After a heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, many wondered how the Boston Bruins would respond. Playing deep into June can be draining, but ending that long journey with a loss can be devastating.
It seems that the B’s have left last postseason in the rearview mirror – at least from an emotional perspective. On the ice, however, they haven’t missed a beat.
The last time a Bruins team has won nine of their first 12 contests was in 1976. With 20 points, Boston finds itself at the top of the Atlantic Division standings. Though the Buffalo Sabres have the same number of points, the B’s have a game in hand.
By looking at their 9-1-2 record, it’s needless to say it has been a superb month for the boys in black and gold. However, a number of factors have gone into the Bruins being the No. 2 team in the league standings.
It’s possible that this team has the best goalie tandem in the league. In order to capture what Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have done so far this season in just one word, that word would have to be “dominate”.
Rask has yet to lose a game in regulation and sports a 6-0-1 record. He’s earned a 1.41 goals-against average (GAA) and .951 save percentage (SV%). Halak’s stats, featuring a 2.59 GAA and .919 SV%, don’t scream above-par play – but he has been just that.
Both netminders have stolen games for their team. Take Halak’s first start as an example: the backup goaltender earned a 1-0 shutout over the Arizona Coyotes by stopping all 35 shots against. Meanwhile, Rask has failed to give up more than three goals in a single contest and has registered two shutouts. He’s also stopped 30 or more shots on four occasions.
It’s safe to say that the Bruins wouldn’t be off to such a hot start if it wasn’t for the two men manning the crease. However, the skaters have made their own contributions to the team’s early success.
Boston’s defense was bruised and battered throughout the 2018-19 season, and some of those injuries have limped into the new campaign. Kevan Miller, who appeared in just 39 games last season, has an uncertain timetable for return – the blueliner hasn’t seen the ice since April. Meanwhile, John Moore underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason and will likely not lace up his skates before New Year’s Day.
Despite their misfortunes, the Bruins have been able to effectively plug the holes along their blue line. Connor Clifton and Matt Grzelcyk, both of whom would have competed with Moore and Miller for starting roles in training camp if they were not sidelined, have made a positive impact.
Clifton, with his Miller-like build, has showcased his offensive upside and mobility while still dishing out crushing hits. In terms of criticism, he is the only Boston skater with more than 11 games played to not register a point. While he has made up for this in the physical and defensive departments, he will need offensive results if he wishes to hold onto his role when Moore and Miller are deemed fit to play.
Grzelcyk seems to be on the right track as well. Often dubbed a poor man’s Torey Krug (which is less of an insult to Grzelcyk than it is a testament to Krug’s ability), No. 48 has solidified his status as a puck-moving defenseman with acceptable defensive abilities. The latter part of his game could use some fine-tuning, but overall both Clifton and Grzelcyk make a great third pair.
The aforementioned abilities of Krug have prevailed over opponents in the early stages of the 2019-20 campaign. The Michigan native’s one goal and eight assists through 12 contests puts him on pace for a career-high 61 points – if he remains healthy for all 82 games. Krug’s partner, Brandon Carlo, has continued down his own strong path, though his path resides in the defensive department. The two have found success together due to their ability to balance out each other’s weaknesses, and it looks as though said success will continue this season.
Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy are back on Boston’s top pairing. Like Krug and Carlo, these two are familiar partners and their chemistry seems to grow season after season. McAvoy is looking to make good on his recent contract extension and has done so thus far. While No. 73 has been less explosive than some may have hoped (three assists in 12 appearances), he has shown signs of growth and wisdom after a long playoff run just five months ago.
Speaking of wisdom, the Bruins’ captain has plenty of it. Now at the age of 42, many wonder when Chara will call it quits. It is entirely possible that this will be the big man’s last campaign, but he hasn’t shown any signs of regression from last season and – if he continues to perform – may hang in there for 2020-21.
As was the theme during the 2018-19 season, the Bruins could use some more execution from their depth. The team’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak has a combined total of 57 points. The rest of the team has combined for 53.
Pastrnak has been out of this world, registering 12 goals and 12 assists in as many games. Marchand has tacked on seven goals and 14 helpers while Bergeron has chimed in with five goals and seven assists.
The next highest point producer among the forwards is Charlie Coyle with five. While this stat won’t knock your socks off, watching him on a nightly basis will. Coyle is quickly becoming a hometown favorite in Boston thanks to his 200-foot play. When he is not consistently creating scoring chances in the offensive zone, he is backchecking and winning pucks at his own end of the rink.
Danton Heinen, who is often the recipient of sharp criticism in Boston, has risen above it this season. While it’s arguable that he should shoot the puck more, he has also featured a strong two-way game. David Krejci, despite only appearing in six games due to injuries, has registered three points. Massachusetts native Chris Wagner has surprised onlookers with four points in 11 games, his one goal coming via a silky breakaway move on Tuesday night:
Meanwhile, Anders Bjork, who has only appeared in four games since his callup on Oct. 22, looks determined to earn a starting role. While he has only managed one goal, the winger’s two-way game looks much stronger than it did in past stints, and it is very possible he will become a regular member of Boston’s starting lineup.
While the Bruins could certainly use more scoring from their bottom-nine forwards, the depth’s level of play beyond offense has been key. It’s a team effort, and the Bruins have played like a team all month long. As a result, the boys in black and gold have earned a 9-1-2 start as the revenge tour moves into November.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.