Coming into the 2014-15 season, many questions surrounded the Boston Bruins and how they would respond after losing to their rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Black and Gold responded by producing one of their worst seasons since the 2007-08 season. Fans and pundits alike have looked at a team that appeared so promising, especially coming off a year in which they finished with the best record in the NHL and won the President’s Trophy, and wondered how it all went so wrong. The Bruins have amassed a 38-25-13 record and are hanging on by a thread to the last playoff position in the East — they are only three points ahead of divisional rival Ottawa Senators — largely because they have become victims to the perfect storm of team inconsistency: injuries, lack of scoring and an inability to maintain a solid team identity.
For large parts of the Bruins’ season, the team has fallen victim to the injury bug in vital players to the team’s chemistry and production. Starting with captain Zdeno Chára’s torn posterior cruciate ligament, which kept the defenseman out for a six-week period following a game against the New York Islanders in late October 2014, the Bruins have seen a large portion of their key players sidelined throughout the year. During the 19 game absence of Big Zee, the Bruins went 11-8.
Along with the loss of their captain and biggest defensive presence, the Bruins also have repeatedly seen prolific first line centerman David Krejčí lost to injuries throughout the season. Beginning with a three-game absence to start the year due to an undisclosed injury suffered in training camp, Krejčí has battled with knee and hip injuries throughout the season. Krejčí has played in just 41 games this season and produced just 28 points after a season in which he totaled 69 over a span of 80 games. Once returning, Krejčí was again placed on the disabled list in early November 2014 with a hip injury and saw his shortened season cut down again with a partially torn MCL suffered in late February. Finally returning to the ice 15 games later, Krejčí notched two assists in a loss to the Anaheim Ducks. These injuries, coupled with ones to fourth line center Gregory Campbell and young defenseman Torey Krug, have forced Boston to rely on a lot of their younger players such as winger Matt Fraser, whom the Bruins lost on waivers in December, forward Brian Ferlin and defenseman Zach Trotman. Ushering inexperienced players into key roles in their lineup has led to a lot of identity issues with the Bruins.
Throughout the year, the Black and Gold have looked like a team playing without confidence, composure and an overall goal. Much of this inconsistency is related to a lack of a team identity. Losing key veterans and on- and off-ice leaders, such as Chára and Krejčí, the Bruins have been forced to have players such as Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly lead by example.
While players such as Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lučić have maintained an active positive leadership role, many of the Bruins, specifically the team’s defensive core, are suffering from a deficiency of guidance. With the trading of a veteran locker room presence and a big-bodied defenseman in Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders prior to the beginning of the season, most of the Bruins’ young defensive core, which features young-guns such as Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton, has been forced to rely on the leadership of second pairing blueliner Dennis Seidenberg and the third pairing’s resident tough guy in Adam McQuaid, who has also suffered a myriad of injuries over the duration of the season.
On the offensive side of the ice, Bruins assistant captain Bergeron has been a strong leader as always. However, the Bruins are offensively suffering from a lack of line chemistry. Throughout all of last season, Boston relied on players succeeding by doing their jobs. With a first line that consisted of 30-goal scorer Jarome Iginla, 25-goal scorer Lučić and Krejčí, whose assist total reached 50 in 2013-14, the Bruins were able to produce points and keep teams focused on stopping their first line. This focus allowed second and third line players such as Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg to have breakout performances, resulting in 51 and 48 points alike. Now, with the departure of Iginla and the injuries to Krejčí and Gregory Campbell, the offense has been severely crippled.
With that being said, a lot of the team’s scoring has been attributed to the resurgence of Marchand and the appearance of David Pastrňák. Coming off a postseason in which numerous fans called for the left winger to be traded out of Boston, Marchand has been piling up goals, currently holding 22, at a record pace. One of the brighter spots of this season for the Bruins, and the youngest player in the NHL, Pastrňák has been showcasing his skill and scoring prowess with 25 points in just 40 games.
The Bruins find themselves at an important stretch of the calendar with just six games remaining and a three-point wildcard lead. They have shown flashes of brilliance, coupled with times of inconsistently frustrating hockey but have the chance to remedy it all with a solid playoff push and a run at the Stanley Cup. To do so, they must first end the season on a high note before attempting to seek revenge on their rivals from Quebec province, a team who they have yet to beat all season.