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On The Bruins, and Game-Breakers



New Hockey Primetime: What factors into motivation aside from winning and cash? (Haven’t even finished it yet, let alone submitted. Gimme a hot sec, will ya? :) )


I had a little twitter conversation with the esteemed “Haggs” (Joe Haggerty) today, the gent who covers the Bruins (and Boston sports in general) so well.  He is also kind of a fan of the Bruins, and I support that – you always get better quality work from people who care.

Well hey there, you're an affectionate lil' feller aren't ya?

He expressed the idea that the East is wide open for the Bruins to take.  He’s almost right, save for Philly.  The other top teams are plenty scary, but they all have some minor deficiencies.  I just think Philly’s team might be good enough to overcome the inexperienced goaltending.

Still, it brought me to the Bruins roster, and I gave it a good once over, in hopes of finding a hole to reply to Haggs with after he picked apart the other top contenders (Philly: “goaltending.” Tampa: “lack of playoff experience after Vinny/St.Louis.” Washington: “picking up Boston’s castoffs – Wideman, Sturm – doesn’t wow me.” Pittsburgh: “No Crosby/Malkin.”)

It was damn hard to dig up any weakness - that roster is insanely deep.  I scanned down it from the top to find the first laugher of a player, and there wasn’t one.  My eyes stopped on Adam McQuaid (Darth Quaider, apparently), which is stupid, because it turns out he’s like, first in the NHL in +/- at +27.  Hardly a “laugher,” I just hadn’t noticed him before.

Anyway, the only thing I have is this: They don’t really have a game-breaker.  And my regular readers knowwwww how I loves me some game-breakers.  Never been a fan of “scoring by committee” …which is still about ten notches behind “goaltending by committee” on the Ideas That Won’t Work list.

The reason I think a team needs at least a game-breaker or  two to win is fairly understandable: in close games, defense tightens up, they’re on high alert, and they’re trying their hardest.  There’s more clutching and grabbing, and it gets more difficult for a middle of the road scorer to beat someone one-on-one and break the game open.  Ain’t nobody sleeping.  Oftentimes, these close games just drag out until overtime or a “bad goal.”

Thing is, that you have to score bad goals to win close games is another old-school misconception.  It happens occassionally, but look – when Patrick Kane juked Kimmo Timonen to score the Stanley Cup game winning goal in overtime, that wasn’t a bad goal.  The shot itself should’ve been stopped, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a player on Boston’s roster could have got themselves in a position to score that “bad goal” - he got the puck flat-footed on the half-wall.  He made about 55 shoulder shimmies before getting the shot off.  Big time players come through in big time moments.

Last years Cup champs: Toews and Kane.

The year before: Crosby and Malkin.

The year before: Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

Okay, that line kinda look tough to play against. Jesus.

Before that: Getzlaf and Perry.

It’s just the way the NHL playoffs go (I stopped short of Carolina who really only had Eric Staal, but the one before that is right back to Tampa with Lecavalier and St. Louis).

Now, that’s not to say the Bruins can’t or won’t win the Cup.  I’ve picked them to go to the Finals since the season began.  I really like their team.  I was just trying to find a weakness.

I’m not sure Bergeron….Lucic? is going to cut it.  Krejci?  Their team’s strength is that I could play the Bergeron and ??? game for almost the entire length of their roster (the weakness might be that I’m pretty sure Bergeron doesn’t even qualify for the type of guy I mean).  But still…Horton? Peverly?  It’s a deep team, with a nice touch of grit.  Kaberle was just the addition they needed too.

I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’: if there’s anything I feel that could catch up to them it’s their ability to score goals……I say about the team who’s 5th in the NHL in goals-per-game, after a 6-0-0 road trip, the first since the Bobby Orr era. 

(Remember, the argument isn’t that the Bruins can’t score – it’s wondering if they have a guy who can do it consistently in the big moments of playoff games, AKA a game-breaker. Think back to the year the Pens won –  Crosby single-handedly won the Conference Finals, then Malkin the Finals.)

Anyway, that’s the best I could do at poking a hole in the theory that the Bruins are going to mow over the rest of the East.  You on board with that, or is there another reason we won’t see them in the Stanley Cup Final?

{Note: please refrain from just typing the name of your favourite team without evidence or argument.}


Happy humpday.  The wifancee is trying out Zumba today.  Thoughts?


13 Responses to “On The Bruins, and Game-Breakers”
  1. Wayne says:

    I love the Bruins depth. I think they’re built for playoff success. In the playoffs there are no pretty goals, it’s all about grit. Boston has never been able to score pretty goals anyway, so it really doesn’t affect their style.

    I’ve been a Bruins fan my entire life, and this is the first time I can honestly say this team could win the Stanley Cup (I was 2 in 1990, so…). We’ll see, but either way, it should be a good Spring.

