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Praised depth needs to show up for Bruins

February 19, 2013, 8:06 PM ET [9 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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For years now, we’ve lauded the front office strategy of the Boston Bruins.

Understandably so.

Rather than build a team around one superstar, the Black-and-Gold have built one of the league’s best rosters based on their ability to roll four lines at all times. They can beat you with the first line, or they could beat you with the third line. Hell, maybe even the fourth line will muck it up for an impromptu goal on the doorstep. With the B’s, it wasn’t a matter of if they were going to strike, but rather where it’d all come from.

It’s what helped propel the Bruins to scoring the second most goals in the entire National Hockey League last season, and what’s put them atop most pundits’ rankings and locked them as in early season Stanley Cup favorites outta the Eastern Conference.

That point of view when analyzing the Bruins hasn't been abandoned in a 2013 year that's seen Boston leave the ice as victors in nine of 13 contests. They're still the class of the Northeast, and their defensive system makes 'em borderline impossible to figure out when it comes to applying serious pressure. I guess that even in a lockout-shortened campaign, it's been the same old-same old for Claude Julien's squad.

But with those 13 games in the books, the club’s lodged in the middle of the pack when it comes to their scoring in 2013, averaging 2.69 goals-per-game, the NHL’s 14th best figure, but something’s missing. At least to the semi-trained eye, anyways.

Through the quarter mark of this breakneck speed 48-game run, have we seen the same offensively-loaded Bruins? Not really. If anything, we’ve seen the regression and the (semi-expected) plummet back down to Earth for some of the club’s ‘depth’ forwards.

Especially when there’s an injury, as Sunday’s hard fought victory in Winnipeg showed us.

As top-line forward Milan Lucic was forced to go back to Boston due to personal reasons, the B’s inserted Jay Pandolfo into the lineup for his first game of the season. The 38-year-old Pandolfo, who had a goal and two assists in 62 games for the New York Islanders last season, was just one of the Bruins’ two options. The other was Lane MacDermid, a bruising forward that has zero points, 10 penalty minutes, and has averaged under four minutes of time-on-ice in three games this season.

To state the obvious, it’s not Murderers’ Row.

This isn’t to go overboard and suggest that you should have four lines of 20-goal scorers, but in Boston, there’s clearly room for improvement.

In a combined 38 games, the Bruins’ third line of Rich Peverley, Chris Bourque, and centermen Chris Kelly have combined for just three goals. Peverley leads the trio with two, Bourque has one, and Kelly has zero.
For a Peverley-Kelly duo that combined for 31 goals in 139 games last year, that’s yikes-worthy, but could be the reality of their careers.

Such could be the case for Kelly in particular, who was perhaps the ‘luckiest’ sniper in all of the National Hockey League in 2011-12. Connecting for 20 goals on just 122 of his shots on goal, Kelly boasted an absolutely ridiculous .164 shooting percentage, a staunch difference from the 32-year-old’s .105 shooting percentage (77 goals on 730 shots) in eight other NHL seasons between Boston and the Ottawa Senators. Finishing last season with a Bruin-best 1056 PDO, and with a 947 through 13 thus far, the fifth worst among B’s forwards, you could make the case that Kelly’s first full season in Boston wasn’t the ‘dawning of a guy with talented forwards’ as much as it was a complete aberration.

But, let’s touch upon the former a bit more, shall we?

Over the summer, Boston parted with former bust Benoit Pouliot, a fixture on the club’s third line last year, sending him to Tampa Bay in exchange for Michel Ouellet and a fifth round pick (a pick that’d ultimately land London Knights’ forward Seth Griffith in Boston). Pouliot, who was a restricted free agent by year’s end, came to Boston with a $1.1 million cap-hit and produced far beyond that price tag, finishing with a career-high 16 goals and 32 points in 74 games for the B’s. Donning the Black-and-Gold, Pouliot proved his worth as a solid top-nine contributor, but was ultimately shown the door given the Bruins’ depth. It simply appeared that there was no room on the Bruins’ roster for the streaky-but-developing winger.

Keyword here: Appeared.

We’re through a quarter mark of this year, and Pouliot’s replacement, the 5-foot-8 Bourque, has a goal and two assists in 12 games with a minus-3 rating. While ‘coming into his own’, he’s failed to contribute in ways that Pouliot and even Jordan Caron has. Oh, and Pouliot’s other replacement, Caron, has found himself incapable of staying healthy (or consistent) for the P-Bruins this year, with eight goals and 12 points in 38 games for Providence this year.

Pouliot, meanwhile, has tallied five goals and 10 points in a 14-game run with the Tampa Bay Lightning that’s rarely seen Pouliot play above the club’s third line. Should Boston have ponied up the extra money to keep Pouliot in the fold with the one-year, $1.8 million pact that Tampa offered? Hindsight’s 20/20, as always, but it’s hard to dispute it.

Below the third line, fourth line trio of Gregory Campbell, Danny Paille, and Shawn Thornton, have combined for four tallies in 35 games. Statistically better, yes, but still far from what’s been expected of them.

The depth of the Bruins has been the benchmark of their success, but it simply hasn’t been something to write home about and at some point in 2013, it’s going to show.

If we take the eight goals scored by the Bruins’ Brad Marchand out of the equation, the Black-and-Gold have a whopping 27 goals among 22 other skaters. 19 among 20 skaters if we take the four from Nathan Horton and David Krejci out of play.

One point away from the Northeast Division lead with two games in hand, the Bruins’ ability to get off the ground and stay there with a 9-2-2 record has been heavily dependent on the play of their defense and goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin.

Allowing the third fewest shots on a nightly basis (26.5), and with the Bruins’ duo in net stopping all but 30 shots thrown their way, the depth of the B’s is simply going to have to show up if the Black-and-Gold are to compete in a Northeast heavy with surprises in Montreal, Toronto, and sure to see a fight from the Senators, and Buffalo Sabres. Not for the sake of the division, but for the sake of the road that’s ahead.

Once March hits, the workload for a B’s club that’ll find themselves skating in just five games over the past 17 days at week’s end, includes a staggering 17 game in 31 day stretch headlined by numerous matchups with both the Penguins, Flyers, and Capitals.

Dancing around the obvious, you’re almost guaranteed to see a dip in the goaltending output over this run, putting the pressure on the Boston offense to do something they’ve yet to do on a consistent basis in 2013 and... well, produce.

Of course, it's not just a drought by the Bruins' bottom-six that's cause for concern, as top-six forwards Tyler Seguin, and even Milan Lucic have both struggled when it comes to replicating their expected totals -- with the two wingers paced for a combined 23 goals this year -- but there's an (obvious) belief that they'll produce. The bottom-six, however, is another story. But for Boston, with a plethora of cap-space to their name thanks to the Marc Savard injury and Tim Thomas trade, the ending to such a story is seemingly all in their hands.

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