There is no exaggeration or sports writing hyperbole when we say the Bruins are the NHL’s hottest team.
They secured points in their 15th game in a row (11-0-4) with a 5-2 demolishing of the New York Islanders on Thursday night, and are pulling away from the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs with a five-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division. Oh, by the way, they also hold three games in hand over the Leafs. Amazingly, the Bruins are just five points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning with a game in hand on them as well while boasting the NHL’s second-best goal differential with a strong plus-36 mark.
Basically, the Bruins are kicking butt, scoring goals and taking names all across the league.
Taking all this into account, it’s also no longer a leap to say the Black and Gold are one of the best teams in the league after showing no signs of slowing down the past two months. They’ve embarrassed the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and spanked the Islanders, Senators and Canadiens multiple times in their stretch of dominance while outscoring opponents by a whopping 60-18 over those past 15 games.
It looked like they might slacken a little bit when they were a tad bit rusty coming off the five-day bye week with a couple of close, slightly sloppy games against the Habs and Dallas Stars, but they’ve bounced back with dominants wins over the Canadiens and Islanders.
“We feel so good about our game that we know over the course of 60 minutes that we’ll get our chances if we’re working hard and stick to you know our layers and stick to our defensive posture that will turn into offense,” said Torey Krug. “For us, you know, it’s just confidence in our system and the way that we’re rolling right now. Guys are stepping up, we’re getting contributions from everyone and that’s a big part of it.”
So how are they doing it?
Well, the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has gone supernova in January. Marchand (five goals, 14 points in seven games) and Bergeron (eight goals, 13 points in seven games) are averaging two points per game. Not only that, but David Krejci and Ryan Spooner have been point-per-game players on the second line to provide extra offensive support, Danton Heinen continues to bring an offensive element to the third line and the fourth line is bringing energy and physicality while taking regular shifts.
Basically, it’s come to the point where Boston’s top line is arguably the best 200-foot line in the NHL and their other three forward lines aren’t allowing opponents to simply key on the brilliantly flawless Perfection Line. That allows Bruce Cassidy to roll his forward lines, wear opponents down as they get deeper into games and simply overwhelm teams with their depth and quality while playing at a high pace.
“On our team this year I know for a fact that our four lines can play against anybody,” said Cassidy. “That’s the message I want to send to the players. I want them to feel like they can play against anybody, but I also want to be mindful of it and not get burnt by that. People will look at you and say ‘Geez, you’ve got all these great defensive forwards and you don’t use them.’ I’m not going to match David Krejci every night against the other team’s best line, but I don’t mind if for a shift or two they’re out there. That’s just the rhythm of the game, and I’m not going to jerk [players] off the ice [to play hard matchups].”
It’s not just about offense, though, as Zdeno Chara has made it his personal challenge to turn Boston’s penalty kill into Operation Shutdown. The Bruins basically won Wednesday night’s game in Boston when Chara stayed on the ice for nearly an entire, extended 5-on-3 power play for the Canadiens where they didn’t get much of a sniff. The 40-year-old was at it again on Thursday night with 25 plus minutes of ice time while blocking multiple shots killing an Islanders power play. Teams will always need defensive warriors to win big, important hockey games, and Chara is still the biggest, baddest shutdown defenseman warrior on the block.
“[Chara] thrives on it; he wants it. Sometimes you’ve got to grab him by the scruff – well I can’t – but [B’s assistant coach] Kevin [Dean] will try to get him off in [some of] those situations – not in a five-on-three – but he relishes that role,” said Cassidy, of Chara’s penalty killing ferocity. “If you look at our PK all year it has been in the top five, maybe slipped out to seven or eight. Zee is the biggest reason on it – and the goaltender has to make the saves. That’s not being disrespectful to [Patrice Bergeron], who does a great job, or [Riley] Nash, but Zee sees a lion’s share of it, and he sets the tone on it.”
Mix in consistently strong goaltending with the offense and the defense and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are dishing out humble pie to just about every opponent that crosses their path. It will be interesting to see if they can catch a Tampa Bay team without Victor Hedman for the next six weeks and if they can truly lock down home ice in the first round of the playoffs against the Maple Leafs.
But one thing to keep in mind before crowning the Bruins as the NHL’s next big thing: There is a huge youth faction on this team.
The five or six rookies in the lineup on a nightly basis have been instrumental to their success and, at this point, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly are becoming consistent contributors. But they’re only halfway through their first NHL season and Boston’s schedule gets much heavier in the second half. The Bruins, rookies and all, will be playing a taxing 16 games in March and it’s doubtful they’re going to come out of that heavy stretch at full strength.
It’s a very real possibility that Boston’s heralded rookies hit a wall at some point the next couple of months and they’ll need to be able to bounce back.
“I think we will keep an eye on it, but we have no intention of decreasing the workload right now until we see a drop-off because I don’t want to mess up a good thing,” said Cassidy. “You want to be out in front in some situations, but because [Charlie McAvoy] is so strong I think he’s going to be okay. But that will play itself out, and that will be a conversation with a number of guys and not just [McAvoy].
“How will DeBrusk handle it? Kuraly has played a lot of hockey for us, but he’s a little more down the lineup and doesn’t play as many minutes. Grzelcyk has now played a lot of games in a row. We have a few young guys that we’re going to have to monitor.”
The good news is that this Bruins team has been extremely resilient this season and they have a hardened, experienced leadership group that’s going to push them through. The Bruins also believe they’re one of the NHL’s best teams after the past couple of months. They’re absolutely right after the two-month run of awesome that they’ve been on.