The Bruins are entrenched as the No. 4 team in town and their 6-7-2 start after a stirring 116-point season and trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals last year isn't helping their little brother status.
Boston sports fans support winners above all else, but deep-down this is still a hockey town at heart.
People want to root for the Bruins, they want them to be good, to be Stanley Cup contenders -- desperately. So, the Bruins, who were in danger of being shut out for the third straight game for the first time since 1929 before Patrice Bergeron snapped a 192-minute, six-second scoreless drought with 51.7 seconds left, allowing the B's to salvage a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the arch-rival Montreal Canadiens, are not only squandering scoring chances this season, they're squandering a chance to re-establish their relevance on the Boston sports scene.
Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Cam Neely aren't walking through that door, but even with top pivot Marc Savard (broken foot) and lunchpail left wing Milan Lucic (broken right index finger) out the Bruins have to find a way to generate more goals and more excitement.
The only thing more damaging than being middling is being boring.
This was supposed to be the season that the Bruins lifted themselves squarely back into the discussion with the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. They were coming off a season in which they led the Eastern Conference in points and won a playoff series for the first time since 1999, sweeping Les Canadiens last spring before losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It was something to build on and hope that Boston could be the Hub of Hockey again.
Instead, 15 games into 2009-10 it looks like the same old Black and Gold, except their scoring touch has gone ice cold. They have the requisite good coaching, grit and goaltending to make the playoffs, but they don't have the starpower or scoring touch to lift Lord Stanley's cherished silver chalice, something they haven't done since 1972, the longest championship drought of any of the four traditional major sports teams in town.
The boys in the spoked-B sweaters seem to get spooked every time they're around the net. Coach Claude Julien admitted his guys are griping their sticks a little too tight.
The last time the Bruins faced Montreal netminder Carey Price before last night he was being hooted out of his own building. Against Boston, he looked like Ken Dryden.
The Bruins, who were second only to the Detroit Red Wings in goals per game last season at 3.29 and had seven players who scored 20 or more goals, including Mark Recchi, acquired in a March trade, rank 27th in the NHL at 2.13 goals per game. Thanks to reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas's play in net, Boston is eighth in goals allowed at 2.47.
They are dead last on the power play, which is 0 for its last 20.
There is not a single Bruin among the top 100 in the NHL in scoring. The reborn Bergeron is the team leader in goals (5) and points (9).
The baffling part is it's not like the Bruins are a drastically different team from last season. General manager Peter Chiarelli decided that 36-goal scorer Phil Kessel was too pricey to keep and shipped him to the Maple Leafs in September. He also dealt 22-goal scorer Chuck Kobasew -- and his $2.23 million salary -- to the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 18 in an attempt to shake up his team.
Having Kessel would certainly help, but as Chiarelli pointed out to colleague Kevin Paul Dupont the Bruins wouldn't have been able to insert Kessel, who made his Leafs debut on Tuesday, into the lineup until now because of the surgery he underwent back in the spring for a torn labrum and rotator cuff.
In retrospect, last season may have been the worst thing that ever happened to the young Bruins. It gave them a false sense of self.
"That confidence and stuff you have to work hard and gain it this year," said defenseman Dennis Wideman. "You can't just think about last year and say, 'I had a great year last year, and I'm just good.' That might have been the problem at the start of the year, the first couple of games to start the season, our first couple of games thinking [like that] that could have been what got the ball rolling the way it is -- thinking about last year's success. But you have to start every year brand new."
In fairness, just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the Bruins.
The list of calamities increased yesterday with the news that center David Krejci, who was off to a slow start after being rewarded with a three-year, $11.25 million extension, ccontracted the H1N1 flu virus. The player called up to replace him, Mikko Lehtonen, committed a turnover in his own end that led to Montreal's goal, which of course was scored by former Bruin Glen Metropolit.
Savard's was knocked out when he took a shot off his foot in practice. Lucic signed a three-year, $12.25 million extension on Oct. 6 and then broke his right index finger 10 days later against Dallas. Things aren't going to get any easier. The Bruins host Buffalo, which has allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season (24) tomorrow and then face-off against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden on Tuesday.
Suddenly, there are plenty of available seats on the Bruins bandwagon, but the players aren't panicking.
"We definitely know we have a team here that can contend," said right wing Michael Ryder, who scored 27 goals a year ago. "We have a couple of injuries right now, but that's nothing to look at it. It's just the little things here and there. We're not scoring goals right now. We're not giving up very many goals, that's a good thing. We're still good defensively. It's just a matter of trying to put the puck in the net."
Both the savvy Savard and Lucic can help them do that, but they aren't likely to return before the end of the month. So, the Bruins will have to turn things around with what they have. The question is will anybody outside of the die-hard fans be paying attention if and when they do?
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.