Coming into the 2016-17 season, predictions regarding the success of Boston’s beloved hockey team were wide-ranging. Some people chalked the Bruins up to disappoint once again, and fall short of the playoffs. Others felt they could push into the post-season in a divisional playoff spot. Many people, myself included, predicted that Boston would be a playoff bubble team, right in the mix of things when spring rolls around.
In my season preview, I predicted the Bruins would finish in the third or fourth spot in the Atlantic Division – good enough for a playoff spot unless the Metropolitan Division really shows depth. Now, one month into the season, we can start to analyze how the Bruins are stacking up as the league standings start to take shape.
The First Month
Sixteen games into the season, the Bruins hold a 10-6-0 record. It’s good enough for second in the Atlantic Division (as of Monday morning), and the fifth-best spot in the NHL. Granted, that will probably change as teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils make up the games that they have in hand, but nonetheless, it’s been a pretty solid start to the season for a team that many were skeptical of.
The Finnish netminder has won 10 of his 11 starts for the B’s while posting a 1.54 goals against average and a .945 save percentage. Even more impressive is the fact that Rask has already recorded three shutouts on the season. For a bit of perspective, he notched four shutouts all of last year.
All of this, of course, comes at the back end of a defensive corps that was untested and generally not trusted by Bruins fans headed into the season. If Rask can keep playing at the level he’s at, the Bruins should certainly find themselves in the thick of things in the spring.
Moving beyond the crease, Boston has impressed in other areas. For example, the defensive corps that was put on the hot seat entering the season has been pretty decent so far. Some early issues seem to be ironing out for a defensive unit that lacked a real identity heading into the season, and players such as Brandon Carlo have taken advantage of the opportunities they’ve been presented with and have provided Boston with some good (not perfect, but good) defense.
And finally, up top, the B’s are getting production from their top players. Aside from Patrice Bergeron’s quiet start, Boston’s big names are producing. Brad Marchand leads the team with sixteen points in as many games, and David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, and David Backes have all been a threat. However, it’s David Pastrnak’s play that has Bruins fans especially excited right now.
The B’s saw decent productivity out of Pastrnak last season, but the team was looking for a boost from the Czech winger this year. So far, he’s exceeded expectations. Pastrnak has 14 points in 14 games and has looked reliable on both ends of the ice for the Bruins. Some people aren’t big fans of the plus-minus stat, but his plus-11 rating is telling of the way he’s played so far. Offensively, he’s making the most of his chances – he’s currently shooting at a hair over 20%.
Ultimately, the Bruins should be pretty satisfied with their start to the season, especially what they’ve accomplished lately. They’ve won seven of their last 10 games, and have looked all-around stronger than they did at the in the first few games of the season. Their last loss against Montreal, in which Boston outplayed their rivals for much of the game, marked a huge step up for the Bruins, who were clearly outmatched in their prior meeting. However, the black and gold seem to be finding their game, and more importantly, they’re beginning to establish an identity as a team.
The Road Ahead
As we move deeper into the regular season, there are a few key points that Boston should keep in mind if they wish to continue their recent success. First and foremost, the B’s could use more of the same from Rask, Marchand, Pastrnak and company.
Moving beyond the roster, though, there are a couple things to look at while judging Boston’s success. For one, the Bruins need to improve their record at home.
Boston can be a tough town to play in for an opposing team. The city has one of the richest histories as the United States’ first NHL team, and TD Garden can become an electric place when the B’s are in town. And yet, the Bruins have struggled to find the killer instinct at home.
It’s plain and simple – the league’s best teams are able to shut down opponents on home ice. Boston couldn’t do it last year (they had a losing record at home last season), and they’re sitting at an unimpressive 3-3 record at home so far this season. Granted, Rask didn’t play in two of those losses, but regardless the B’s need to be better at home.
On the flip side of that, if the Bruins can continue their road domination, they should be in good shape. For one reason or another, Claude Julien’s Bruins travel well. Last season, they were 25-13-3 on the road, and they’re off to an equally impressive 7-3 start on the road this season. Tuukka Rask is a perfect 7-0 in away contests with a 1.27 goals against average and a .956 save percentage.
From a broader perspective, the goal for the Bruins is simple — keep beating the teams you need to beat (they’ve done that against Columbus, Arizona, and Colorado over the past week) and step up against the big dogs of the National Hockey League. Of course, it’s much easier said than done, but you can be sure Boston has it’s eyes set on their December 12 trip to Montreal.
Things are moving in the right direction for the Bruins right now, so it’s important that they build on the momentum while they have it. Remember, a point in November counts just as much as a point in April.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!