Remember the good old days of January?
Back in January, the Maple Leafs were Bruins fans’ second-favorite team. After all, it was because of the Leafs that the Bruins would have another Top 5 draft pick. When Central Scouting released the midterm rankings, people got familiar with the names, as the Leafs, whose first-round pick the Bruins have thanks to the Phil Kessel deal, were on pace to finish with the fourth-lowest point total in the league. It seemed to be a given.
Yet by the time the Leafs were finished putting a 5-2 beating on the Bruins Saturday (recap) they moved within four points of a playoff spot. That pick that had seemed such a safe bet to bring the B’s a Top 5 prospect is now on pace to be the ninth pick of the draft, assuming Toronto doesn’t climb even further in the standings.
At this point of the season, a draft pick is the least of the Bruins’ concerns, but it is symbolic of how things have gone for the Bruins of late. Nothing is a given, no matter how nice it would be if it were the case.
After the Bruins lost a very eventful game to the Canadiens earlier this month in Montreal, it was pointed out in this space that the B’s had a relatively easy road ahead before meeting up with the Habs next: Six games, and only one opponent in line for a playoff spot. The B’s were slumping, but if they wanted to right the ship and potentially get another winning streak going, the opportunity was seemingly there for the taking.
So much for that. Five of the games of the perceived easier six-game stretch have been played, and so far the B’s are 1-2-2, having beaten only the Blue Jackets while losing to the Islanders and Maple Leafs and picking up one point vs. the Sabres and Predators.
After they play the Devils Tuesday night at the Garden, the Bruins will host the Habs in the final regular season meeting between the two teams on Thursday. The opportunity was there for them to use this part of the schedule to have a full head of steam by the time the saw the Canadiens again, but the winnable games have proven to be nothing more than frustrating losses.
“We were a team looking for an easy win tonight,” Claude Julien told reporters after Saturday’s game. “We wanted to win the game without having to put the work in. Consequently, that didn’t happen. That’s a little bit of what’s been happening lately.
“Certainly, we’ve got to bring our work ethic back to what it should be and we would expect it to be to win some hockey games, because there’s no easy games this time of year. We have some players – most of the team – that are just going out there and not performing at their best level.”
The core of this Bruins team has been around long enough for the individuals to know that things won’t come to them, especially in the playoffs. Late March isn’t exactly the best time to seem as though such knowledge has been lost, so with 11 games remaining, the Bruins have much more on their plate than “gearing up for the playoffs,” as they say. They need to remind themselves of what kind of hockey they’ll be playing come mid-April.
SEGUIN MAKING A LATE CASE
Speaking of those draft picks from Toronto, Tyler Seguin has long been expected to be a standout player, but it probably doesn’t delight B’s fans as much when a good Seguin performance stands out amongst such a poor Bruins showing.
Seguin had a very encouraging night Saturday, playing a more physical game and coming a couple of big James Reimer saves away from his 12th and 13th goals of the season. His 16:32 came partially because the game was a blowout, but it was his third highest time on ice total of the season. Additionally, he tied Adam McQuaid for the team lead with five shots on goal. Still, with how poorly the entire team performed, Seguin being the bright spot probably didn’t improve too many moods.
What Seguin’s performance may have improved is his chance of staying in the lineup. Whether or not you agree with it, Julien believes in rewarding his players when they perform, and, as we’ve seen more this year, benching or even scratching players when they don’t bring it. Saturday has to have earned Seguin some points with the coach. Now he just needs to sustain it, and that’s been the problem all season with the rookie.
As things stand right now, Seguin might not be a sure thing to even play each night in the playoffs, and if he knows that, it could serve as major motivation. Well before the draft, Seguin said he knew what the general deal would be wherever he went. If he was drafted first, he’d have all the playing time early on and any rookie mistakes would be easily forgiven. If he went second, he might have a tougher time earning his spot, but the he would be able to play for a contender.
“In the end it's still the NHL so I'm happy to go to either team,” Seguin told WEEI.com last May. “I don't have a preference. Edmonton is a Canadian city so they have a great fan base and they are a bit of a weaker team so there might be more opportunity there. With that being said, Boston's already a contender. You can hop in the NHL and get a run for the Stanley Cup.”
Seguin has not shown consistently that he’s totally caught up to the NHL game, but when he’s playing confidently, as he was Saturday, he’s dangerous. His second-period breakaway was a perfect example, and even if he can only get an opportunity like that every couple of games, it will pay dividends. He ran into a goalie in the midst of an outstanding performance Saturday, but if Seguin consistently plays the way he did, Julien could give him more responsibility (Seguin has played on the power play the last two games). He just needs to keep it up, because if the mid-season Seguin shows up more often than the Seguin of Saturday night, Julien could very well opt for “identity” with Daniel Paille.
Brad Marchand is eligible to return to the Bruins’ lineup on Tuesday, so it will be interesting to see how Julien approaches the healthy scratch.