The Boston Bruins sit in an unfamiliar spot during the NHL holiday break: fifth in the Atlantic Division, three points out of a spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Fortunately for the Bruins (14-10-2), there is a long way to go in the 2021-22 season. But they also know they have to improve or they won’t move up in the standings.
“What we’ve been trying to do is just build our consistency,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said Thursday. “Find our game on a more consistent basis. Putting together a win streak, putting together consecutive wins, is something we’ve done a couple times this year, but I wouldn’t say as frequently as we’ve done in first halves in the past.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning, a perennial foe, are first in the NHL in points, with 44.
“I still think we’re a solid team,” coach Bruce Cassidy said Tuesday. “But we’re not where Tampa [Bay] is right now. That’s fine. We have 56 games to get there, and that’s our job to make sure we get better as we go along.”
Cassidy and Bruins president Cam Neely highlighted the need for additional offense. Boston ranks 23rd in the NHL in goals for per game, with 2.69, and that’s with a power play scoring at 23.7 percent, eighth in the NHL.
“For us, it’s putting the puck in the net,” Cassidy said. “We’ve generated opportunities. We need to generate more high-end opportunities. We started doing a better job with that maybe not the last two games, but the eight or 10 before that, getting inside ice.
“Typically, we’ve been at the top of the division, battling with Tampa [Bay] and Toronto [Maple Leafs] for first place. That’s not the case this year. Obviously, that’s where we want to be.”
Part of that will be finding a rhythm that has so far been elusive; the Bruins had a light early schedule, further curtailed when they were shut down Saturday because of the spread of COVID-19. They have played 26 games, tied with the New York Islanders for fewest in the NHL.
David Pastrnak is among those who have struggled to find consistency or luck. The forward is third on Boston with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 26 games, but his points per game (.81) are the lowest since his second NHL season in 2015-16 (.51). His shooting percentage of 7.0 is the lowest of his eight-season NHL career.
“I’ve had some tough luck around the net,” he said. “Obviously had the chances. I always look at it [in a] positive way — it’s good that I’m having the chances. It’s just about time for me to bury those opportunities.
“I’m trying to see that it’s still better to have the opportunities and not score them than not have them at all. But I’m a little bit frustrated at some point, right? Because you’re used to burying these opportunities.”
Pastrnak, like the rest of the Bruins, is hoping to use the break as a reset, a way to get Boston back on track for what should be a packed remainder of the season.
“The NHL season is too long to not have a down month or a down week,” said McAvoy, fourth on the Bruins with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 25 games, “and it just so happens that we’ve had some of those inconsistencies in the first half, whereas we’ve had them at different times [in past seasons].
“I don’t find it to be worrisome. I believe in the group. We all do. I think this break is good for us. It gives us a chance to rest the mind, rest the body, and when we get back, really attack the second half.”