blackhawks (currently 28th in the league standings), the Ottawa Senators (29th), and the Los Angeles Kings (26th).
That’s a bump in the road that could become a massive pothole that the Boston area is known for during the winter if the lack of focus and execution continues much longer.
For as well as second-line center David Krejci has played with a cast of revolving wingers across side the streaky – and somewhat overrated Jake DeBrusk – the Bruins still lack a top-six forward that could lengthen the lineup and take the pressure off the powerplay, as well as the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Pastrnak.
While there has been some talk about the Kings recently released forward Ilya Kovalchuk perhaps being someone that general manager Don Sweeney would look at to add to upgrade the offense, the 36-year-old produced only 19 goals for LA before they shelved him in the second week of November this season.
Of course, there is always a chance that he could be rejuvenated by joining a Stanley Cup contender like the Bruins, and the price tag would be a prorated league minimum of $700,000.
And while that might not seem like much, according to CapFriendly.com, Sweeney has just $1.7M to work with against the salary cap, so every penny he spends is precious heading towards the trade deadline in February.
Given the fact that recent losses to likely Eastern Conference teams they will likely see in the playoffs this spring – the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning – exposed their lack of size and physicality – the same reason that they were taken out in the Cup Final by the St. Louis Blues last June – swinging and missing on Kovalchuk could be a loss that the B’s GM cannot afford.
For as much as a lull in the level of play should have been expected after such a strong start, many of the same issues exist when it comes to the reasons why the Bruins weren’t taking a tour of the city in duck boats some six months ago.
While panic might not be necessary, there should be a heightened concern regarding a club that is once again looking too top-heavy to sustain a substantial run in the playoffs.