When you think about the NHL’s star forwards, who comes to mind? Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos and Toews? It’s fair to assume that unless you live in New England no one who sports the Black and Gold comes to mind (and Vegas Gold doesn’t count…)
Even with the outstanding talent present on the Boston Bruins four forward lines, the defending champs attack boasts no superstars, no players who transcend the game and no one with a 75+ point season to their name. Among these are no winners or nominees of major awards and no past offensive statistical leaders.
Not a single member of the Bruins sits in the League’s top-30 point totals. None has ever placed in the top-25 in the NHL in goals or points in any season.
Yet despite all of this, the Bruins boast the NHL’s second-best offense. The B’s have averaged well over three goals per game in 2011-12. From November 1 through 12, they went on a five-game run over which they accrued 30 goals and scored at least six in the last four. They boast a quick-strike offense that has seen them score two goals within a minute almost a dozen times on the year.
It’s not like the Bruins are no-names, of course … they did win the Cup last year. David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and others are respected League-wide for their capabilities… but none of those names is enough to strike fear in the hearts of opposing ‘tenders (outside of Lucic, perhaps) and it’s easy for analysts and fans to overlook the B’s forwards with no real star power up front.
The Bruins are rarely dazzling like the Patrick Kanes of the world. The bulk of their production comes from a relentless physical presence and tremendous work ethic in the dirty areas of the ice.
Sophomore Tyler Seguin appeared to be on the verge of giving the B’s their star offensive dynamo – but a recent stretch of more than a dozen games with middling production from the nineteen year-old has seen the Bruins get the bulk of their offense from elsewhere.
Instead, the B’s have relied on their blue collar roots for offensive production. Chris Kelly – a forward who’s never scored more than 15 goals or 40 points – has been a revelation (12-7-19). His grit and determination have earned him more than a few ‘ugly’ goals from directly in front of opposing netminders.
All but one of their top-nine forwards has at least 17 points. That kind of tremendous depth is a weapon most teams just can’t match up against.
Not a single Bruin forward sits in the top sixty (forwards) in time-on-ice. Head Coach Claude Julien instead opts to roll all four of his lines with consistency. While other teams focus on developing a small, elite ‘core’ of forwards who’ll get the vast majority of ice time – the Bruins instead have found balance in their top three scoring lines and give significant minutes to their fourth-liners.
And why wouldn’t Julien opt for depth and balance over the top-heavy mentality? Their first line is as physically imposing as it is productive. The second possesses outstanding quickness and skill (not to mention with the best two-way forward in the game – Patrice Bergeron). The third line has been surprisingly high-scoring with great speed and tenacity. When you add arguably the best energy-line in the business, you have a recipe for Boston’s offensive dominance.
While the B’s don’t have the kind of firepower at the top of their lineup like Chicago, Detroit or Washington, their mid-level scoring depth is outstanding and relentless. The Bruins’ 5th through 8th best forwards by production (Peverley, Horton, Kelly and Krejci) have a total of 76 points between them (19 per). No other team in the NHL can say that. The average NHL forward ranked in their teams’ 5th-8th slot has 12 points. Only the League’s leading offensive squad (Philadelphia) is even close.
Additionally, the Bruins forwards are arguably the most defensively-responsible group in the NHL. Their backchecking, constant hustle and outstanding system play forces opponents to play with intensity for a full sixty minutes and consequently wears them out even more.
It remains to be seen if this group can continue to produce at such a high rate. With more than half of their top-nine on pace for career highs in points, a drop off is certainly a concern. However, if Julien continues to have faith in his players and roll four lines, success will come.