The Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, have fallen on hard times the past month.
Since January 14, the Bruins are a pedestrian 7-7-1 and have fallen seven points out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Some will point to the Cup hangover effect that has gained popularity in recent years. In fact it even looked like the Bruins would be victims themselves when they opened the season with a 3-7 October. But the Bruins ran off a 10 game win streak to open November and ended up winning 13 of their next 14 games.
The hangover has become a generally accepted theory in hockey because no team has repeated as champions since the Red Wings did in 1997 and 1998. But the theory ignores teams like the 2000 Dallas Stars who backed up their 1999 title with another trip to the finals or the 2008 and 2009 versions of Pittsburgh and Detroit who faced off in back-to-back finals.
The New Jersey Devils also went to three of four cup finals from 2000-2003 and won two of them.
The cup hangover crowd spends too much time focusing on teams like the 2010 Blackhawks or the 2006 Hurricanes. Both of those teams lost many key players in the offseason after their cup run and it crippled them in their attempt to repeat.
The Bruins only lost Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi up front and Thomas Kaberle on defense. They replaced them with a full season of wonderkid Tyler Seguin and Benoit Pouliot up front and Joe Corvo on the back end.
The Bruins had no business disappearing this season, and despite the hype were never really a candidate for a hangover anyway.
Others will point to the behavior of Tim Thomas as a trigger to this most recent slide. On January 23 Thomas skipped a visit to the White House due to political difference with President Barack Obama. He has become increasingly vocal about his political views on his Facebook page, but has refused to discuss any of this behavior with the media.
Reactions from the Bruins to his behavior have been mixed. On the day he skipped the White House visit, team president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli both made statements that indicated support of Thomas, but displeasure at his decision.
But an anonymous quote in the Boston Globe, attributed to a member of the Bruins, called Thomas selfish for his behavior. Though it is probably not enough of an issue to cause this kind of slide, any division in the locker room can be difficult to deal with and distract from the team goals.
No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors between Thomas and his teammates regarding his outspoken views, but even if it is not divisive, it is not helpful.
The far more likely reason for the Bruin's struggles over the past month has been the incredible number of lost games due to injuries and suspensions.
As the slide was getting started, Brad Marchand was sitting out a five game suspension for clipping Vancouver's Sami Salo. He gave a repeat performance last night when he went in low on Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin and will possibly be looking at another suspension in the coming days.
Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference also missed three games on suspension after he boarded Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh on January 21.
On January 22 Nathan Horton played just under 10 minutes against the Flyers, his lowest ice time total of the season, and the following day it was announced that he was dealing with concussion symptoms and has not seen the ice since.
Horton was knocked out of the cup finals last year after Aaron Rome took a shot at his head. Rome was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs and the Bruins rallied around the injured Horton as they won game 7 in Vancouver.
Rich Peverley also missed time for the Bruins during the slide. He missed a two game road trip in Florida on January 16 and 17 for personal reasons. This morning he was sent home to Boston while the rest of the team continued on its road trip to get an evaluation done on an injury. He was knocked out of Wednesday night's game after a knee-to-knee collision with Hal Gill.
While all of this missed time doesn't seem like a major issue, it has hurt the Bruins. Head coach Claude Julien has been unable to keep consistent lines and defensive pairings as a result of the constantly shifting roster.
The Bruins system relies on chemistry and familiarity between line mates to succeed. Right now circumstances and injuries have robbed them of their ability to play their game, and until they can clean that up and stabilize the lineup, look for the uneven play to continue.