Hockey

Bruins getting hard lesson in Plexiglass Principle

The Boston Bruins, less than a year removed from a surprise Eastern Conference regular-season title, will try to avoid their ninth consecutive loss and stabilize their sinking playoff chances as they host the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

The great baseball statistician Bill James calls it the "Plexiglass Principle."

Basically, teams that experience a dramatic improvement in one season tend to see their performance fall back in the next, and vice versa.

Whatever name you use, the 2009-10 Boston Bruins are getting a hard lesson in the concept of regression to the mean.

Less than a year removed from a surprise Eastern Conference regular-season title, the Bruins will try to avoid their ninth consecutive defeat and stabilize their sinking playoff chances when they host the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET).

Boston (23-22-9) is 12th in the Eastern Conference — an extremely disappointing position for a team that came into the season with Stanley Cup aspirations after tying for the NHL lead with 53 wins in 2008-09.

The reason for the downfall isn't hard to deduce. Boston's offence has pretty much vanished, falling from 3.29 goals per game (second-most in the league) last year to an NHL-worst 2.32 this season. The defence has declined too, with the Bruins allowing an averaging of 2.46 goals after topping the league at 2.32 in 2008-09.

Why? Well, the Plexiglass Principle also applies, of course, to the players who make up a team. A few of the culprits:

  • Young forward David Krejci, who jumped from 27 points to 73 last season, has just 29 in 51 games this season.
  • Michael Ryder, a 27-goal scorer in 2008-09, has just 12 along with eight assists.
  • Defenceman Dennis Wideman, a revelation last season with a plus-32 rating, has fallen to a team-worst minus-15.
  • Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas is hearing footsteps from backup Tuukka Rask as Thomas's stats have declined across the board.

The decision by GM Peter Chiarelli to deal team goal-scoring leader Phil Kessel to Toronto for draft picks over the summer hasn't helped, either. Ditto for the slew of injuries that have, at different points, put stars Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic on injured reserve. And this week word surfaced that all-world defenceman Zdeno Chara is dealing with a dislocated pinkie.

Boston's scoring problems have been laid bare over the current eight-game losing streak, which includes six defeats in regulation time. The Bruins have a total of nine goals over their last seven games, scoring just once in five of those and twice in the others. In Tuesday's 4-1 home loss to Washington, the Bruins outshot the Capitals 42-26, but had only a Krejci goal to show for it.

On Thursday, Boston faces a Canadiens team with its own offensive woes.

The Montreal attack ranks 27th with 2.49 goals per game, though the Habs are coming off Tuesday's relatively productive 3-2 home win over the Vancouver Canucks, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

The Canadiens learned all about the Plexiglass Principle last season, when they went from being the East's No. 1 seed for the 2008 playoffs to the No. 8 team. This season, Montreal (26-25-6) is clinging to the seventh playoff spot in the conference, just a point up on Tampa Bay, Florida and the New York Rangers.

Jaroslav Halak is expected to get his third straight start in goal Thursday, while defenceman Jaroslav Spacek is expected to return to the lineup after a three-game absence.

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