Through the first two months of the National Hockey League season, things were going well for the Boston Bruins. They started the season as one of the best teams in the league and built an early double-digit lead in the Atlantic Division over their rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Since the calendar turned to December, things have not gone quite as well. Winning just 7 of their 18 games since Dec. 1, the Bruins have been brought back to the pack in the division standings and find themselves four points behind the Washington Capitals atop the Eastern Conference standings. Boston will begin a key stretch before the All-Star break as they will play seven games against teams that are in a current playoff position or right on the outside looking in.
The Bruins will start their grinding schedule over the next two and a half weeks when they play the first of two games over the next month against the Winnipeg Jets at the TD Garden on Thursday night (Jan. 9). That can be a dangerous game as the Jets and captain Blake Wheeler have a better road record at 13-7-2 than a 10-9-2 home record.
Boston will then head out on a four-day, three-game road trip against the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets. Throw in home-and-home games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the final game at home before their 10-day All-Star break against the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, things won’t be easy.
Need More Scoring From Other Lines
Boston has a dynamite first line with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and gifted goal-scorer David Pastrnak. It’s safe to say that the line has carried the Bruins and has allowed them to build a lead in the division standings. Pastrnak (30 assists) leads the league with 32 goals and Marchand (20 goals, 41 assists) is one-point behind the Atlantic Division All-Star captain with 61 points. Bergeron has missed nine games due to injuries, but averages just over a point-per-game in 35 games with 18 goals and 19 assists.
From there, things get a little concerning for the Bruins. Their second line of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle is currently below its scoring pace that they had this time last year. Anders Bjork has six goals on the third line with Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, but both Lindholm and Ritchie have been underperforming. Scoring depth behind their top line has been an issue for Boston over the last five weeks. If Tuesday night’s 6-2 win over the Nashville Predators is any indication, then getting secondary scoring from the third and fourth lines could be coming. Ritchie, Chris Wagner and Danton Heinen all scored in the road victory.
If the Bruins are going to survive this upcoming stretch, then it will have to continue to get production from the hottest power play in the NHL. They have jumped up to the third-ranked power play with at least one power play goal in their last 11 games. Pastrnak, Marchand and Torey Krug are making the Boston power play one of the most explosive units in the league recently.
Figure out Overtime and Shootout Woes
What are the odds that at least one of the next seven Bruins games goes to an overtime or even a shootout? As of late, there’s a good chance and that’s not good news. Of all the stats you see when you look at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins, one that is the most head scratching is their record in overtimes and shootouts. They currently have a 2-5 overtime record and won both games six days apart at the end of November at home against the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. Krug beat the Wild with an end-to-end rush goal, while Krejci netted the winner against the Rangers. With the current 3-on-3 regular season format, you would think it would play into the Bruins’ hands with their speed and skill, but they haven’t been able to take advantage of it yet.
The more disturbing stat for the Bruins’ is their 0-6 shootout record. Not securing the extra point in the overtime and shootout losses may not be big now, but over the course of time, those points can add up when it comes down to the standings in both the division and conference at the end of the year. Come playoff time, the Bruins should be happy that the NHL goes from the 3-on-3 format and a shootout to the traditional 5-on-5 play in overtime. Before they can think of the playoffs though, they need to take care of business with the upcoming seven-game stretch so they can keep the Maple Leafs and Lightning at bay and enjoy their break.
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.