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Kevin Paul Dupont | On hockey

It’s up to Bruins management to make a strong move to improve roster before NHL trade deadline

Despite their lofty NHL standing, too often the Bruins have been pushed around by opposing teams this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

An interesting season turned curious for the Bruins the last few days. That’s not good. Not at this time of the season.

Curiosity means there are questions, as there should be after two shapeless, feckless losses to the Flames and Capitals, and a frustrated Jim Montgomery openly admitted not having answers as his first comment following Saturday’s humbling 3-0 loss to Washington at TD Garden.

“It’s not acceptable,” mused the coach, after his squad was blanked for the first time in the last 100 games, “and we’re not going to accept it.”

We’ll see about that, starting with Monday’s workout in Brighton.


For reasons made incessantly here for nearly 20 years now, the straitjacket that is the salary-cap system (founded 2005) makes it difficult for NHL teams to change their roster, clubs often not able even to promote a minor leaguer whose presence might clear the kind of brain fog that now permeates the Black-and-Gold varsity lineup.

Though quite successful most of this season, and still sitting No. 2 in league standings, the Bruins from the start have been short on gritty, physical play. That’s OK most nights in the endless 82-game season. It’s almost never OK in the playoffs.

It’s particularly painful for a club in a game such as Saturday’s when the Bruins couldn’t summon a check, a hit, anything to drag them emotionally into the fray. There is no tug of war when one team won’t wrap hands around the rope.

Montgomery, the man without answers Saturday, once again noted the lack of physicality in his club’s composition. The Capitals, eager to get into the playoff hunt, arrived on Causeway Street with requisite moxie. The Bruins arrived with no fizz whatsoever.

It took the locals nearly 12 minutes to produce their first shot on net, and they finished with a season-low 18. At that rate, a shot every three-plus minutes, a fan in the crowd with good legs could have dashed to the restroom, hit the concession stands, and returned to the seats without missing anything. That might be a great way to boost Delaware North’s food-and-beverage revenue, but it’s no way to gain points in the standings.


“They were physical, they were right on top of us,” offered Montgomery. “When we’ve struggled this year against teams, teams have tended to be physical, play a hard man-on-man everywhere. Winnipeg did it to us. Minnesota did it to us. You know, Calgary did it to us.”

Milan Lucic was added over the summer, part of GM Don Sweeney’s $1 million-per-player supermarket sweep in free agency. Looch was brought on to be that emotional trigger guy, possibly with a side of brute force, if situations merited.

Lucic remains out of service and is due in court Friday, a day that could bring him another step closer to a jury trial, stemming from an alleged altercation Nov. 18 with wife, Brittany. There’s still time, if cleared of all his legal entanglements and whatever else led him to enter the NHL Players’ Assistance Program, for Lucic to make it back to roster. As of today, it’s highly unlikely and not something Sweeney and team president Cam Neely can count on as the March 8 trade deadline approaches.

Here’s what they know today: They’ve designed a club that generally can score enough to win, backed by excellent goaltending. Lots of teams don’t have that.


But it’s not a team that engenders confidence that it has the strength, will, temerity to push back on clubs that arrive at the rink ready to muscle down along the boards, scrap after pucks as if they are willing “to break your leg,” to use Montgomery’s term from Saturday’s postgame news conference.

Playoff hockey, at its core, is a very nasty business. It’s why many of us still love it. Its inherent sweet menace, with accompanying (though diminishing) threat of mayhem, is what keeps us from running to the fridge when the puck’s in play in April, May, and June.

With 25 shopping days remaining on the deadline calendar, Sweeney, Neely, & Co have to be looking to add steel to their team’s spine. It’s not there now, especially among the blue liners, who also haven’t done much on offense of late (a collective 0-0–0 in the three games since the All-Star break).

A couple of possible acquisition targets back there: 1. Anaheim’s Ilya Lyubushkin; 2. Calgary’s Chris Tanev. Both would up the snarl factor.

Lyubushkin, 29, is a seven-year vet on an expiring, cheap deal ($2.75 million). Not a huge difference maker, but a guy with more edge and willingness than the current six pack.

Tanev, 6 feet 2 inches and 195 pounds, has been rumored on the Flames “move list all season. Age 34, he is a difference maker. The Flames, who don’t want to be left with zero assets when he exits via UFA, will bid up the market. He would be the prime get, albeit with his pay ($4.5 million AAV) a more difficult fit.


Meanwhile, the Bruins also have drifted back of late on special teams. Following the loss to the Capitals, their power play ranked No. 8 (24.8 percent) and their penalty kill No. 7 (82.1 percent). Solid, though not inspiring, numbers.

Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle play leading roles on both units. It would be prudent for Montgomery to back them off their PK duty, lower their mileage, keep them fresher for the PP. If he feels as if he doesn’t have those legs available on this roster, or in Providence (John Beecher?), then that will have to be another target for Sweeney and Neely.

What we are seeing of late is not a big surprise. We knew they lost back end smack when Connor Clifton dashed out of town for Buffalo bucks last July. Up front, we knew scoring in general, and the PP and PK in particular, would be in for some challenges in the wake of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retiring.

Late in a long season, the shortcomings have made themselves evident. Beginning Monday, Montgomery gets back to seeing if he can refit the parts, following a couple of losses in which he had too many square pegs for round holes.

The real answers, the ones the coach didn’t have Saturday, now are for management to provide.


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com.