NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils. Bruins-Devils stream coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The Boston Bruins have been in a bit of a funk over the past month, winning just six of their past 17 games entering Sunday’s game against the New Jersey Devils (5:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Go back to the start of the season and the biggest concern with the Bruins may have been their depth on defense after losing Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara to free agency without bringing in anybody from outside the organization to replace them. Defensively though, the Bruins have been strong this season with some more strong goaltending from the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak and some great defensive work from the blueliners in front of them, particularly Charlie McAvoy.
The concern instead is a similar one that has existed with the Bruins for years. That concern? Do they have enough scoring depth beyond their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak to make a significant difference.
When that line is on the ice — or even any two of them — the Bruins play at a championship level.
With any of two of them the Bruins attempt more than 60% of the total shots, control more than 54%of the Expected Goals, and outscore teams by a 22-13 margin. Overall, they average 3.55 goals per 60 minutes.
When all three of them are on the ice together they control more than 64% of the shot attempts, 58% of the expected goals, and outscore teams by a 17-8 margin. About as dominant as you can get.
But when none of those three are on the ice during 5-on-5 play, things badly regress.
At various points over the past few years the Bruins’ scoring depth has been an issue. It is an extraordinarily top-heavy team with a significant chunk of the team’s offense coming from those three forwards. Entering play on Monday Pastrnak, Marchand, and Bergeron are the only players on the team that have scored more than eight goals this season. Together, they have scored more than 46% of the team’s goals.
When none of those three are on the ice, the Bruins plummet to below 50%, while they get outscored by a 33-25 margin.
When all three are on the ice, the Bruins score 4.34 goals per 60 minutes. It is 3.55 with any of two of them. With none of them, their offense drops all the way down to just 1.55 goals per 60 minutes. That is the lowest that number has been in five years for the Bruins. This is a problem and a concern because top-heavy teams do not tend to win the Stanley Cup. If the Bruins are going to get through the East Division playoffs and then compete with the other top teams in the NHL they are going to have to find some sort of offense beyond the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio. You can only go so far with just a single line.
So how do the Bruins fix this?
The easiest solution is improvement from within.
The quartet of David Krejci, Charlie Coyle, Craig Smith, and Jake DeBrusk has combined for 14 goals this season, and as a group have scored on only a collective 7% shooting percentage. That is 3-4 percentage points below what you would expect that quartet to shoot at. All of them are capable of more and should be expected to provide more.
But would that be enough?
The Bruins are in a pretty good position with the salary cap this season and could add some significant talent ahead of the trade deadline. When the season began you might have expected them to be in the market for a defenseman right now. And while they could certainly still use some extra depth there, goal prevention is not an issue for Boston right now. It is goal scoring where they rank 20th in goals per game and are almost totally dependent on only three players.
This is still a playoff team, but if it is going to compete for the Stanley Cup — seriously compete for the Stanley Cup — it is going to have to do something about that punchless offense beyond the top line.