Murphy’s Hockey Law: The Bruins “Are What We Thought They Were”
Yes the Bruins got their second home win of the season over the Wild 4-2 Thursday night at TD Garden and played better than they did in their 5-4 loss to San Jose Tuesday, but what team will show up Saturday against the Maple Leafs? Right about now Bruins head coach Claude Julien has to be feeling like former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green felt like back in 2006. After the win Thursday the Bruins are two points out of the Wild Card and one point out of third in the Atlantic Division. But this team is like a “box of chocolates” right now and seems destined to be mired in perpetual mediocrity.
“How can you be good in one game and not the other?” Julien asked the media following the frustrating loss to the Sharks Tuesday in which the Bruins lost two leads.
But while they may be unpredictable game to game or even period by period and shift by shift, has their performance to this point of the season not been as predictable as a Tom Brady game-winning drive in the Super Bowl or an Adam Vinatieri Super Bowl-winning field goal? For anyone who paid attention to the demise of this organization that began with their loss to the hated Canadiens in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, these days of inconsistency and lack of structure are no surprise.
The Canadiens exposed the Bruins weaknesses in that series and have continued to since then. Meanwhile the rest of the NHL took notice and while the Bruins have tried to adapt — and have with more speed — they have veered away from their gritty identity. Part of that is that as of now they appear to have brought in the wrong players for the gritty and up tempo style they want. More importantly though, they have not corrected a key ingredient for a team short on skill and trying to find their identity again: strong leadership.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Bruins have continually lost key veteran leaders in their dressing room and with the exception of signing Jarome Iginla prior to the 2013-14 season, failed to bring in more proven veteran leaders. Instead they have depended on players such as Milan Lucic (now a Los Angeles King), Brad Marchand and David Krejci to assume leadership roles. Yes they still have true leaders in captain Zdeno Chara, alternate captain Patrice Bergeron and veteran Chris Kelly but both Chara and Bergeron are quiet leaders so to speak and Kelly who was definitely vocal, is now lost for the season with a broken left femur.
Gone are the days where veterans like Mark Recchi or Andrew Ference or Shawn Thornton or Johnny Boychuk — who garnered respect both within the dressing room and around the league — would tell it like it is and have no problem making it publicly known that they and their teammates weren’t carrying the weight. With Chara and Bergeron being leaders by example on the ice, management has apparently decided that for this current Bruins squad, the vocal leaders should be Marchand and Krejci. With Marchand 27 and Krejci now 29 and one of the longest tenured Bruins, it makes sense on paper for them to assume the roles of Recchi, Ference, Thornton and Boychuk now. In fact the team believes so much in Marchand assuming that role that he now resides in Thornton’s famous corner stall in the Bruins dressing room which many a leader has sat in over the years.
Both have become the media’s go to players for quotes. Give them credit, they never duck out to avoid a post-game scrum with reporters and face the music. But one wonders how much Marchand’s teammates liked it when following the 5-4 loss to the Sharks Tuesday, Marchand is telling reporters there’s too many “passengers” on the team. Remember this is the same game in which as his team was trying to tie the game late, Marchand took a bad high-sticking penalty with 2:40 left in regulation, leaving his team in a bigger pickle than they already were in.
“We know that we’re not all playing our best every night and we have to,” Marchand said. “I think right now if we’re going to get out of this and we’re going to start putting a few wins together we have to have everyone going every night and we can’t have any passengers at all. If we have one that’s enough to cost us a game and right now we have way too many.”
Marchand went on to preach about accountability.
“We have to hold each other accountable and we do at times, but maybe there has to be more of it. I don’t know. We’ll have to figure that out,” he said. “We have to look in the mirror and each and every one of us have to be better. I don’t think anyone can say they’ve played their best so far this year. Like I said before, that’s what we need. We need everyone to be good every night.”
Yours truly was not there to ask him about his late brain cramp taking that penalty and unfortunately no reporter that was present did. So, it’s a bit hard to fully criticize Marchand for not addressing the penalty. But wouldn’t a true leader own such a crucial mistake without being asked instead of calling out his teammates?
Krejci did just that following the Bruins’ 4-3 loss at Montreal November 7 when he took an ill-advised cross-checking penalty with 2:03 left in regulation of a 3-3 game. The Habs scored the game-winner on the ensuing power play and the Bruins were left once again explaining how they let another lead slip away. But the Czech center immediately took the blame afterwards.
