BOSTON -- Outside entries have been closed, and we now know the finalists in the competition to be Marc Savard's right-hand men.
The candidates after the trade deadline are the same as they were before Wednesday. Most recently, Daniel Paille and Mark Recchi have attempted to provide the Bruins' best playmaker with a couple finishers and, in turn, give Boston a legit No. 1 line. But Marco Sturm, Milan Lucic, Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler, Miroslav Satan and even the since-traded Byron Bitz all have tried their hands to varying degrees of success.
There was hope that general manager Peter Chiarelli would add help at the trade deadline for a team that is last in the NHL in goals per game. However, prices proved too high for Chiarelli's liking, and now the onus shifts 100 percent to a group of players (minus Phil Kessel) that finished second in goals last season to find the touch in a hurry.
"I do scratch my head," said Savard after the Bruins' morning skate at TD Garden when asked if he's baffled by the Bruins' offensive ineptitude. "I think everybody does -- the coaching staff, even the GM yesterday. I'm sure he's looking at players and saying 'What I have is better. There's better players in my own room, so why am I going to do this?' I'm sure a lot of it came down to that and obviously fitting stuff in. I'm sure he tried. We have to realize that there's a belief there and we've got to keep our heads up and stay excited in here and then go out and try to win hockey games."
Injuries have obviously taken their toll. Savard has missed 23 games and Lucic 32. Now Patrice Bergeron is nursing a groin problem suffered at the Olympics. Head coach Claude Julien is hoping some consistency and health will allow him to keep his offensive lines together and get them firing on all cylinders the way they were in 2008-09.
"It's been a challenge. It's going to be a challenge," said Julien about finding a pair of wingers that click with Savard. "The best way that we can get to that is if we can stay healthy and try and keep some lines together and see where you can go with those. I think that's the best way to try and get some chemistry going. We've tried and sometimes it hasn't worked. Or there's been injuries and we've had to move it around. But maybe we need to be a little bit more patient sometimes and give some time for some chemistry to build. It's easier said than done. And I think if we would've been healthy, we would've been able to do that. Again, it's been a challenge in a lot of those areas for reasons that we couldn't control, which were injuries."
Impatience has hurt Boston as much as injuries. The handful of games Savard spent skating with Wheeler and Bitz at his side were a stunt Super Dave Osborne wouldn't have tried. For whatever reason, Ryder has never been able to find a connection with Savard in two seasons in black and gold. Among current Bruins forwards, the best ones to supplement Savard are probably Lucic and Sturm, based on their own track records and past performance alongside Savard. When Sturm and Savard have played a regular shift together this season, Boston is 11-8-1.
"It worked well for a while there," said Savard. "Claude has his own reasons for putting guys together. I think when Sturmy's with [Bergeron] and [Recchi], they form a good checking line and a line that can produce. I think that's one of his reasons for that and we'll have to look for other answers. But hopefully it comes.
"I like playing with [Paille]. He creates a lot of loose pucks for me, he's got great speed like Sturmy does, and I'm not so sure Sturmy's too comfortable playing that right side. So there's different things that fall into the category of why he isn't playing with me but hopefully whoever we're with tonight, we can get some goals."
To his credit, Savard isn't throwing the blame around the locker room the way he distributes pucks on the ice. He knows his goal total could be higher also.
"It comes down to me too, trying to be a scorer," he said. "I haven't shot again. The last game, especially in the second [period], I've got chances where I'm alone and I'm looking to pass. So you've got to take it upon yourself sometimes to be that scorer, too. And hopefully I can contribute in that way and other guys can, too."
That might be the best solution. If Savard manages to become more of a scoring threat, teams would have to adjust, opening up more opportunities for his wingers. When it comes down to it, Savard's shooting more is only one of numerous outside-the-box approaches the Bruins are going to have to try to turn their offense around enough to earn a postseason berth. Maybe they need to think about moving Bergeron or David Krejci to a wing or just putting the best six forwards on the top two lines and riding them until the bell rings April 11 in Washington.
No options should be off the table when it comes time for Julien to figure out how to get the most out of his offense and maximize Savard's potential.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.