The Boston Bruins were a pretty confident bunch heading into their most recent road trip in Western Canada.
And for good reason. The club was riding a five-game win streak into Edmonton on Wednesday night that vaulted the Bruins back into the Eastern Conference top-eight. Signature victories over Detroit and the New York Rangers gave Boston valuable points in their ascent up the Atlantic Division table.
The win streak ended with a shootout loss in Oil Country followed by a crushing defeat in Calgary after a Brad Marchand penalty shot goal seemingly gave the Bruins a crucial victory with just over a minute to go. However, they fell victim to Jiri Hudler’s game-tying goal with one second left in regulation before Gaudreau’s overtime winner, capping off his first professional hat trick.
A statement victory in Vancouver enabled the B’s to take four of a possible six points (1-0-2) from their travels, extending their point-streak (at the time) to eight games (6-0-2). It was an overall success but could prove to be costly if those two points lost are the difference between playoff hockey and an early summer come April.
So what can Bruins fans take away from their recent exploits on the road?
The Bruins Penalty Kill
Boston’s lack of success killing penalties has been a major problem in the early going. They spent much of the season in the NHL’s basement hovering around a 70-percent success rate after continuous miscues and poor goaltending had failed them.
Bruins penalty kill: No longer terrible. They've only allowed one power-play goal in their last eight games.
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) December 6, 2015
Now, the Bruins are starting to find a rhythm after posting a perfect penalty kill on the road trip (12/12). What was once the worst shorthanded unit in the League now find themselves climbing up the NHL ranks at a 78.5% success rate entering Monday night’s clash with Nashville. Even better, they also recorded a shorthanded goal thanks to a penalty shot tally by Marchand.
However, there is still plenty of work to do. They rank just 23rd on the penalty kill and are still prone to giving up some prime scoring chances to the opposition. It is a promising sign that, at least for now, they have found a groove and aren’t leaking power play goals to their opponents.
They did take a step back against the Predators allowing two goals on the PK in a 3-2 loss on Monday night.
Brad Marchand Is Boston’s Best Sniper
The Bruins offense has been a juggernaut all season long. The League’s third-best offense tallied 10 more goals on their recent travels.
Three of those markers came off the stick of everybody’s favorite pest, Brad Marchand. The 27-year-old winger leads the team with 13 goals in 24 games and has demonstrated time-and-time again that he is Boston’s best pure finisher. A model of consistency throughout his career, Marchand is well on his way to a third-straight 20-goal campaign and fifth overall in his six-year career.
The quality of his goals on this most recent trip demonstrates the third-round pick’s ability to pick his spots. The penalty shot goal in Calgary was a combination of quick hands and direct speed right in on Flames netminder Karri Ramo, slipping the puck through the five-hole. The next night, Marchand beat netminder Jacob Markstrom with a glove-high, top-shelf snipe to open the scoring.
His speed and hands make the Nova Scotia native a budding sniper in Claude Julien’s offense. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see Marchand challenge the 30-goal plateau this season given the club’s offensive success.
Tuukka Time Is Coming Back
Remember that time when the Garden faithful sarcastically cheered and booed Tuukka Rask? Well, not anymore.
The Finnish netminder was the subject of ridicule earlier this season after being the victim of poor defensive lapses. He’s starting to show signs of returning to his typical form after a particularly impressive trip. Rask recorded a .949 save percentage with a shutout and allowed just four goals in 166:24 of game action. The 28-year-old is finding his groove allowing just 10 goals in his last six appearances with two shutouts (4-0-2).
More importantly, this bodes well for Rask’s confidence going forward. The Bruins need their franchise goaltender to be their best player if they stand a chance to not just qualify for the postseason but make some noise once they get there. It appears that Rask is putting the past behind him and starting to turn the corner, which only bodes well for the eight-spoked “B”.