“It was a stupid penalty with two minutes left in a tied game,” Krejci admitted. “Guys battled hard, and then I do something like that…it was stupid and it cost us the game. It’s disappointing when I thought guys did a very good job and played hard. Then you do something stupid, and you let everyone down. It’s not a very good feeling. Now I have to deal with it, and feel like I let my teammates and the coaching staff down.”
That should’ve been exactly what Marchand did Tuesday after the loss to the Sharks. There should be a lot less “we” and a lot more “I” in his remarks to the media when he makes a crucial mistake like he did Tuesday.
“I almost fell off my chair laughing,” an NHL executive and former NHL player told Murphy’s Hockey Law Thursday. “If I’m his teammates, I’m not too happy at all. You would hope Bergeron or Chara said something to him. If I was Sweeney or Neely he’d be in my office for a talk too. Your so-called leaders can’t be pointing fingers after they take a penalty like that.”
Yes Marchand scored a goal Thursday but he also made a blind behind the back pass in the neutral zone that led to a Minnesota scoring chance and had Julien with his arms up in disgust on the bench. There’s been too many of those undisciplined plays or untimely penalties from Marchand. It’s no wonder lack of discipline has been a team wide epidemic.
To this scribe at least, Krejci — who had an assist Thursday — is more of a quiet and lead by example type of person. So then without the likes of a Recchi, Thornton, Ference or Kelly around, is it up to Marchand to assume their roles? General Manager Don Sweeney said as much before the season started when he termed the pesky winger as an “emerging leader” on his team. But to this point, that hasn’t been. The Bruins skill-wise have been what we thought they were but the designated leadership core, and in at times, specifically Marchand hasn’t. He and Krejci — because they’re still young enough but experienced enough — can be the leaders that guide the younger players through their growing pains. Up until this point though that hasn’t been the case.
“The disappointing part is that it’s coming from our leaders. If we’re going to go in the right direction then I think it’s important for our leaders to lead in the right way,” Julien said following the loss in Montreal.
Following Wednesday’s practice, Julien was asked if he felt his message to the players wasn’t getting through anymore?
“If [the message not getting through] was a reason and they were tuning me out, I would be the first one to want to be outta here,” Julien answered. “So…you know…that’s not the case. I can tell you that’s not the case. I really feel good about the response I’m getting from players as far as believing. Right now we just have to fix what we do out there, and that’s the main thing.”
Julien’s message is loud and clear. Probably louder than it’s ever been. But every head coach needs his leaders in the dressing room to be conduits between him and the rest of the team. It’s up to Sweeney and President Cam Neely, not Julien, to decide if the right players are in place to play the role of the conduits. But until that reevaluation comes, it’s up to those in place to do their jobs.
Marchand — probably more so than Krejci — has the ability to play that role. But he can’t be taking bad penalties late in a game or making cute plays in the neutral zone and then calling his teammates out for the same things. Will there come a time when Sweeney and Neely decide that they need to form a new leadership core and trade Marchand and/or Krejci? Even though they’ve vehemently denied it, sources around the league continue to say the Bruins have listened to offers. But until that time comes, chances are that if this current core doesn’t step up and lead the way soon, it will be Julien who’s shown the door and that’s too bad because he is arguably the best coach the Bruins have ever had.
The Bruins aren’t the only team frustrated with their play thus far and having internal issues. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in complete disarray and according to superstar Evgeni Malkin “mad” at each other thanks to a dismal stretch recently.
Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic has requested a trade to the Western Conference due to family reasons. According to the Insider Trading panel on TSN, the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are at the top of his wish list. But for Hamonic to end up with one of those teams the Islanders are going to need a top 4 defenseman back. Sources tell Murphy’s Hockey Law that if the Flames want Hamonic, the cost would be Dougie Hamilton or T.J. Brodie and if it’s the Oilers, the Islanders are targeting Darnell Nurse but the Oilers are offering Justin Schultz.
Another great piece on Bruins rookie Frank Vatrano and his ascent to the NHL and playing for his hometown team.
In honor of the victims of the Paris Attacks and specifically a man this scribe crossed paths with once, Eagles Of Death Metal merch manager Nick Alexander, we leave you with a show from the band that was as so many poor souls that night were, changed forever. #PrayForParis #PrayForPeace