The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins met Wednesday night on “Rivalry Night” and the struggling Bruins escaped with a 3-2 overtime win on a controversial goal from Patrice Bergeron.
It marked the eighth straight regular season game between the Penguins and Bruins that was a one-goal game.
Normally an Eastern Conference power house, the Bruins currently sit in the last wildcard spot but Wednesday night showed again that this isn’t the type of Bruins team many have been use to seeing over the last four to five years.
The Penguins carried the play, dictating the pace of the game and were able to gain the Bruins zone at will, something in the past you would rarely see.
Pittsburgh outshot Boston 39-24 in the game, 34-22 at even strength and the possession stats were all strongly in the Penguins favor.
At even strength the Penguins had 57 shot attempts to the Bruins 43. If a few bounces go the Penguins way, this is a 5-2 Penguins win.
The way the Penguins were able to able to own the territorial edge was likely another red flag to the Bruins brass that barring an unbelievable playoff series from Tuukka Rask, they are not going to be able to compete with the best in the conference.
The question in Bruins circles is whether Boston is just a few small tweaks from getting back on track as a top contender in the East or are there serious problems with this hockey club from personnel to coach/system.
Likely a little bit of both.
The Bruins last season were the NHL’s best team in hockey and had a major missed opportunity in not getting back to the Finals, losing to the Canadiens in seven games in the second round.
They put all their eggs in one basket when it comes to their salary cap situation last season with the Jarome Iginla deal, while for one season the Tyler Seguin trade looked like a win-win trade for both teams, but at the end of the day, Boston gave up a young star center for two complementary players.
It was eventually going to backfire on them and now it has.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has done a phenomenal job over the years in maintaining the Bruins as an Eastern Conference power but some poor moves are starting to catch up to them from their cap situation to their infatuation of the “Bruins way”, where if you’re a one dimensional goal scorer like Phil Kessel, they don’t want you.
However, watching the Bruins of late and up close Wednesday night, it’s their system, lack of creativity offensively, and personnel on the backend that appears to be most problematic.
The Johnny Boychuk trade had a significant impact for all the wrong reasons on the Bruins backend. They put too much faith in some of their young defensemen and also put too much faith in Dennis Seidenberg being able to make up for the loss of Boychuk. Seidenberg has struggled this season and he was pinned in his own end for most of the night vs Pittsburgh.
All that said, this team should be playing better, especially from a system standpoint, which puts all eyes on Claude Julien.
Speculation is rampant that Julien could join the long list of coaches to receive a contract extension and be fired soon after. Those type of discussions are on-going from Boston’s ownership group.
“I’d say without question this has been a very disappointing year,” Bruins new CEO Charlie Jacobs said Monday, per CSN New England. “It’s unacceptable the way that this team has performed given the amount of time, money and effort that’s been spent on this team. To see it delivered the way it has is unacceptable. I can tell you that at the moment it’s a very fluid situation that’s being monitored closely. I don’t have any answers for why we’re under-performing because if I did I would have tried them long ago.”
Jacobs has put everyone on notice.
Julien is a great coach but all NHL coaches have expiration dates and he could very well be reaching his as talk of Bruins players doubting the system is starting to emerge. Despite the long track record of success for the Bruins under Julien, when a team with Cup expectations like the Bruins starts struggling and has a demanding coach who some feel traps his gifted offensive players, the coach can start losing the room with the core players at the first sign of trouble and that might be happening here.
Boston just has that look right now of a group that needs a new voice and someone to come in who will open things up offensively.
Enter Dan Bylsma.
Were the Bruins to send shock waves around the NHL in the next month or two in firing Julien, there might not be a better fit in Boston than Bylsma in the Bruins going from a demanding coach to a players coach where in Pittsburgh (at least until Bylsma’s final season), players loved coming to the rink.
Despite the extension, Julien’s coaching future in Boston is going to be a top story line to watch moving forward.