Bruins at Thanksgiving – Lessons From Seasons Past

Have you recovered from overloading a plate and posting up in front of the TV to watch football while preparing a second plate of food? I have not, but that is ok. Thankfully writing can be done from anywhere, and today, it is the couch.

Making it to Thanksgiving is great for several reasons, the food, the beginning of the holiday season, and time with friends and family for sure, but on the hockey side, this day also marks an important milestone in the playoff hopes of each team and their fanbase. Since the 2005-06 season, 75% of teams that are in a playoff position at Thanksgiving, go on to make the playoffs at the end of the year. So, how does this version of the Bruins’ stack up to this trend, and what can fans look to extrapolate from these standings? Read on to find out.

The Bruins at Thanksgiving

The Bruins are mired in their season-worst losing streak, one game. Their loss Wednesday to the Florida Panthers ties the streak following their loss to the Ottawa Senators and the day after their loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Those three teams are the only teams to have beaten the Bruins this season in almost two months of play. That leaves the Bruins with a .850 winning percentage at the 20-game mark, with an absurd 17-3-0 record, good for second-best in franchise history.

The Bruins sit atop the NHL standings, one point clear of the Vegas Golden Knights out in the Western Conference, and with a game in hand. In the Eastern Conference, Boston holds a two-point lead over the surging New Jersey Devils, two points courtesy of a Bruins’ victory earlier this season against these same Devils.

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When the season began, most people, myself included, felt like this date would be important, to ensure the Bruins hadn’t fallen out of contention yet. As the adage goes, “you can’t earn a playoff spot in the first month, but you can lose one in that month.” With injuries to Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk starting the team with a short deck of available players, treading water seemed to be the most important aspect of the first stretch of games. Couple these injury concerns with a new coach, an aging group of stars, and an Eastern Conference that only got stronger over the offseason, and the Bruins appeared in for a fight, just to remain relevant in the way-too-early postseason picture.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This start has obviously changed the narrative of the team. Players returned from injury earlier, each of the three mentioned above, Marchand, McAvoy, and Grzelcyk over a month ahead of schedule. Head coach Jim Montgomery’s system has ironed out some early kinks. Additionally, he’s retained the best of the Bruins’ systems under former coach Bruce Cassidy with their stifling defense, while adding an offensive flair unique to his own style. The combination has led to an overwhelming scoring disparity, as the Bruins have outscored their opponents by 37 on the season.

The aging stars some were concerned about, namely Patrice Bergeron returning from elbow surgery, and David Krejci returning from a year playing in his native Czechia, have not missed a beat. Bergeron is second on the team in points. He remains the top defensive forward in the league, while producing offensively, and has led the team as the captain through every peak and valley this season has presented him with. Krejci, although he missed a few games with injury, has tallied 15 points in 17 games, winning more face-offs than he loses, and adding depth to the Bruins center corps in a way the team sorely missed last season.

Safe to say, any questions the team may have had entering the season has all but been put to bed. The question now is can anyone stop this team? All facets of the game seem to be clicking, and the Bruins are operating as a well-oiled machine.

What the Bruins Position Means Historically

We touched on this a bit above, but at the Thanksgiving break, teams that hold a playoff position have a 75% chance of retaining that playoff position at the end of the season. This does not mean they will retain their seeding, for instance, although the Bruins have hold of the top spot in the east today, there is no guarantee they will finish the season as the top seed. But this position does set the Bruins up to confidently make a push into the playoffs. Having watched this team, you probably don’t need this stat to say the Bruins should make the playoffs, but it never hurts to have numbers to support the eye test.

Jake DeBrusk Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This 75% number means there will likely be some shuffling with a team right on the fringes making a push into the playoffs. This is the position some of us thought the Bruins might be in, close enough to remain in striking distance to make their push once the team regained health. But this shuffling should take place among the teams below the Bruins in the standings. Boston’s early season point total will act as a strong insurance policy to retain this playoff position throughout the rest of the season.

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For some more historical perspective, the last time the Bruins led the league at the break was the 2019-20 season. Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the season down, ultimately leading to an expanded playoff, two bubbles, and various play-in rounds for seeding, the Bruins won the President’s Trophy and were the only team to reach 100 points on the season. This layoff allowed some teams to heal up and others to find new life, leading to the Bruins’ exit to the Tampa Bay Lightning en route to the Lightning’s first of back-to-back Stanley Cups. That 2019-20 team was hamstrung by some of the offensive issues last season’s team also experienced under Coach Cassidy. Now with Montgomery at the helm, and this historical example to point to, the Bruins and their fans should be optimistic for a long postseason run.

Bruins’ Remainder of the Season

The Bruins’ strong start has fans around the city optimistic about the Bruins’ chances at a deep playoff run this season. The historical trends support this optimism as Boston’s pole position sets the team up for a secure route to postseason play. If the team continues to dominate play at both ends of the ice, with the league-leading goaltending Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have provided, and the top-5 special team percentages, the Bruins have the recipe for a Stanley Cup contender. Boston fans have plenty to be thankful for this year, one of those things being this Bruins’ team.

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