Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's Time to Pay Attention to Boston's Scoring Woes

Those of you who know me understand that I am not the typical knee-jerk alarmist, but after the Bruins dropped their game last night to the New York Islanders by a 4-1 score, the team's inability to find a consistent scoring presence is an issue. At the 20-game mark, the Bruins are a mediocre 8-8-4, and bear little resemblance to the team that won the Eastern Conference last season and came within a point of winning the President's Trophy for the best regular season record overall.

I know, I know- it's not breaking news. After all- we're six weeks into the season and the B's are in the bottom five for goals scored in the NHL. Luckily for them- they're in and around the top-ten for goals allowed (the biggest difference between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, IMO) right now, or they'd be down in the Eastern Conference basement as opposed to middle of the pack.

Losing Marc Savard has been a major blow; Milan Lucic's absence from the lineup has hurt as well, but it is Savy who is the straw that stirs Boston's scoring drink, and he's the only player close to scoring at a point-per-game pace, with seven points in as many games before his broken foot forced him out of action.

The fact of the matter is: David Krejci, Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, Blake Wheeler and Dennis Wideman simply have not stepped up offensively this season. I'm not going to play the blame game and single out any one of those guys as being more deserving of the team's collective failure on the scoring front; all players to one degree or another, simply haven't been able to get it done.

Krejci has become the focus of opposition checking, and has not been able to muddle through it. He has recently gotten on the scoreboard, however: he tallied on Boston's 5-on-3 power play against Pittsburgh, then made a terrific move to set up Daniel Paille for the team's only score against the Islanders last night. But overall, he's not had the Midas touch he exhibited last season with just two goals and 8 points in 18 games.

Sturm is possibly the most disappointing of all: after missing much of last season with injuries, he has his speed back, and certainly looks physically capable of returning to form, but simply hasn't. His four goals and 9 points in 20 contests are a pittance compared to what he should be generating, and he's gotten plenty of ice time to produce. His 8 percent shooting percentage only tells part of the story: when I watch Sturm, I see his blazing wheels on display, but he takes an inordinate amount of shots from the outside at sharper angles, which translates into opposing goalies making routine saves. I don't see much movement into traffic by Sturm, nor do I see him playing in the dirty areas of the ice, two factors that I believe explain his lack of production.

Recchi is the frequent whipping boy by Boston fans, and while I've defended him in the past, there is no denying that he is not performing in a top-six role the B's require him to play right now. At this stage of his career, he's not able to generate the kind of consistent production and offensive flow that a top team gets from their top-two lines. At the same time, those who simply take the easy way out by blaming the 41-year-old don't get it, either. Recchi was never seen as a go-to guy for offense this season, he's simply been forced into the responsibility because of injuries. To hold him solely accountable for Boston's scoring woes is not seeing the forest for the trees...he's absolutely not getting it done, nor is he the one on whom you hang your team's hopes.. If you honestly came into this season counting on Recchi's offense to keep the Bruins in contention, then you didn't get it in the first place. In year 21 in the NHL, he's a complementary player and specialist, not a top-two line scorer...unlike the aforementioned and others like Wheeler and Ryder. What's their excuse?

Wheeler and Ryder have shown flashes of what they're capable of, but Wheeler has just 38 shots on net, while scoring on 13.16 percent of them. He's got to shoot the puck more and stop overhandling it in the offensive zone. Ryder got off to a good start, but has cooled considerably and has just seven points in 20 games. The B's are paying him way too much for that paltry a scoring load. True- he's always been a player who depends on a good center to get him the puck, but the Ryder we've seen over the past 15 games or so is a shadow of the player we saw dominating play against Montreal in the first round of the '09 playoffs.

Finally, Dennis Wideman has been a train wreck this year. His defense has always been subpar, but his offense was what made him a solid No. 2 in this league. This season, he's been lousy in both aspects. The defense is about where it was when he first came to Boston in the spring of '07 (read: horrific) and the offense has been virtually nonexistent (1-3-4 in 17 GP). Yes, he's banged up, but surely he can do better. Thank goodness for Derek Morris, who's tied with Zdeno Chara for the lead in scoring for defenseman with 11 points (good for third overall on the team behind Chara and Patrice Bergeron), but just think: where would Boston be if Wideman were actually contributing? He's not, and if he doesn't get it going, the B's are in big trouble this year.

Right now, the Bruins are sitting at 20 points, good for 10th in the conference. They're nine ahead of Toronto (who face Ottawa on the road tonight), but quietly slipping out of the playoff hunt. The Islanders are much-improved over last season, but what we saw last night from Boston was about as poor an offensive showing as you can get. Dwayne Roloson wasn't tested much, and the B's didn't show much of a sense of urgency in the game. When your leading scorer has just six goals in 20 games (Bergeron), then you're not getting it done, period. The Bruins should be grateful that they have the tandem of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask in net otherwise things would be far worse.

Make no mistake- things will improve when Savard and Lucic get back, but how much the team can turn it around depends on whether the team's higher-priced veterans and skill players can get things going. If they don't, then the Bruins won't sniff the postseason this year.

That's good news for draft fans, but terrible news for the state of this team, which is built to win now, but is doing anything but.

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