  2. Matt Porter says:

    Good piece. My reaction: B’s may not have gamebreakers, but goaltending often takes over playoff games, and they have plenty of that.

  3. jtbourne says:

    See, I kinda think those two things are holdover cliche’s from an era past: The last few Stanley Cup goalies (Niemi, Fleury, Osgood, Giguere) weren’t exactly world-beaters. And I think there still are pretty goals in playoffs (pretty’s not necessarily the point either though – Crosby doesn’t score many pretty ones, but he finds way to score them. He’s the game-breaker).

    Still, I agree on both your points as well: they have great goaltending and that does count for something, it’s not entirely inconsequential, by any means. And yes, that grit will come up huge for them in playoffs, and I too think they could win the Cup.

  4. Jeff says:

    It was actually Selanne-McDonald when the Ducks won. Perry/Getzlaf were more depth guys.

    One thing ALL cup winners have – depth down the middle. Look at the top teams in the league:

    Boston – Bergeron/Krejci/Kelly/Peverley/Campbell
    Vancouver – Sedin/Kesler/Malhotra/Lapierre
    Philly – Richards/Carter/Giroux/Briere
    Detroit – Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Modano/Filppula/Helm

  5. Meg Jarrell says:

    The wifiancce will LOVE Zumba. I think you should do it WITH her. Sharing is caring, Bournie :)

  6. liverning says:

    Have to agree that the East probably comes down to Flyers and Bruins. And that should be a delicious match up… Both have good depth at all positions, especially on ‘D’. Both have the asset of possibly becoming ‘unhinged’ when the moment warrants it (would have to assume the series would be PHYS-I-CAL).

    Would have to give the Bruins the nod in net (Timmy Thomas is a monsta’, and that Rask guy aint no slouch).

    Up front I would have to score it a draw, with no definitive advantage for either (Ditto on the coaches)…

    Don’t believe Bolts/Caps have the defensive ‘shutdown-ness’ to play good, consistent playoff hockey (they are good at times, and not so at others). They do have scary offensive possiblities (but will that dry up under playoffs pressure?)… They are a bit waffly in net. Do they have ‘tending that can carry a team? Probably could win a series or 2, but don’t really see them beating the Bruins or Flyers…

    And the Pens have too many unanswered ???’s right now.

    Of course this is all subject to change…

    Who’s your Westie early favorite(s)?

  7. TheSpawn826 says:

    Nice job Justin. Lifelong Bruins & Hockey Fan.

    This team is much deeper than last year’s team which had Rask playing out of his mind until he hit the wall in the 2nd round and Krecji going down. The Bruins SCF teams of 87-88 & 89-90 needed 1 more piece to win the Cup before the trade deadline and did not get it. This year they seem to have “filled” the holes so to speak. More depth at the C position with Kelly & Peverley and the PMD for the awful PP. And yes the PP has been awful this year, but looks much better since Karberle trade. I think it just needs a little time before it starts paying off.

    IF Timmy can keep playing the way he has all year, The Bruins have a better chance than most to raise the Cup this year.

  8. Derek says:

    A few commenters mentioned it already, but Tim Thomas is the Bruins gamebreaker. I disagreee that goaltending’s place is a thing of the past. I think you need a gamebreaker or two, someone who can singlehandedly win a game or series. The recent champs haven’t needed a goalie to do that, as they had crazy talented forwards who got the job done. Thomas is the guy in Boston who has to win some games singlehandedly.

  9. Andrew says:

    Jeff makes an excellent point that depth down the middle is absolutely key for a team to contend. Although Getzlaf and Perry were first and tied-second in playoff scoring the year they won.

    I agree with you Justin, that the Bruins don’t seem to have that one player that is capable of taking a team on their back and single-handedly changing a game night in and night out.

    However, what they do have, and what might even be more valuable, is a host of players that are capable of doing that in a one-off capacity. Bergeron, Lucic, Krejci, Horton and so on are very good players who are sometimes great. While every team wants that player(s) who can turn things around, I think depth in scoring and depth in all around talent is even more vital to playoff sucess.

    Those championship teams you refernce did have star players, but they also had guys like Max Talbot, Bill Guerin, Dave Bolland Dustin Byfuglien, Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson who could provide secondary scoring when needed. The Bruins have that in spades.

    They do lack those two or three players that they can send out when they’re down by one and really need to score. While the Bruins do score pretty frequently and have tons of depth, to me their offence doesn’t really strike fear into an opponent the way say Vancouver or Philly do. This is why I think the point is valid.

