The Boston Bruins ended the first half of the 2022-23 season with a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Kraken, but they still own a league-best 32-5-4 record. It has been a historic start for first-year coach Jim Montgomery and his team on many different levels.
The second half of the 2022-23 season begins on Jan. 14 when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to the TD Garden for the first time this season, looking to gain some ground in the Atlantic Division race. As the puck drops on the second half of the season, here are five storylines to keep an eye on for Boston over the final 41 games of the regular season.
Pastrnak’s Race for His Second Rocket Richard Award & Contract Negotiations
It’s no secret that David Pastrnak is in the final year of his contract and there are questions surrounding whether or not he’ll be in Boston next season or somewhere else. He has turned down so far what Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney and the club have offered him in negotiations. He will more than likely bet on himself, play out the season, and see where the chips fall in the offseason, similar to Johnny Gaudreau last season with the Calgary Flames. We all know how that ended up with Gaudreau ending up with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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I’m not saying that is what is going to happen with Pastrnak, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. He enters the second half of the season with 32 goals, five behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers in the chase for his Maurice Rocket Richard Award, which he shared with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals in the shortened 2019-20 season. There is no doubt that Pastrnak is one of the best goal scorers in the NHL, as evidenced by his seven goals in three games on the latest road trip. It would be surprising to see him fall too far behind in the race if he remains healthy.
Linus Ullmark’s Workload & Performance
Linus Ullmark has been the best goalie in the league and the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy at the halfway mark. He sports a 22–1-1 record with a 1.87 goals-against average (GAA) and a .934 save percentage (SV%). He has taken on the brunt of the workload in the first half of the season because of his play and with Jeremy Swayman missing nearly a month with an injury.
He is on pace for a career year in games played, something he struggled with when he was with the Buffalo Sabres due to injuries. Swayman will also get some work, but the clear No. 1 right now is Ullmark and nothing short of an injury will keep him out from between the pipes for a descent amount of the regular season and the playoffs.
Workload for Veterans in the Second Half of the Regular Season
Speaking of workloads, how does Montgomery handle that with his aging veterans as the second half rolls along? They will stay in the lineup in the next one to two months, but how do they handle things in March and April if they are pretty much locked into a playoff berth? Montgomery recently addressed that topic.
“A lot of it is going to be communication I have with them. But March and April, especially March, it gets really dense. If we keep banking points, maybe there’s an option to (rest) not only (Bergeron and David Krejci) but there’s (Foligno) and I think we have (nine) guys over 30. But those are three that come to mind on a back-to-back where we have an option of not playing. I don’t think any of them are going to volunteer to not play. But maybe that’s something we could possible do. Managing minutes with our depth makes it a little bit easier.”Jim Montgomery (from ‘Bruins notebook: Joona Koppanen put in work for debut,’ Boston Herald, Jan. 13, 2023)
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand will not ask out of the lineup, but the rest would do them some good for a postseason run. Even Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm, and others would benefit from some rest. There is a lot of hockey to be played before those decisions come to light, but if the Black and Gold continue their winning ways, some much-needed rest would benefit a lot of players.
Let’s be honest, the Bruins have avoided major lengthy injuries in the first half of the season to some key players. Yes, Matt Grzelcyk, McAvoy, and Marchand missed the beginning of the season recovering from off-season surgeries, but they all returned before American Thanksgiving during their teammate’s torrid start to the season.
Aside from Swayman’s injury, Derek Forbort missed a month with a broken finger, and Jake DeBrusk is currently out with a fractured fibula. As was the case when Krejci missed three games with an upper-body injury last October, the depth on the roster was able to hold the fort down until some of the players returned. Staying healthy through the grind of an 82-game season is tough, but the Bruins doing it would go a long way toward securing a high seed in the playoffs.
Not many times are you going to hear that a league’s best team is looking to make upgrades at the trade deadline, but the Bruins will be and should be active in looking to add to a roster that is clearly made up to make a run at a championship for their veteran core. There is a couple of areas that the Bruins could look to add and improve the roster.
A right wing for the bottom-six, another right-shot defenseman, or just some depth on the blueline are additions Sweeney should look to make. A move can be made that not only helps the Bruins in the present, but also the future, similar to Lindholm last season when he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks. A championship team can never have too much depth.
The Bruins have been the talk of the NHL for the first half of the season and because of their start, they are going to be under the microscope for the rest of the season. Can they continue their record-setting start to the season? Some people are waiting for them to come back to earth and they very well may, but there is plenty to keep an eye on over the final three months of the regular season.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. 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.