BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Bruins are far from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ most heated rival.
Nonetheless, you have to imagine the Penguins are sick and tired of hearing about how the Bruins are so deep and perfectly built, especially in the time after Boston won the 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
Not long ago, the Penguins were the model NHL franchise and seemed destined for multiple Cup wins. A couple Sidney Crosby concussions, a few other injuries, and some inconsistent goaltending have combined to limit the Pens to as many Cups as the Bruins since 2009.
It’s in front of this background that the Penguins have to be savoring their two wins in six days against Boston.
The Penguins’ 2-1 win Sunday was a tribute to the depth that has them not only ahead of the Bruins in the Eastern standings right now, but on the list of Cup favorites for 2013. Joe Vitale, Pittsburgh’s fourth-line center, scored the game-winning goal. Pittsburgh lost its top puck-moving defenseman and a Norris Trophy candidate, Kris Letang, to injury before the second period and didn’t miss a beat.
Although the Bruins outshot Pittsburgh, 32-18, and Tomas Vokoun did well to stop all but one of those Boston offerings, the total shots from threatening areas definitely favored the Penguins. The Bruins weren’t able to establish a forecheck and weren’t able to create much traffic. Rebounds off Vokoun that landed on Bruins players’ sticks were few and far between.
Vitale’s goal was only one example of how, even with Evgeni Malkin out with an injury, the Penguins’ depth is superior to the Bruins’ right now. They’re able to play goal-scoring forward James Neal, usually Malkin’s running mate, on what amounts to a third line right now. The Bruins, on the other hand, have Patrice Bergeron’s line mostly firing on all cylinders, David Krejci’s line showing up about 50 percent of the time, and then two lines that amount to average fourth lines right now.
Krejci’s potential injury absence aside, there just aren’t enough threats in the Bruins’ lineup to make teams worry. Even Boston’s most dynamic offensive defenseman, teenage rookie Dougie Hamilton, plays the second fewest amount of 5-on-5 minutes among the Bruins’ blueliners.
One simple fix, if Krejci’s healthy enough to fill his top-line spot, is to bump up Daniel Paille to the third line. Rich Peverley is too solid a playmaker to be straddled with both grinder Jordan Caron and long-toothed plugger Jay Pandolfo on his wings. Paille has at least shown an ability to finish a little more this season than in recent years.
As far as out-of-organization options to help provide a little more offense up front and from the back end, it’s still too early get involved in the trade market. There are only about five or six sellers right now, and prices are sky-high.
If the Bruins’ two losses to Pittsburgh taught us and general manager Peter Chiarelli one lesson, however, it’s that the Bruins still have to close the depth gap if they’re going to best the Penguins in the postseason.