In a phone interview with ESPNBoston.com Thursday, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli talked about the state of the team and addressed some issues he thinks will need to be fixed or improved going forward.
With their 4-2 win at Tampa Bay Thursday night, the Bruins improved to 10-2-2 and now trail the first place Montreal Canadiens by two points in the Northeast Division. But those standings are clouded by the fact that the Bruins have played only 14 games, the fewest in the NHL. They've played three less games than Montreal and four less than Toronto and Ottawa, who like the Bruins have 22 points.
While Chiarelli sees plenty of positives, he also sees room for improvement. Chiarelli acknowledged that while he believes there are solutions within the team and coaching staff, he and his scouting staff are already hard at work trying to find possible answers via trades. While the trade deadline is April 3, Chiarelli would prefer to do something sooner rather than waiting all the way until the deadline.
"I like our forwards," said Chiarelli, who was in Long Island Monday, New York City Tuesday and Pittsburgh Wednesday scouting games. "I project every year on how many goals these guys will score and I think we have guys that can score. But every year I look for depth, and I'll continue to look for depth."
While he didn't single out his top two lines for lack of scoring, there was a clear message that scoring and executing on scoring chances is an issue for Chiarelli. That may be why he also hinted that the scoring depth he is looking for right now is likely a top-six forward and not just role players for the third or fourth line.
"But now scoring depth projects a higher line of player than a third- or fourth-line player," he said. "We're in a position where we can add earlier so we're just trying to create our search, and we're starting our search earlier. That doesn't mean we're going to make any moves earlier, but we're looking earlier."
With the way the third line has performed this season after chipping in with 47 goals last season (when the line was primarily made up of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and the now-departed Benoit Pouliot), one would think Chiarelli would be looking for a scoring boost there. After a 20-goal season in 2012-13, Kelly has struggled out of the gate and is yet to light the lamp. Meanwhile linemates Rich Peverley (2) and Chris Bourque have combined for just three goals. But unless Chiarelli can find another piece, he has faith that the third line will keep doing its job, playing solid defensive hockey, and that hopefullt the offense will come.
"I know they're minuses [in plus/minus], but that's because they're not scoring," Chiarelli pointed out. "They're going to get their chances because they're skilled players on that line. You want them to be defensively responsible and then to chip in offensively, and maybe last year was a bit of an aberration for the total number they scored, but they're skilled enough and good enough where they chip in on a regular basis."
"I haven't been happy with them, but I haven't been unhappy," he said. "Adam was injured during the work stoppage and is just finding his game. Andrew, maybe it's a bunch of playing with Adam and the pair hasn't been as strong as they normally are. But they're both veterans in this league, and I expect them to find their game and historically they have. Maybe it's just an aberration this year because of the work stoppage, but that's an area where we can improve too."
The most-mentioned weakness of this team, the power play, does not appear to be a major concern for Chiarelli. While the Bruins currently rank No. 26 in the NHL in power-play percentage, Chiarelli has seen improvement and believes the cure to that long-standing issue lies within his current roster still.
"We think we can handle it internally," Chiarelli said. "We've got the players and the skill where we should be ranked higher than we're ranked. Part of that is that in general -- even strength or power play -- we're not finishing our chances. That lack of confidence turns over to the power play, so that's part of it. I think we can manage it internally, and I certainly feel we have the personnel to have a better power play."
The Boston GM was then asked if he has or has ever felt the need over the last two seasons to add a power-play specialist to the coaching staff?
"No. We have confidence in our coaches and I have confidence in our coaches," Chiarelli answered. "Actually, lately the margin has been so slim where we've scored one or two seconds out of a power play and then counting that we've had three in our last four games, and I like our movement on the power play."
As far as Chiarelli is concerned, there are two ways to improve the power play: getting more of them and getting dirty.
"The one thing that's never really brought up on our power play is that we're perennially in the lower quartile of power-play opportunities," Chiarelli pointed out. "I don't know why that is, and certainly there is something to be said about repetition. The more chances you get, the more you're going to get in a groove. I don't know why that is, but I just wanted to make that observation."
Chiarelli then used future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi as an example of what he wants his players to play like on the power play and at even strength.
"When I talk about dirty areas, and a lot of Mark Recchi's goals were like that, and it's about shooting, putting pucks on net, going to areas where you're going to make them vulnerable by pulling the defenders away from the net," Chiarelli said. "You're going to get whacked when you go to those areas. But those are areas where you get the movement and move guys around, and we have to be better at that."
While Chiarelli thinks his team can be better with the players currently on the roster, it's clear he won't be afraid to pull the trigger on a deal if need be. Whether that would be to acquire a Recchi-type player -- if there is one out there -- as he did in 2009, or bring in defensive depth, as he has done on numerous occasions as Bruins GM, Chiarelli will be active in trying to improve the team.