  10. zach says:

    we have the BIGGEST game breaker, Zedeno Chara. I have been a fan since 77/78, and this is our best team.
    With big Z, the B’s have the ability to shutdown the other teams gamebreaker.
    Our depth allows us to be “harder to play against” especially from the defensive aspect. I have never felt so good going in to the post season, however as a B’s fan it is with tepidation that I wait for the playoffs.

  11. Char says:

    Funny, but you totally overlooked one guy who could be a game-breaker (as in, scoring surprise sneaky goals): Brad Marchand. Riding shotgun with Bergeron, he’s turned into a mega-pest and has scored some amazing goals.

    Krejci isn’t a goal-scorer but a playmaker in the Savard style, and he’s got the other guy I’d think of as the Bruins’ offensive game-breaker in Lucic.

    Overall, though, what makes the Bruins tough is that there ISN’T that One Guy you can shut down and have a better chance to win. Even the so-called fourth line can hurt you.

  12. Christine says:

    So when are you going to write a piece on what’s really going on with my beloved Caps Jason? I kid..
    All of these points are dead on, and I for one, have feared what Boston is doing far more than catching the Lightning (although St. Louis and lecavalier have our number). However, I never would have picked Philly going all the way last year. Some silly stuff happened in the East. Often does. So, grit stood out in my mind more than anything. Who has the most, that’s the question…

  13. Nick says:

    Hi Justin,

    I apologize in advance for this being a long post, I’ll do my best to make it short.

    I’m a huge Bruins fan, and I’ve thought about the game-breaker topic for a while… unfortunately, I agree with you. I think I’ve found a rational argument to explain why, on two identical teams, the one with the game breaker has better chances of winning.

    For the sake of discussion, imagine 2 teams. Both have identical win-loss records, identical goals for and goals against, and equally good defense and goaltending. The only difference is that team 1 (we’ll call them Detroit, again for the sake of discussion, not that I’m calling the Wings a one-line team) gets almost all its production from its first line (say 75%), while the other team (we’ll call them the Bruins) gets almost equal production from all its lines (again, oversimplifying for the sake of discussion), with its first line only producing 35% of its total offense.

    Both are winning teams, both have very good stats, and are essentially indistinguishable aside from the fact that the Wings have more star power and the Bruins’ 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines produce more than the Wings’. Now suppose it’s the playoffs and the Bruins and Wings are tied in an important game.

    Even with otherwise identical overall stats that would lead you to believe the teams are equal, the Wings will have the advantage in this type of scenario, simply because by increasing the ice time of their more productive players, they’re transforming the productivity distribution of ice time. You couldn’t do this all year long (i.e. your top line can’t consistently play half the game), but going into a tight situation in the 3rd period or when you need a big goal it’s certainly possible that the top line would spend half the time on the ice, and in doing so you have point-per-game players on the ice almost half the time. By doing that, the Wings can hugely boost their chances of scoring a big goal, while the Bruins could only marginally increase it, because their top line(s) don’t have as much of a difference with the bottom ones. The performance boost of giving Datsyuk and Zetterberg extra ice time is a lot more than the performance boost of Boston would get by using more Lucic and Krecji.

    To re-explain a different way, suppose that Detroit’s 1st line produces one goal every 10 minutes of ice time, while Boston’s first line produces 1 goal every 20 minutes (remember, total goals scored by each team is a wash, and Boston’s 2nd through 4th lines make up the difference). To calculate the expected production of each team, you’d multiply their expected production by their ice time (i.e. Detroit’s line: 1/10min*minutes of ice time =goals per game – I’ll reexplain if you want me to, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to my point). The production of Detroit’s other lines would be less than the production of Boston’s other lines, but the expected total each game is identical. In a tight game, this expected performance is altered significantly by both teams using their top lines more, and that’s the key to my argument – Detroit has the ability to turn itself into a team that scores as much as once every 10 minutes (by using only its first line, obviously limited by the fact they get tired), while Boston could never match that.

    So to conclude, I think you’re right that star power can prove to be hugely important in the playoffs, beyond the fact that stars score more. I think a team like the Bruins is a hard team to beat over 60 minutes because they have no weaknesses, but at the same time I don’t think they have the same ability to crank it up a notch when they’re down by a goal with 2 minutes left in the game. I’m afraid they’ll suffer the same fate Buffalo did coming out of the lockout – they dominated the entire season (I think they had a 15 or 20 point lead in the East by the end of the year?), but got crushed by Carolina because they didn’t have an answer for that extra level of playoff hockey.They had something ridiculous like 8 or 10 20-goal scorers, but not a single 35-goal scorer, and it cost them in the end. It takes someone who can play out of his mind when you need that goal. I’m not sure rolling 4 lines in the 3rd period of a playoff game can cut it.

    Anyway, I hope you had the patience to read through it all. Thanks, and keep up the good writing! Let me know if you think I explained it well or if you suspect me of having smoked something before writing.

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