Through the first two months of the NHL season, the Bruins looked like an average hockey team. A team that would make the playoffs as a lower seed and then get knocked out in the first round. But now, the Bruins are the hottest team in all of hockey. Going back into mid November, the B’s are 10-1-3. Boston still stands at just fifth in the Eastern Conference, but they are just three points out of the division lead, trailing only the hated Montreal Canadiens.
Of course there are many reasons for this current streak, but the primary reason for the recent success has to be the goaltending. Incumbent goaltender Tuukka Rask got off to a crappy start. In the month of December, Rask has only allowed more than two goals in one game. He’s already collected two shutouts this month during one of the toughest stretches of the season thus far. Prior to this month, the goaltending duo of Rask and Jonas Gustavsson were allowing the 25th most goals allowed per game at 2.9. Thanks to this stretch, they now allow 2.6 goals per game, which is 18th in the NHL. Also coming into December, Rask had a 2.94 GAA. In his eight starts this month, he’s brought that all the way down to 2.42. Goaltending wins championships, and while it’s unlikely Rask can keep up his superb level of play in December, if he can perform like he has been in past seasons there’s no reason why the Bruins can’t rely on him to carry them into the playoffs.
Another reason that the Bruins are excelling recently in the defense and the penalty kill. Earlier in the season, whenever the B’s were shorthanded, the penalty killers allowed easy entry into the zone and were able to keep the puck in the zone for lengthy amounts of time, which led to tired legs and easy goals. The penalty killers were only getting the job done 75% of the time they were out there, 27th in the league. But even that has improved dramatically. The PK has only allowed two power play goals this month, going 31/33. They’ve brought their effectiveness up to just under 81%, which currently sits at 17th in the league. The growth out of the defense and penalty kill has been dramatic. It’s helped out Tuukka Rask and has taken the pressure off of the offense.
Getting Dennis Seidenberg back was a big bonus, even if he’s past his prime, he can still mentor young players such as Colin and Kevan Miller (no relation). Miller has filled out the Andrew Ference type role on this roster, something the team has missed since his departure. Zdeno Chara looks like the Big-Z of old following a down year in 2015. He finally looks to have his legs under him, something we didn’t see much of last year. The defense looks to be in great shape, which was one of the massive question marks heading into this season. If they can keep up their level of play in front of Tuukka Rask, they can be one of the best units in all of hockey.
The offense for the Bruins continues to get great contribution from all four lines. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have developed into one of the best one-two combos in the league. The pesky Marchand paces the B’s in goals with 15, and +/- at 14. Patrice on the other hand, has 21 assists. Last night against Pittsburgh was a perfect example of getting contributions from everyone. Bergeron and Marchand both collected two points in the 6-2 win. This time with Bergeron doing the scoring and Marchand doing the assisting. Depth forwards Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner also got in on the action. Vatrano had his first NHL Hat-Trick and Spooner collected three assists. The ability to score from all four lines has been the key to the Bruins’ elite attack. Second in goals scored per game at 3.3 and first in power play percentage at 29%, the Bruins have the top offense in the NHL.
Even though the power play unit has struggled recently, they have been picked up by great defense and even better goaltending. And that is the sign of a Stanley Cup team. When one portion of the game isn’t going well, the other parts of your game must step up, and that is what we have seen recently from these Boston Bruins. They have finally pieced all three phases of hockey together. The goaltending has looked elite, the defense has been great, and the offense has been the driving force behind this team all year. The scary thing is that they’ve done all of this without league-wide potential breakout candidate David Pastrnak, who has missed the majority of this season with injuries. Of course, they can’t keep this type of streak up, but if they can grab the division lead and then play solid the rest of the season with no major slumps, they could grab a top seed in the Eastern Conference. This team played with high expectations last year and fell flat when it came to rising to the challenge. This season, with no real pressure put on them, they’ve started to excel, just like they did in 2011, the last time they won the Stanley Cup.
Photo via sportsonearth.com
Stats via ESPN