|Dougie Hamilton is having a breakout season in Boston. (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)|
Through forty-eight games the Boston Bruins sit in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with fifty-seven points. This is surprising to many as hockey fans are accustomed to the Bruins being one of the better teams in the East as has been the case over the past few years. Inconsistent play, injuries, and shuffled lines have made for a frustrating first half of the season for Boston. The offense, defense, and goaltending have all had their ups-and-downs so far this season. Let's take a look at each of these three areas for the Bruins.
The loss of Jarome Iginla on offense left a big hole on the first line for most of the season and the fourth line has been disappointing to say the least. The leading scorer on that fourth unit is Daniel Paille with eight points (1G 7A) followed closely behind by veteran Gregory Campbell with seven points (5G 2A). This line has seen their ice time dwindle recently due to lack of production and the team's necessity to win every game and keep their position in the standings. The Bruins need this line to step up their play as the system calls for contributions from each line.
The first line has dealt with David Krejci's stubborn injury, an under-producing Milan Lucic and no help on the right side. David Pastrnak has been given the opportunity to help fill that void and General Manager Peter Chiarelli seems satisfied with the current composition of that line. If this unit can continue to improve and get consistent, strong play from young Pastrnak it will certainly help the team's offensive production.
Boston's defense took a big hit even before the season started, losing Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders. The injury bug then took hold of veteran defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara who missed nineteen games with a knee injury. Other key players who fell victim to injuries include Kevin Miller, Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug who together cost the team another thirty-seven missed games. The Bruins were lucky enough to have players like David Warsofsky, Zach Trotman, and Joe Morrow step in and play very respectable in the absences of the above-mentioned core players. However, if the Bruins are going to have a strong second-half, they need to stay healthy and continue to get offensive contributions from Dougie Hamilton, who is having a breakout season.
Tuukka Rask has been very strong of late and is one of the main reason's for the team's successful run over the past 10 games. According to an article on NESN.com, he posted a 5-1-3 record and .946 save percentage in January. His early season struggles were a combination of below-average play and trying to make up for the lesser-caliber defensemen in front of him. Last year, Rask started in fifty-eight games (71% of the team's total games). Through forty-eight games, Rask has started thirty-eight (79%), which would mean Rask should be expected to start in nearly sixty-five games this season if the trend continues. Couple that with a very difficult remaining schedule and the Bruins' position in the standings and you have a very crucial stretch for the franchise netminder. His upward trending play is a good sign and will need to continue if his team is going to make the playoffs.