In many ways, the 2011 semifinals match between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers is the shaggy dog series of the second round. There should be no doubt that both teams boast electrifying talent and formidable players, but they also come into Game 1 in Philly with some serious questions.
If you ask me, though, the Bruins probably have the most room for improvement. A lot of people will linger on their collapse after building a 3-0 lead against the Flyers in 2010, but the biggest red flags come from Boston’s slim first round victory against the Montreal Canadiens.
Beyond nebulous, intangible ideas like “improving their killer instinct” and “regaining their swagger,” the Bruins need improvements in concrete terms as well. Let’s take a look at who (and what) needs the most improvement.
Tomas Kaberle and the power play
It’s not fair to blame all of the Bruins’ power play woes on one player, especially a defenseman who came to the team around the trade deadline. Still, there’s no nice way to put it: Kaberle has been a bust in Boston.
The bottom line is that the team acquired Kaberle with the hope that he would improve their stale power play, yet Joe Haggerty reports that the team has a 93 percent “failure rate” on the man advantage since that trade.
That seven-game series against the Habs raised an unflattering mirror up to that unsightly power play. The Bruins became the first NHL team to win a seven-game series after failing to score a single PP goal. They went 0-for-21 and actually allowed a Tomas Plekanec shorthanded goal in Game 7, meaning that the unit was “minus-1” during the series.
Again, you cannot pin all the blame on Kaberle, but he’s still the easy scapegoat. After all, he earned 22 power play points (all assists) in 58 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season and 25 on the PP in 2009-10. He’s obviously not making his money for lock-down defense, so he needs to justify his existence by producing offense. His descent out of favor is plainly revealed by the fact that he only received a paltry 14 minutes of ice time in Game 7.
What’s wrong with Milan Lucic?
Lucic was already well-liked in Boston going into this season. After all, you don’t draw Cam Neely comparisons out of contempt. Yet the 2010-11 campaign was far and away his best yet, as he matched his previous two seasons’ combined point totals to hit a career-high 62. Perhaps most importantly, Lucic scored a career-best 30 goals.
Many probably expected Lucic to be a force of nature against a smaller Canadiens team, yet he managed zero goals and two assists in those seven games. He also hurt his team badly in Game 6 by boarding Jaroslav Spacek. He received a game misconduct for that infraction, while the Habs received a five minute major power play.
Perhaps the postseason isn’t really the problem and something else is amiss, though. Haggerty points out that Lucic hasn’t scored a goal in his last 17 games – playoffs and regular season combined – although it stands to mention that he did accumulate nine assists in that span.
Injuries and shaken confidence can have a big impact on a player’s performance (or in some cases, a power play unit efficiency), but a new round also brings new matchups. Perhaps Kaberle will have better luck creating chances against the Flyers’ penalty killers. Maybe Lucic will respond well to the physicality Philly brings.
Either way, if the Bruins want to see another set of matchups in the conference finals, they’ll need more from Kaberle, Lucic and their busted up power play.