For the first two months of the season, the Boston Bruins were one of the best (if not the best) teams in the NHL. Once the calendar turned to December, things have not gone as smoothly for the defending Eastern Conference champions.
As the NHL heads into their three-day holiday break, the Bruins are welcoming the time off and away from the rink. After finishing the month of November at 18-3-5, the Bruins have cooled off and the question must be asked, is there a reason for concern despite their 7-3 win over the Washington Capitals Monday night?
After beginning the month with wins over the Montreal Canadiens (3-1) and Carolina Hurricanes (2-0) at home, the Bruins proceeded to lose eight of the next 10 games, including their first home regulation loss at the TD Garden on Dec. 7 to the Colorado Avalanche, 4-1. Boston then embarked on a four-game road trip where they dropped their first three games before salvaging the trip with a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on the strength of two David Pastrnak goals.
One of Bruins’ strengths in the first two months was their ability to finish games that were either tied or they held a lead in the third period to secure wins. In December, they have done the opposite as they have been in six games where they have led or been tied in the third period and they have lost five (two in regulation, two in a shootout and one in overtime).
Home, Not so Sweet Home Recently
Boston held the best home record in the NHL through the first two months at 12-0-5 before they became the last team in the league to lose a regulation game at home when they lost to the Colorado Avalanche after losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime two night earlier. Since that loss, the Bruins had lost their last three home games to the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators in overtime and a shootout loss to the New York Islanders before Monday’s win over the Capitals.
Even though they dropped three of their last four games, the Bruins’ have secured a point in the losses, but an inability to finish games in the third period and overtime, especially at home is something to keep an eye on going forward. They hold a nine-point lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division standings and trail the Capitals by four points in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins have the leading goal-scorer in the league in Pastrnak, who has 28 goals, and Brad Marchand (19 goals) who joins Pastrnak with over 50 points on the season. One odd stat that sticks out for the Black and Gold is that they are 0-5 in shootouts.
Since the NHL went to a 3-on-3 overtime format in the 2015-16 season, fewer games have gone to shootouts. With that said, games are still going to shootouts and the Bruins’ struggles are a bit head-scratching. Boston is a dreadful 3-for-19 in their attempts this year, with Charlie Coyle scoring two goals and Pastrnak one. Marchand has missed all five of his attempts and Chris Wagner has missed both of his. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and David Krejci have missed each of their attempts, as well. It might be time for coach Bruce Cassidy to have Zdeno Chara to pull out the famous Chara shootout slap shot which he has used in the past.
Bruins goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have struggled in shootouts too, which has also played a large role in the teams five losses. Rask had allowed five goals on 11 attempts and Halak has allowed three goals on seven attempts.
Post-Holiday Break Schedule
Boston will come out of the three-day break on Friday with a home-and-home against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday on the road and Sunday at home. The Bruins will then hit the road for a New Years’ Eve matinee against the New Jersey Devils, who just traded their leading scorer Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes.
While it is not even at the halfway point in the season and the Bruins have still collected eight points during their recent losing skid, they hope that three days away for the holiday break will recharge the batteries heading into the New Year. It would, however, benefit them if they can get back to finishing games tied or with a late lead and figure out their woes in the extra sessions.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.