BOSTON (CBS) – It wasn’t as glorious as the 6-0 road trip the Bruins produced last February, but Boston still will come back home with a solid seven out of 12 points after this year’s sojourn.
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While last season’s journey was about bonding with new teammates acquired via trade, getting some of the rust off of Tuukka Rask and establishing an identity, this year’s midwinter’s trek was about re-establishing “Bruins hockey” and seeing how the club could survive without top right wingers Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley.
Well, after capping their 3-2-1 trip with a victory at Ottawa, it’s apparent the Bruins are at least back to playing with the type of confidence and structure that’s made them so successful over the last 12 months on the calendar. Sure, they can still have a tough time breaking out of their own end a little more than you’d like. However, in their own end without the puck the Bruins are doing a much better job at limiting chances, and in turn Rask and Tim Thomas both look sharper.
Led by the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-Tyler Seguin line, the Bruins have started to establish a forecheck with at least three of their lines each night, and they’re at least working hard enough to overcome any shortcomings their lineup has without Horton and Peverley. You saw their resilience shine in both St. Louis and Buffalo, as Boston battled even with those two teams until they could manufacture a break or two to earn a win over the Blues and reach the shootout (which the Bruins lost) against the Sabres.
If the Bruins’ diminishing work ethic and team play finally returned to normal over the last six games, one thing that didn’t change was Boston’s need heading into Monday’s trade deadline. In fact, the Bruins have two needs. Although they don’t need to add players that are difference-makers, they need guys that can provide depth and push for jobs. They must add at least one veteran forward and one veteran defenseman.
We’ve recently seen how missing two forwards can weaken Boston’s front end. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Bruins play for a long time without one of their top six on the back end. Even if Johnny Boychuk doesn’t miss time after he was steamrolled by Chris Neil in Ottawa, the Bruins need to cover themselves for the inevitable serious injury that statistically has to hit the defense corps at some point.
Another long playoff run with just three-man games lost on defense is highly unlikely. If Boston trusted Steven Kampfer to step in, the team would’ve found a way to get him into an NHL game in the last month. Andrew Bodnarchuk is just a warm body.
The pickings on the trade market are slim (with so many teams alive for the playoffs) and the prices are high (as evidenced by what Minnesota got for Marek Zidlicky). We know that. That’s why it’s probably wise for Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to think small. He also doesn’t want to upset the solid chemistry his team has created the last couple years.
We all know the names that may or may not be available. The Boston Herald mentioned Anaheim’s Jason Blake, and everyone’s wishing for a Mike Knuble return. These are guys that the Bruins, without a second-round pick this year and unwilling to consider moving a roster player, could probably coax away from their current teams. Carolina’s Bryan Allen, or any defenseman Boston could trust to step in, might be a bit pricier. There’s always a 2013 second-round pick, which could be spiffed up by adding a midlevel prospect or conditional pick. Boston could also go out and get a 2012 second-round pick in a deal.
Chiarelli’s always been known for his patience, and that approach has mostly paid off. Maybe Boston goes into the postseason with the roster it has now and never suffers even an ingrown toenail. It’d be wise for Chiarelli, however, to do all he can to avoid that maybe and bolster his roster for what could be a championship-repeating run.