What a first half of the 2015-16 NHL season its been in Boston.
Three straight losses to start the year on home ice had Bruins fans thinking it was the start of a long, cold season on Causeway Street. Then, the Black and Gold were saved by reeling off five straight wins away from TD Garden while trying to salvage their home form.
The first 49 games have been more exciting than any rollercoaster Six Flags could offer. With it comes the gamut of emotions from confident and optimistic to frustrated and pessimistic. One night the Bruins look like true Stanley Cup contenders while the next they look like bottom feeders.
And yet through it all, they sit in a playoff spot. The Bruins hold the first (and most desirable) wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and trail Detroit and Tampa Bay by one point for a top-three place in the Atlantic Division. It’s not a bad place to be in with just 33 games left to go before the playoffs.
As Boston’s second-half of the season begins on Tuesday night against Toronto, here’s some of the storylines to watch for over the final two months of the year.
The Loui Eriksson Saga
The future of winger Loui Eriksson is no longer the elephant in the room.
The 30-year-old forward is having his best season in Boston since his arrival in 2013. His 15 goals and 39 points are good for second on the Bruins behind All-Star Patrice Bergeron. Eriksson is on pace for 65 points, which would be his highest since the 2011-12 season, when he put up 71 in Dallas. It appears they’re finally getting a glimpse of the player the B’s thought they were acquiring when they shipped off Tyler Seguin three years ago.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Swedish Olympian with 2016 being a contract year. According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Eriksson believes someone out there will give him a five or six-year contract worth more than $6 million per season. The question is whether it’s going to be Don Sweeney’s Bruins or one of the 31 other teams that will pay out said sum of money.
With recent talks of Boston’s GM entering preliminary contract negotiations, it’s hard to see how both sides can find common ground in the span of four weeks. If that is the case, Sweeney has to maximize Eriksson’s value to acquire the defenseman they need if Boston is serious about making a run towards (and in) the postseason. How will things play out?
Home Is Where The Heart Is?
TD Garden is supposed to be where the heart is for the Bruins. However, its been a house of horrors for a good chunk of the season.
Boston has the sixth-worst record on home ice at 11-13-2 through 26 games and have been exposed defensively more often than not. The blue line has allowed three or more goals to opponents 16 times and five or more goals in 10 of their 26 home dates so far. In total, they’ve allowed 3.12 goals/game to the opposition on home ice compared to just 2.17 goals/game on the road.
Tuukka Rask has felt the brunt of Boston’s home woes going 8-11-1 with a 2.98 goals-against-average and .896 save percentage. The Finnish netminder on the road? 9-4-3 with a sub-two goals against and .938 save percentage. Crazy, eh?
The Bruins have 15 more games to establish themselves on home ice with two winnable home games against Toronto and Buffalo this week. It could go a long way to ensure not just a playoff berth but home ice as well.
As former NFL coach Jim Mora said long ago…
“PLAYOFFS?!! Don’t talk about playoffs! You kidding me? Playoffs?”
No, Jim. We’re not kidding.
The Bruins are in a good spot starting the back half of the season with the first wild card spot and just one point out of a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division. However, five teams find themselves within five points of the second and final playoff spot. Furthermore, Boston will be playing many of their final 33 games against teams that are chasing them in the East and will be on the road for seven of their next 10 tilts.
The main objective this season was to get into the playoffs and take their chances from there. They are in a good position to do so but cannot sit on their laurels with the Eastern Conference as tight as it is.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW