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Bruins are a one-line team right now, and unfortunately that line has gone cold

by: Scott McLaughlin on Thu, 04/20/2017 - 1:18am

Brad Marchand continues to be snake-bitten, and no one else is really stepping up. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)All you really need to know about the Bruins’ abysmal offensive effort Wednesday night is that in the third period of a game they were trailing, in a series they were trailing, the B’s somehow went nearly 13 minutes without a shot on goal.

The Bruins finished the game with just 22 shots on goal, marking the third time in this series they have had 25 shots on goal or fewer. For a team that ranked second in the NHL in the regular season with 33.2 shots on goal, it’s been a dramatic slide into offensive futility.

This Bruins team has never been one loaded with finishers, which is a big reason they had one of the worst shooting percentages in the league, but in the regular season they were able to offset that through sheer volume.

That has not carried into this series against Ottawa, and there are several reasons for that. First off, the Senators deserve a lot of credit for making it difficult for the Bruins to get through the neutral zone, and difficult for them to get shots through to the net once they do get into the offensive zone. 

The 1-3-1 trap is overrated on the whole -- every number we have tells us that in the regular season the Senators were a mediocre-at-best defensive team -- but there’s no question the Bruins have struggled with it in this series, just as they did at times in their regular-season matchups.

But at least in the case of Wednesday’s loss, the Bruins seemed to feel that their problem wasn’t so much breaking the trap, but rather getting chances once they were in the zone.

"I think once we’re in their zone we’re having some looks, I think we’re having a lot of one-and-done," Patrice Bergeron said. "We got to find a way to get to the inside a little bit more. I don’t think... yes they’re doing a good job blocking a lot of shots, but I don’t think the system is necessarily something that you can put emphasis on when you’re in the o-zone. It’s about neutral zone, now we’re talking about the o-zone, so we just have to do the job there."

Strategy and systems aside, the Bruins’ offense is also struggling because it depends heavily on one line -- Bergeron, Brad Marchand and either David Pastrnak or David Backes (it’s been Backes for the last few games). And if that line doesn’t score, it becomes really hard to see where any offense is going to come from.

That top line was very good at everything Wednesday night... except, of course, the scoring part. They combined for 12 of the Bruins’ 22 shots on goal, they had the best possession numbers of anyone on either team, they limited Erik Karlsson when they went head-to-head with him, and they tore up everyone else they faced.

But they didn’t score, so a lot of that will probably be forgotten. Marchand was the most snake-bitten, as he has been much of this series. He had a game-high six shots on goal and two breakaway chances, but he just couldn’t finish.

The rest of the forwards after that top line? Yikes. The Bruins’ other nine forwards combined for just five shots on goal in Game 4 and none of them were better than 50 percent Corsi. The Bergeron line and the Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy pairing did their part against the Senators’ top players, but the Bruins’ depth failed to take advantage of what should’ve been favorable matchups.

David Krejci played more minutes than he did in Game 3, but clearly looked like a guy who is still pretty banged up. Combine that with an underperforming David Pastrnak (who has just two shots on goal all series) at right wing and Tim Schaller (who’s a good fourth-liner but a less-than-ideal second-liner) at left wing and you get a second line that just isn’t bringing much to the table.

Dominic Moore, Riley Nash and Noel Acciari make for a strong fourth line, but are now being tasked with third-line and sometimes even second-line duties, which is just not the role those guys should be playing on a truly good team. Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano, both of whom the Bruins hoped would excel in top-nine roles this season, have been demoted to fourth-line duties and neither topped 10 minutes of ice time Wednesday.

Basically, the Bruins are a one-line team right now. That line happens to be one of the best in the NHL, but the Bruins are quickly learning that if Bergeron and Marchand go cold at this time of the year, they don’t have a whole lot else to turn to, and they now sit at the brink of elimination as a result.