Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#Bruins Win and continue to amaze me

My tweet reads: "its amazing how every bruin brings out the best in his teammates so well that its almost as if chara & campbell were there all along #bruins". I have a lot of random thoughts during games that I tweet, but never bother examining any further, but I wanted to further delve into my thoughts regarding this statement.

First, the Bruins pattern of playing lousy against "bad" teams is well-established by now, right? Their win streak was broken against the Jets, almost broken earlier by the Blue Jackets, and, in general, the Bruins seem to underestimate their opponents who aren't ranked as high as the Bruins, or they just do not put forth the effort necessary for whatever reason. It always results in disappointing efforts in games where we foolishly assumed it would be an easy win - and we never seem to learn.

The Bruins didn't do that tonight, however. The Kings are one of the league's most struggling teams, especially since their coach was just fired, they're on a 5-game losing streak, and their star players are injured or under-performing. Perhaps the Bruins didn't underestimate this team because most people probably wouldn't think of the Kings when they think of "bad" teams, and perhaps they didn't underestimate this team because it was the first game since their coach was fired and teams generally respond with strong games when that happens. 

I don't think the Bruins underestimated this team, came unprepared, or withheld maximum effort - which is the pattern they seem to display against struggling opponents - because the Bruins knew that the injuries of Chara and Campbell left them vulnerable and would require an all-around team effort to make up for what they had lost. They bring a team effort every game, of course, and they do it better than any other team in the league and that's why they are successful. But tonight was a great example of how well the Bruins work as a team and thrive off of their teammates to make each individual player play his absolute best.

Where one player lacks in the skills department, his linemate makes up for it, and vice versa. Their trust in their teammates gives them the confidence to push their own abilities further, and they all feed off of one another's positive energy and non-stop energy. This is where guys like Shawn Thornton, Patrice Bergeron, and other veteran leaders play a huge role off the ice in reinforcing the kind of behavior and work ethic that translates into great play on the ice. 

They do this so well also because of what a good coach Claude Julien is. I applaud him for how he holds his players responsible for their indescretions, like during the playoffs when he reprimanded Recchi and Lucic for shoving their fingers in others faces, and today he stated clearly that what Marchand did in the previous game that resulted in a fine, and luckily not a suspension, was unacceptable. I think that is the best type of reinforcement for good behavior a coach can give a player like that. It's like when your parents tell you they aren't mad, they're "disappointed". You want to make it up to them, and don't want to let them down again. This translated into a resurgence in Marchand's goal-scoring abilities rather than his role as a "brat" or agitator, and that's how he scored 2 goals.

Both Benoit Pouliot and Zach Hamill are players that were high draft picks (4th overall and 8th overall, respectively) that never amounted to what is expected of players drafted that high. Yet they both played very strong games and showed skill and ability. For Hamill, he seems to be hell bent on staying in Boston and keeping a spot on the roster rather than continuing his career as a permanent AHL-er, and he and Pouliot both exemplified playing their best within a system that still utilizes individual skill when they teamed up for the first goal scored by Peverley. That threesome is a really interesting juxtaposition because Peverley was never even drafted, let alone drafted in the first round, but he has a successful NHL career from an attitude that is projected onto his fellow teammates. 

Defensively was where the injuries left the biggest gap, obviously, with the loss of Chara. Kampfer is hardly a replacement, but was still effective (despite a few penalties) in his role. The identity of the Bruins' defensemen seems to envelope each defenseman even if the main source of reinforcement of that identity is missing. That identity as one whole is a microcosm of the team as a whole, obviously, but the defensive depth is impressive in the way each player seamlessly slips into whichever role he needs to embody at that moment. That is why Seidenberg didn't end up having to shoulder the bulk of Chara's minutes to make up for it; it was evenly spread out because nobody was a liability, and nobody was a liability because they all thrive off of their fellow defensemen, as well as forwards, and most importantly, their goaltender.

The fact that the Bruins have the best goaltending tandem in the league is another testament to how they each make each other better. In fact, it is the best example of how and why an individual player's identity adapts to his team's identity. Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask learn from each other, compete with each other, and support each other, and that is a huge reason why they are both leaders among the league in goaltending statistics, and on any given night, either goaltender can start a game and provide an equal opportunity to win.

Everything I just wrote doesn't really do justice to explaining the substance behind the original statement, but the general idea adds up to the Bruins team philosophy and identity: they win because they play as a team, and they play as a winning team because every single player understands and fulfills his role and sacrifices in order to benefit the whole. Nobody wants to let the rest of his team down, and as long as he works hard and plays the system, good things will happen. And winning as a team is much more satisfying than winning on an individual level, as every member of the Cup championship team last season would tell you. When the 1st line fails to produce goals over the course of several games, it isn't a problem because at least one other line can slip into the scoring role, even if they are on the 3rd or 4th lines.

On paper, the Bruins success as a team is obvious when looking at their goal differential, which is first in the league (far and above the second place team) compared to their scoring, in which no single Bruins player ranks at the top of the league. Instead, the scoring is evenly dispersed over every player on the roster. Four players have at least 10 goals (Kelly, Marchand, Seguin, Lucic), ten players have at least 10 points, and only two players have a +/- in the negatives while the majority of the top spots in the league ranking best +/- are filled by Bruins, including three currently within the top five and filling the top two overall.

Being a Bruins fan is an honor because it is easy to embrace the entire team as your favorite. You root for every single guy on the roster, cause you know each player is a part of every other player on his team. They are the quintessential team, and it's incredibly gratifying to be able to watch them play. 

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