The Boston Bruins led the National Hockey League in goal differential in 2010-11 (plus-51), 2011-12 (plus-67), and 2013-14 (plus-84).
Last season, the B’s sank to 18th in the league in that category with a plus-2 mark and missed the playoffs for the first time with Claude Julien as their head coach.
While Boston’s goals-allowed per game (2.45) still ranked a respectable eighth in the NHL last year, the goal scoring per game shrunk to 22nd (2.55), down from third the previous season (3.15).
In 40 contests last season, including 10 of the team’s final 15, the Bruins scored two goals or less, up from just 27 such games the previous year.
“We can talk about low scoring, but we were in the top five [in the league] in three of the last four years,” Julien said recently. “It was an issue maybe last year when you lose a guy like David Krejci who misses half the season, that takes a lot of it. [Jerome] Iginla [leaving] who had scored 30, I mean we can go on and on. That’s in the past.”
The 2014-15 Bruins had just three 20-goal scorers and nine who scored 10 or more, the lowest numbers in both categories for the franchise in a non-lockout season since 2009-10. Brad Marchand led the team with 24 markers. Patrice Bergeron netted 23, and Loui Eriksson 22 in a season where Krejci indeed missed 35 games to injury.
Four of last season’s 10-goal scorers are no longer with the club, with Milan Lucic (18), Carl Soderberg (13), Reilly Smith (13), and Dougie Hamilton (10) gone to different employers.
Can the likes of Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, and Brett Connolly improve the team’s depth scoring and get the Bruins’ offense back to top-five league status?
“We have a lot of new faces,” Julien admitted. “We’ve got a lot of new players that have to adjust to their teammates and feel comfortable but I think with time we’ll get better with our offense here.”
Marchand, whose 116-goal-total over the past five regular seasons is tied with Bergeron for the team-high, is counting on everyone pulling on the rope.
“We’re going to be good,” said Marchand. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net. A lot of guys that can make plays. Hopefully it transitions into the games. You need everyone to chip in. You need all four lines to be able to contribute and all six D. I think we have guys capable of doing that.”
Marchand’s anticipated linemates, 30-year-olds Bergeron and Eriksson, have certainly proven they can fill the net over their careers. Bergeron scored 30 goals just two seasons ago and has six 20-goal years under his belt. Eriksson now has five 20-goal campaigns including four such years in Dallas.
Krejci, presumed healthy again at age-29, had 19 and 23 goals in his last two full seasons and is a counted-on presence every night.
It may just be those new faces that tell the story of the 2015-16 Bruins.
Beleskey, 27, scored 22 goals in just 65 games last season for Anaheim (up from just nine two years ago), with eight more over 16 postseason games.
Hayes, 25, lit the lamp 19 times a year ago over 72 games with Florida (up from 11 goals in 2013-14).
Connolly, 23, had 12 goals with Tampa Bay over 50 games last season, before injuries limited him to just five games in a B’s sweater (no goals). Connolly scored 21 and 31 times in his two previous years in the AHL.
And last year’s Providence call-ups, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak, encouraged with eight and 10 goals, respectively, in their partial-year showings.
Progress from those five forwards could get the goal differential back for the Bruins in a positive way. That, and of course, the defensive responsibility Boston has become known for under Julien throughout his tenure; the B’s have been a top-eight defensive team in the league now for seven-years running.
“It’s something that we know with our team, it’s expected,” said Marchand. “To go far, have a good year and have a good playoffs, you need that. It’s got to be in your DNA. We expect everyone on our team to be able to work hard. We’re going to hold each other to high standards with that. It starts every day with practice.”
Other things will factor in as well, such as the team’s power play success (down from third in the league in 2013-14 to 17th last season, a 12-goal drop-off) as well as offensive support from the defensemen, with tweaks to the team’s system that blue-liner Joe Morrow calls ‘little changes’.
“I think we have a really good, tough, forechecking team,” Morrow said. “Fast. Quite a bit of skill on this team as well, it’s a very good overall skill-set for forwards. And you’ve got a bunch of offensive-defensemen back here who can contribute, too. I feel like we have the overall package this year, it should be pretty fun to watch.”