Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of
For 40 minutes last night, the Boston Bruins had their fans thinking that the team that captured their hearts and rolled through the regular season and first round of the playoffs last season was making its triumphant return to the TD Garden.
But as it's been throughout the '09-10 campaign, the Bruins once again disappointed their fans by allowing three third period goals and missing numerous scoring chances in losing to the Capitals 4-1.
Now, it would have been unfair to go into last night's game expecting the Bruins to win, with Washington having won its last 10 games and Boston being mired in its worst losing streak at home since the 1920's. But based on the performance of the team in losses to Buffalo and Los Angeles, there was cause for optimism. Against the Sabres, the Bruins put forth one of their best 60-minute efforts since prior to the Winter Classic and ran into the best goalie on the planet right now in Ryan Miller. In losing in a shootout to the Kings, the B's once again fought for the duration of the contest and only came away with one point thanks to the continued lackluster play of their supposed Vezina Trophy winning goaltender. And after the 5-1 loss at Carolina, these baby steps were a welcome sign.
On the strength of a David Krejci power-play goal in the first period, the Bruins held a 1-0 advantage over the Caps that could have been 3-0 if not for the solid goaltending of Jose Theodore (yes, that Jose Theodore). Boston outshot Washington 13-5 in the first, and the line of Blake Wheeler-Krejci-Michael Ryder created numerous scoring chances.
Washington carried the play in the second, scoring in the first two minutes to tie it. But the Bruins still fought and never let the Caps deliver the knockout punch, hanging on 1-1 through the second intermission. That's when things fell apart.
Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon scored 2:47 apart in the early stages of the third period to put the game out of reach, thanks mainly to Claude Julien continuing to give Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick second-pairing minutes. After Laich's goal that made it 2-1, the entire team went into a shell and never threatened to get back into the game -- something that every Bruins fan has grown accustomed to at this stage.
Three weeks ago Bruins fans were dreaming of acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk at the trade deadline and giving the club the boost it needed to become a true Cup contender. Now, the prevailing feeling around the club is "How much cap space can we free up at the deadline?". No matter which way you slice it, changes have to be made to this club on the ice, whether it makes the team better or gets rid of some guys that aren't performing. Let's take a look at a couple of moves that should be considered immediately, and we'll get into other deals that impact the team long-term later.
1) Waive Matt Hunwick. The young and speedy defenseman put up 27 points and a +15 in 53 games last season as an injury fill-in. This season his play has plummeted, and he now sits at -11 with no points in his last nine games and 12 in 50 games this season. His decision making with the puck is absolutely atrocious right now, and his defensive zone work is mediocre at best. Combined with his non-existent offensive game, the Bruins are better off without Hunwick and his 1.450 cap hit through next season. The fact that he played 17 minutes last night while Johnny Boychuk, who is playing better defense, a more physical game, and has nearly as many points in half the games, played 13:30 is mind-boggling.
2) Trade Michael Ryder. As mentioned earlier, the Wheeler-Krejci-Ryder was easily the best for the Bruins last night, totaling 15 shots on goal. Five of those shots came from Ryder, and not one even threatened the back of the net. If there was ever an interchangeable part to a line, he is it. Sitting at a paltry 20 points through 54 games, Ryder has not yet been able to break out of the slump that has seemingly been dogging him all season. With a cannon of a snap shot and a decent ability to win battles along the boards, there will be some interested teams in the 29 year old Newfie. But as is, his play is dragging down the Krejci line and the Bruins as a result. If the Kings don't deal Alexander Frolov to the Thrashers in a possible Kovalchuk deal, a Frolov for Ryder (with other parts) deal may work for both sides.
So what's next? The Bruins take on Montreal on Thursday, looking to (at least temporarily) snap out of this funk. If the Black and Gold can't get up for a game with their version of the New York Yankees, it may be time for Chiarelli to pull a Sutter.