Bruins’ Fantastic 2022-23 Start Looks Very Different than 2021-22

The 2022-23 NHL season is officially past the quarter mark and the Boston Bruins are currently second in the league in points (the New Jersey Devils are ahead by one point and have played two more games). Through 23 games, they have a 20-3-0 record and recently set the NHL record for the longest winning streak at home to start a season. Things are truly rolling for this team and they look like Stanley Cup contenders despite many assuming their championship window was closed after last season’s disappointment.

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Last year at this time, the Bruins were a completely different team, despite having a very similar roster. Through their first 20 games last season, the team had 13 wins and ten losses. Their longest winning streak was three games compared to this year, they’ve already had two seven-game winning streaks. They were very much a middling team that could make the playoffs, but wasn’t expected to go far. They were beating the teams they were expected to beat, but couldn’t pull off many quality wins.

When looking at the Bruins now versus this time last season, it is truly a night and day difference, not just in the wins and losses category. They now look like a contender instead of a team that was past its prime.

Slow Starts Versus Career Best

The Bruins were in a state of adjustment at the start of last season. They were without longtime center David Krejci, who had gone back to play in his home country and Tuukka Rask, who had been the starting goaltender for almost a decade, had offseason surgery and was unclear if he would be able to return or not. Sometimes, these changes take more of a toll than one would expect, and it was apparent that they were struggling. The offensive lines weren’t clicking, the goaltending was not as strong as it once was, and the defense was very young.

This season, everything seems to be clicking. David Pastrnak is off to one of the best starts of his career, versus last season when he had one of the worst starts of his career. So far in 2022-23, he has 34 points in 23 games and sits fifth in the entire NHL for points. In 2021-22, he only had 20 points in his first 23 games. This season he has 16 goals in 23 games, while last season he had eight.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In goal, Linus Ullmark has been the best goaltender in the NHL in 2022-23 with a .936 save percentage (SV%) and a record of 14 wins and one loss. The 2021-22 season saw him start much slower with five wins and four losses in October and November. He got into a nice groove as the season progressed, finishing 2021-22 with 26 total wins and 10 losses, but his slow start definitely contributed to the slow start of the team in general.

While Pastrnak and Ullmark have had two of the most noticeable improvements from this time last season, almost every player has more points at the quarter mark this season than they did last season. The Bruins have not had to rely solely on Brad Marchand to generate offense, either. Instead, they are getting contributions from throughout the lineup, and that is a big reason why they are one of the top teams in the NHL so far this season while last year, they were barely holding onto a playoff position. 

Pieces Fitting Together in 2022-23

A big contributing factor to the increased success of individuals so far this season is that everyone seems to be in the right place, getting the most out of a roster that is very similar to what they had at this time last year. For example, in the first quarter of last season, the Bruins were struggling to fill in the hole at center on the second line. Charlie Coyle spent some time there, but it wasn’t the right spot for him in the lineup and he never looked quite comfortable playing there. In comparison, this season he has looked incredibly comfortable centering the third line.

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Coyle and the bottom-six in general have become greater contributors this season and its largely because the right pieces are playing in the right spot. Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno are two more examples of guys who have settled into great spots for them on the third and fourth lines. They have both been difference-makers and have stepped up in games this season to help the team earn wins they otherwise wouldn’t have. Last year at this time, if Marchand, Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron weren’t able to save the day, then no one would. 

The defensive pairs have also been much stronger than last year. Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton have been a revelation. Forbort’s stay-at-home responsibility helps offset the more aggressive, sometimes reckless style of Clifton’s “Cliffy hockey.” Neither spent much time on special teams last season, and in 2022-23, everyone is seeing how big of a contributor they can be on the penalty kill, especially Forbort. 

Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Another big difference between this season and last season is the inclusion of Hampus Lindholm on the roster. The blue line definitely struggled after the departures of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, and last season, it very much felt like they were missing something. Lindholm has turned out to be exactly the piece they needed. He is off to one of the best starts of his career with 18 points in 23 games and is a plus-21. He is a difference maker every time he is on the ice, and was something that was sorely missing in the first quarter of last season. 

As mentioned, this is largely the same roster as last season. They only had a few additions in the return of Krejci and trade for Pavel Zacha. But the difference between the Bruins of Dec. 2021 and the Bruins Dec. 2022 is that the team has found the right spots and pairings in order to get the most out of the roster.

Road to Winter Classic

In 2021-22, the Bruins did figure it out after a rough first quarter of the season. Once January hit, they were very much a better team. Players like Pastrnak and Ullmark took big leaps forward and Erik Haula’s move to second-line center brought some stability to the offensive lines. This next month will be important to see what happens with the team. Do they do the opposite of last year’s team and regress in January instead of becoming better in the new year? Or are they able to maintain their excellent level of play from the first quarter of the season and truly be contenders for this year’s Stanley Cup?

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Luckily, things are still smooth sailing for the Bruins as they embark on their toughest stretch of the season. This past week, they had a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning and a resounding victory over the Colorado Avalanche, last season’s Stanley Cup champion. But from now to the Winter Classic, they will face the Vegas Golden Knights twice, the Avalanche again, the Florida Panthers, and the Devils twice. It will be an important test for the team and its depth.

They play next tonight against the Golden Knights at home. It’ll be the return of former coach Bruce Cassidy, and will certainly be a game to watch.

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