Friday, December 16, 2011

Bruins Udpate: I Told You So Edition

Well, I only really told you about half of what happened. I told you not to worry about the Bruins, but I didn't say they wouldn't lose in regulation again until December 6th. So why are the Bruins currently the best team on the planet? Well, I'm glad I pretended you asked.

A Legitimate Fourth Line: The Bruins play the best third period in the league, a plus 33 last time I heard. They're like a baseball team with a lights out closer. Right now, if you don't have a lead by the second period against the Bruins, the game is essentially over. On most teams, even in the NHL, the fourth line doesn't see a lot of minutes. On the Bruins, they do. Furthermore, their job is to exhaust the opposing defensemen. And Julien sticks with them even when they're on the ice for goals because he trusts the system as much as he asks his players. Which means that all of the Bruins generally have more energy in the third period than all of their opponents.

Depth and Difference: Along with just the numerical depth, each of the four lines presents different challenges to their opponents. The top line has one of the game's best passers flanked by top tier power forwards. The second line combines the best three-zone player in the game (I'm going to keep saying it) with two explosive skaters. The third line combines Kelly's speed and intelligence (The new Reichi?) with Perverley's dangerous skating and stick-handling, while Benoit Poulliot now skates his brains out when he's on the ice. And the fourth line are plenty capable of forechecking the heck out of defensemen and grinding out the occasional goal. And Paille is usually about the fastest guy on the ice when he's out. Very few teams present match up challenges on every single line.

Tim Thomas: It seems like every now and again you have to remind the world Tim Thomas is still the best goalie in the NHL. That helps. And, since we're talking about goalies, I might as well add that Rask might be one of the top 20 goalies in the league. (He just threw down a 41 save shut-out.) That might not sound like anything special, but he's the back up. That's pretty special.

The Julien System: It's about time to start talking about Claude Julien in the same terms as we talk about Bill Belichick. The games are different, so the moment by moment strategy doesn't really compare, but Claude Julien's system has lead to a Stanley Cup Championship, a President's Trophy, four straight playoff appearances, and an .616 winning percentage. Here's an example of why the system works so well. If an opponent is able to skate the puck out of his zone, and the Bruins center is in position, one defenseman backs up, while the other attacks. This makes it almost impossible for a player to skate through the neutral zone, which almost always leads to a harmless dump in. It's subtle but effective and, at least in my mind, proves the depth and success of Julien's coaching.

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year and returned just about everybody on that team. And though they haven't found that defenseman that Kaberle was supposed to be, and Corvo, might be, they've add players with a real hunger to succeed. And Tyler Sequin is better. All told this shouldn't be that much of a surprise. The only question is whether or not the Bruins can maintain these advantages through another playoff run. And with that in mind...

My Radical Suggestion for this Post (seriously, I'm totally like that guy from Moneyball): Start resting players now. I know we're a long way from the playoffs, and nothing is certain in sports (or, well, I guess anything), but I think there is real value to resting players as the season goes along. After the President's Trophy winning Bruins were ousted from the playoffs by Carolina, the extent of the team's injuries slowly made their way public. The Bruins were riddled, not with anything catastrophic, but with the wear and tear of playing a hockey season in the NHL. For some reason, that wear and tear hits every team differently, team to team, season to season. I'm not saying the Bruins should send out the JV team every now and again, just give one or two players one or two nights off as a way to mitigate that wear and tear. (In this sense, a mild injury here and there during the regular season, a la Chara's current leg injury could be beneficial.) Furthermore, the Bruins have two talented young players in Steven Kampfer and Jordan Caron who would benefit from a little extra NHL time. Zack Hamill is also beginning to show his NHL worth. Rotate through the line up and with 2-3 weeks before the playoffs go back to all the starters starting. So the Bruins might lose a few games they otherwise wouldn't have; if it leads to postseason victories it is well worth it.

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