The Boston Bruins are feeling pretty good about themselves these days.
Five straight victories has them riding a wave of momentum and confidence that has lacked at times this season. The defense and goaltending (for the most part) have improved while the League’s best power play continues to motor along, driving one of the best offenses in the NHL. It appears the Bruins have dug their way out of the early season hole that had an effect on their confidence, especially on home ice.
Their next challenge comes in the form of a three-game road trip to the beautiful frontiers of Western Canada. The annual pilgrimage north of the border was not very kind to the Bruins last season as they went 0-1-2 against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Those three losses were in the midst of the six-game slide Boston suffered in the middle of February.
This time around, the Black and Gold are feeling pretty confident and will put their 8-2-0 record away from TD Garden to the test.
The first stop will see the Bruins pay a visit to old friend Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night.
A new President and General Manager along with a new coach in Todd McClellan were some of the major changes during a busy summer in Edmonton. Drafting a generational talent in Connor McDavid doesn’t hurt, either. Unfortunately, Boston fans will have to wait as the 18-year-old phenom is recovering from a broken collarbone suffered earlier this season.
Regardless, the Oilers are still a young, dynamic team. They are led by winger Taylor Hall, who ranks in the NHL’s top-10 in assists (16), points (25) and plus/minus (plus-12). Leon Draisaitl has taken advantage of McDavid’s misfortune with 18 points in just 15 games. Fellow first-round picks Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are a major part of Edmonton’s offensive attack as well.
Their major weakness remains on the back end. Signing free-agent defenseman Andrej Sekera and goaltender Cam Talbot have not worked out that well as the Oilers have allowed the fourth-most goals/game in the NHL (3.08). Talbot has been very poor with a 3-8-1 record with a goals-against above three and save percentage at .889. Backup Anders Nilsson (5-7-1, 2.70, .911) has been slightly better but there’s no clear number one tending the pipes, which has been a problem at Rexall Place for years.
Boston has won 13 of their last 14 games against Edmonton and have a .703 win percentage against the Oilers (45-17-7); the highest against any current NHL franchise.
Playing With Fire
Friday night will see the Bruins pay a visit to their old friend Dougie Hamilton in his new digs.
The Calgary Flames were the Cinderella story of the League last year. The come-from-behind wins, a surprising playoff berth and a first-round upset highlighted a season in which they were supposed to regress rather than progress. Unfortunately for them, this year has been a smoldering mess as they sit in the basement of the NHL with Edmonton.
If there’s one player that has dazzled for the Flames, it’s been former Boston College stud Johnny Gaudreau. The second-year winger has racked up 21 points to lead the team in scoring alongside fellow young star Sean Monahan and veteran Jiri Hudler. Offseason signing Michael Frolik has done his bit to chip in as well with six goals and 14 points.
Much like their fellow provincial rivals in Edmonton, defense and goaltending have doomed Calgary. In fact, the Flames have allowed the most goals in the League so far this season (86), even with the addition of Hamilton. The goaltending carousel of Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio has been a disaster and is leaving coach Bob Hartley with a migraine. A healthy Mark Giordano has done little to patch the leaks in Calgary’s back line.
It also doesn’t help when you have the second-worst power play (13.1%) and worst penalty kill (70.8%) in the league. Special teams have been anything but for the Flames.
Raining Points In Vancouver
Boston’s final stop on their Western Canadian swing will take them to Rogers Centre to visit the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.
“Rain City” is an accurate description on how they accumulated points so far this year. The ‘Nucks have collected at least a point in 16 of their 25 games this season yet sit at 9-9-7 and just outside the Western Conference playoff picture.
It’s a familiar pair that leads the Vancouver offense. Daniel Sedin is a force to be reckoned with this season with 11 goals and a team-high 26 points while brother Henrik has eight goals and 23 points of his own. Jannik Hansen, Radim Vrbata and young forward Jared McCann have done their part to chip in offensively as well under second-year coach Willie Desjardins.
Defensively, they’ve done a respectable job patrolling the blue line. Alex Edler is the elder statesman of the D-corps while former Matt Bartkowski has a respectable seven points through 24 games, including the first two goals in his NHL career.
Vancouver has given the Bruins problems of late, emerging victorious in four of their last five contests and a sweep of the season series last year. Boston’s last victory at Rogers Centre was a particularly memorable one nearly five years ago and will be keen to break their recent funk against their combatants in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Bruins come into this three-game stretch in pretty good form and are facing two of worst teams in the League with the Canucks battling to find their way into the Western Conference top-eight. It’s a prime opportunity for Boston to collect even more points to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference ladder.