Commentary

Bruins need a healthy Savard

A puck-moving defenseman should be at the top of Boston's wish list

Updated: February 15, 2010, 5:16 PM ET
By Matt Kalman | ESPNBoston.com

Even when things were at their worst a couple weeks ago, the Boston Bruins as a team always maintained their "glass-half-full" outlook.

So it should be no surprise that, for the most part, Boston's coaches and players weren't disturbed by the fact that, just as they've begun to turn things around with four straight wins, the Olympic break arrived. The Bruins won't convene as a team again until Feb. 24 and won't compete in a game until March 2.

After his team closed the pre-break schedule with a 3-2 shootout win at Florida on Saturday, Bruins coach Claude Julien conveyed the message he wanted to his players.

"Those guys know better than to not take care of themselves," he said. "So that won't be an issue. The guys that are in the Olympics, I wished them good luck and told the guys that when we get back, we've got to keep going in the same direction that we left off here. So hopefully bottle that up -- not necessarily the first two periods [of the Panthers game], but the road trip -- and hopefully keep going and win some hockey games here."

It's too easy to overreact when looking at their four-game winning streak and just say "the Bruins are back on track." Similarly, you couldn't look at the 10-game winless stretch and declare them dead meat. The reality is somewhere in between.

But to go into the break not only a winning note but also as a member of the top eight in the Eastern Conference proves that there are more positives than negatives with the team right now.

Here are a few things that we've learned about the Bruins:

Savard is key: Marc Savard -- with all due respect to Reggie Jackson -- is the straw that stirs the drinks for the Bruins. The Bruins are 6-0-0 when he scores a goal. But throwing the numbers out, it's no surprise that the Bruins, even when they were still losing, started to play their best hockey when their No. 1 playmaker hit his stride after returning from a knee injury. Savard's playmaking not only puts points on the board for the Bruins, it keeps opposing teams on their heels and forces opposing coaches to play matchup games -- regardless of who's playing on his wings. Savard has skated with so many different winger combinations, we might as well call him the "Octa-center." But that hasn't stopped him putting up 31 points in 37 games.

[+] EnlargeMarc Savard
Mike Carlson/Getty ImagesMarc Savard is the Bruins third-leading scorer despite playing in only 37 games.

Tending to their needs: The Bruins are definitely loaded in goal. We figured during their early season struggles that the netminding wasn't a problem. But you couldn't be 100 percent certain about Tuukka Rask's ability. A six-game stretch in November began to prove he was the real deal. But in going 4-2 over the last six games before the break, Rask looks like a legitimate No. 1 NHL goalie. On the other hand, you can't count out Tim Thomas, whose numbers (2.52 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) aren't anything for people to be panicking about. The best teams in modern Bruins history have ridden a top goaltending tandem, so there's no reason for Boston to mess with what it has in the crease.

More consistency: David Krejci, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler formed a lethal trio in 2008-09. They could probably play together for the next five seasons and not duplicate their production from a season ago. But at least they've shown a pulse during the Bruins' four-game winning streak. When the Bruins have a top line (Savard's line) and a two-way line (Patrice Bergeron's line) complemented by a line that's dangerous both in the open ice and the defensive zone, they're a much more complete team. While goals might continue to be hard to come by, as long as those three lines are working hard and earning scoring opportunities, the Bruins will score enough to support their stellar goaltending.

And that leads to the last item. ...

Making a wish list: As bad as the Bruins' offense has been, the top need for this team when the trade deadline arrives is a puck-moving defenseman. Dennis Wideman has finally turned his season around while playing with Zdeno Chara, but that has left the Bruins deficient on their other two pairs. As Andrew Ference continues to get the rust off after his injury absence, he'll get better. But Matt Hunwick has regressed in his own end and on breakouts, and Derek Morris has decided the latter years of his career five-on-five should be spent just as a stay-at-home defenseman. When Mark Stuart and Johnny Boychuk get healthy, the Bruins will have more options. However, neither of those guys answers the need for someone that can make a better first pass, put some points on the board and put opposing teams on their heels with some end-to-end rushes. Defensemen like that are hard to come by, so general manager Peter Chiarelli might have to settle for a journeyman like Jordan Leopold of Florida. But if I'm Chiarelli and I hear any chatter about Nashville's Dan Hamhuis or Anaheim's James Wisniewski coming on the market, I'm anteing up.

The post-break schedule includes the trade deadline and the last 23 games of the season to be played in just six weeks. By virtue of winning their last four before the break, the Bruins are where every team wants to be -- inside the top eight in their conference. So for all their struggles, the Bruins haven't fallen off the face of the Earth. They can hope that all the adversity of this season has toughened them up for a better stretch run.

Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com.

Matt Kalman

Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade.

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