The Bruins credo for this year was "Big and Bad are Back." Well, the marketing minds on Causeway Street were 50 percent right. The Bruins are bad. So much for the Year of the Bear. More like the unbearable year.
With their 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last night at TD Garden, a place where they're still looking for their first win in 2010, the Bruins (0-6-2 in their last eight) tied the 1955-56 edition for the second-longest losing streak in franchise history. We're talking about a team that first laced 'em up when Quiet Cal Coolidge was in the White House. The club-record for futility, 11 straight, was set in the team's inaugural season of 1924-25.
Yet to listen to the Black and Gold apologists and optimists around here the Bruins are a player away from being a Stanley Cup contender. Ilya Kovalchuk is the cure-all. The Bruins have just slipped on a rough patch of ice during the season and they can still get up and make a run to the Stanley Cup Finals like the Pittsburgh Penguins did last year.
Nothing but Nyet there.
The reality is the Spooked B's have little shot at Lord Stanley's cherished chalice. What other conclusion can you arrive at after watching them rappel down the Eastern Conference standings during a 1-9-2 stretch and not score a win sans shootout in 28 days? They'll try again tomorrow against Les Canadiens.
The problem for the Bruins is not a lack of grit or heart or effort. It's not solely injuries. No, like the 2004 Red Sox, pre-Nomar trade, the Bruins have a fatal flaw. For the '04 Sox it was defense for these Bruins it's offense with a big, fat capital O.
The last time the Bruins won a Stanley Cup, 1972, they led the NHL in goals scored (330), had the league's leading goal scorer (Phil Esposito with 66) and the top two point-producers (Espo and some guy named Orr). Those were the Big, Bad Bruins because they hit you where it hurt the most -- the back of the net.
You can backcheck, netural-zone trap and play the body all you want if you're Bruins bench boss Claude Julien, but if you don't have players that can place that little piece of vulcanized rubber into the goal it's all for naught.
Offensive ineptitude . . . it's called Bruins. They rank last in the NHL in goals with 125. During their eight-game skid they've scored 12 goals total. You have a better chance of driving home in the Garden Zamboni than you do of seeing the Bruins win if they trail going into the third period. The Bruins are 2-17-3 when trailing after the second intermission.
Offense is the new black in the NHL, and I'm not sure that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli got the memo. The Bruins keep talking about how Milan Lucic is exactly the type of player they want. Maybe, that's the problem. As much as "Looch" is beloved here for his rugged and relentless style, he is being paid a lot of money for a winger who has never scored 20 goals in a season. Lucic, who scored 17 goals last season and has 3 goals and 5 assists this season, was signed to a three-year, $12.25 million extension in October.
In the 12 games since he's come back from a high ankle sprain, Lucic has just one goal and three points. He hasn't had a multi-point game yet this season, while missing 32 games to injuries. Everybody compares the kid to Cam Neely, but there is no evidence he will ever score enough to be a true top-line winger.
The Bruins other big off-season re-signing was center David Krejci, who has regressed after a breakout 2008-09. The crafty Krejci, inked to a three year, $11.25 million deal, has 10 goals and 18 assists in 50 games.
Krejci had the Bruins only goal against the Capitals, but missed a first period penalty shot that could have put the Bruins up 2-1, sending the puck so far right of the net on his penalty shot it could have hit Rush Limbaugh.
Krejci is supposed to be one of the Bruins' most skilled players.
The easy out to explain the Bruins' offensive impotence is to point to injuries to No. 1 liners Lucic and Marc Savard. Well, with Lucic in the lineup the Bruins still have a losing record (8-12-2). They're over .500 with Savard, but it's not as good as you would expect (15-12-4).
Savard is one of the best setup men in the league, but his talents are wasted with Phil Kessel, who scored as many goals as the Bruins last night, and his 36 goals skating north of the border. It's pretty telling that when Savard returned from his partial MCL tear that one of his partners on the first line was well-traveled winger Miroslav Satan, who was out of the NHL until the Bruins hung out the offense wanted sign in January.
If you want to see how far the Bruins are away from contending for the Cup then all you had to do was watch Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, winners of 11 straight, turn it on in the third period and leave the Bruins in their wake.
The Eastern Conference-leading Caps are the polar opposite of the Bruins, as they lead the NHL in goals with 214. Along, with the Penguins, they're the poster children for the New NHL, skill and skating.
The Bruins are bereft of both. Patrice Bergeron is the Bruins' leading point producer with 33 points. That would place him eighth on the Capitals in points behind with former Bruin Mike Knuble, who netted Washington's first goal last night. The Caps have eight players with 30-plus points, led by Ovechkin (36 goals, 41 assists).
Chiarelli built this flawed team on a flawed belief -- that it had enough offense without Kessel -- and now he has to fix it. But there is no quick fix for this season. Don't give up valuable assets for instant offense from an aging sniper like Carolina's Ray Whitney. It's better to sit tight, clutch Toronto's draft picks, and retool for the 2010-11 campaign.
Meanwhile, the Bruins' play will continue to be offensive.
...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.