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Monday, November 29, 2010

State of the Boston Bruins: Scoring woes resurface, decisions loom

What is wrong with the Boston Bruins?

This is a team on paper that is as talented as any in the NHL this season, but the Jekyll and Hyde act is wearing thin on fans and likely management.

Unfortunately, the team's tenuous cap situation doesn't provide GM Peter Chiarelli with any real flexibility to do much beyond recalling players like Jamie Arniel (OK- he did it because Jordan Caron and David Krejci were out with the flu, but you get the idea).

The club's scoring woes are becoming an issue again, and the Freight Line horses who were so exciting in the month of October have largely cooled off (save for Milan Lucic, who is in the midst of a career year and did register an assist on the lone goal in Boston's 4-1 loss to Atlanta last night). Nathan Horton is on a cold streak, with no points in the last five games, and he hasn't scored since Boston's win over New Jersey on Nov. 15 (and even in that game he took a grand total of one shot, beating Marty Brodeur from the outside on a shot that the future Hall of Fame goalie usually eats up).

The B's are again under three goals a game on the average, and with Lucic leading the club with 19 points in 22 games, that's not enough to get things done. Granted, the eventual returns of the Marx Brothers-- Marc Savard and Marco Sturm-- should remedy some of the offensive problems, something is going to have to give on the Boston roster to get the team cap compliant.

Perhaps one way to look at the latest losing streak (0-2 with one goal scored in losses to Carolina and Atlanta since Thanksgiving) is that the changes Chiarelli will have to make in order to clear cap room for Savard and Sturm might not be as intensely scrutinized as they would have been when the Bruins were rolling and chemistry was excellent; considered a strength. What would have been an agonizing decision(s) a few weeks ago given how well the team was playing on the whole, will now be less of one.

The rookie Caron will probably be one to go, as his very good start offensively in October has dried up of late and he's an easy call to make to free up one of the forward roster spots. He can go down to Providence and play a lot and in all situations for Rob Murray-- that's a good thing. But his demotion will only address the place in the lineup, it doesn't do nearly enough to solve the cap problem the team faces.

Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler are two players who have picked up their play this season, but the big question remains: will it be enough. Although Ryders six goals and 13 points in 22 games is good for fourth (behind the ageless Mark Recchi with 15-- he keeps motoring along at soon-to-be 43) place on the club, but his minus-5 rating is the worst. Plus/minus is a tough stat to keep in context, but Ryder's salary has been a bugaboo for the club since last season, when his significant underperformance really began to hamstring the team. As for Wheeler, he's been a lot better than the start of the year since injuries forced his move to center, but five goals and nine points in22 games isn't exactly a torrid pace.

It just may be that Chiarelli can find some buyers who can at least take the cap hits off his hands for some kind of return, but the reality is, the Bruins GM is over a barrel on this and the rest of his contemporaries know it. They will wait him out and likely benefit from getting the forced roster reductions at just a waiver price, which will be tough for the team to swallow but is the reality of this cost-certain modern NHL world.

Although the GM has gotten some high marks for trades he's made to bring in talent, his cap management grades are much more in doubt. With about $4 million to shave according to CapGeek, Chiarelli doesn't have a lot of options in front of him.

When Savard and Sturm do make it back, the team and its fans can only hope that they won't be too long in making meaningful contributions, because these days, the Bruins need to be a lot more of a strong, snarling Mr. Hyde than the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll.

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