With the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game occurring right before the Boston Bruins’ mid-season break, Boston will enjoy nine straight days without a contest. Over this game-less stretch, the Bruins will have a chance to lick their wounds and gear up for the last 10 weeks of the regular season.
With a record of 29-10-12, the Bruins are one of the best teams in the NHL. Boston’s 70 points rank them second in the league, only behind the Washington Capitals’ 71. The Bruins’ plus 41 goal differential is the highest across the NHL.
The Bruins have as good a chance as any to hoist the Stanley Cup this spring. While they will have to deal with challenges, both internally and externally, Boston is poised to make another deep postseason run.
One reason Boston can win the Cup is their special teams play. The Bruins power play unit is one of the most lethal in the NHL. Boston lights the lamp 25.5 percent of the time on the man advantage. That is the third best percentage in the sport, trailing only the Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning, at 29.7 percent and 27.5 percent respectively. Stymieing the starting group of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk is a tough task for any opponent.
Pastrnak’s 37 goals, 16 of which have come off the power play, both lead the league. Krug is one of the most dynamic and creative defensemen when it comes to offense. Bergeron and Marchand certainly know how to produce on the power play. DeBrusk at the top of the crease definitely loves potting juicy rebounds allowed by goaltenders.
Not to mention, if you hold them from scoring, a second unit of David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen is certainly no consolation prize.
When looking at the stats, it’s obvious that the Bruins have quite a few talented playmakers headlining the top of their roster. However, another big plus in Boston’s favor is its defensive depth. Boston’s penalty kill denies opponents 83.1 percent of the time. That is tied with Tampa Bay for fourth in the league.
The two most important Boston skaters when down a man are Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo. Chara averages 2:56 on the ice shorthanded, while Carlo contributes 3:02 of ice time in killing penalties. Chara, even pushing at the age of 43, is still a vital part of Boston’s penalty kill. Carlo will be taking the reins from number 33 as Boston’s next shutdown defenseman.
Grzelcyk and McAvoy, while also trying to produce power play goals, are important cogs in Boston’s penalty kill. McAvoy gives the Bruins 1:34 of shorthanded play a game while Grzelcyk puts up 1:07.
Boston’s flexible roster, especially for its defenders, gives them a chance to compete every night. While finding secondary scoring has been an issue, the Bruins have a roster committed to special teams play. Once the playoffs arrive, the importance of special teams becomes magnified.
Speaking of being magnified in the playoffs, goaltender Tuukka Rask is still searching for that elusive Cup win as a starting goaltender. Last spring, he was dynamite for Boston. If he was not their best player throughout their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, he was certainly one of the most important.
Now, it is hard to get past Rask’s game seven performance, allowing four goals on just 20 shots, especially when former Bruin Tim Thomas’ ridiculous 2011 run ended with a shutout in a hostile territory. However, despite having a few bad performances at the worst possible times, Rask is a good playoff goalie.
He is seventh all-time with a .927 postseason save percentage. Unfortunately for Rask, one of the goalies with a better save rate is Thomas at .933 percent, meaning Bruins fans will always compare Rask to Thomas, even if it is an unfair comparison. Boston easily could have raised the cup last June if a myriad of events had gone differently. The fact is, however, they did not.
Despite last year’s finale, the Bruins can absolutely win a Stanley Cup with Rask between the pipes. The only question is will they ever actually accomplish that goal.
Boston will face obstacles trying to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals. They have a few problems that could rear their ugly heads in the postseason.
The number one problem for the Bruins is something they have been struggling to fix since 2014. Where will the secondary scoring come from? Last year, when the St. Louis Blues were able to neutralize the Bruins’ top scoring line, Boston was unable to find enough scoring from the other lines.
The Bruins need to find consistent pockets of production outside of Bergeron, Marchand and McAvoy. If their young skaters, such as Anders Bjork or Karson Kuhlman, can separate themselves and deliver along with Boston’s skilled skaters, that’s great. If not, the Bruins should look for help via trades.
The last aspect that could make or break Boston’s title chances before they truly begin is playoff seeding. After a slow start, the Lightning are snapping on the Bruins’ heels. Having played three less games, Tampa Bay is now just eight points behind Boston for first in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins should try to do everything they can to win their division. A wild card opponent in round one sounds a lot more appealing than the Florida Panthers or Lightning. Boston would want to be fresh and ready before taking on either Florida team, the Pittsburgh Penguins or Capitals in the late rounds of the postseason.
The Bruins have a chance to make up for last year’s heartbreaking end. While the Stanley Cup is often referred to as the hardest trophy to win in sports, it should not surprise anyone if Boston lifts it in June.