Bruins

Behind the B's surge: Offensive explosion

firepower_bruins_112017.jpg

Behind the B's surge: Offensive explosion

With the bye week upon us, we present a five part series breaking down Boston’s 17-3-3 run over the last two months, and how the Black and Gold have gone about making the surge from Atlantic Division bottom dweller to legit playoff contender. Today we look at the Bruins offensive explosion over their extended successful run.

Judging by the raw overall numbers, the Bruins have been a good, above-average offensive team this season. They’re sixth in the NHL scoring 3.2 goals per game and rank 11th in power play success rate, and have consistently been no worse than average during even their lowest points this season.

But they have completely exploded in the 11-game point streak that led into the five day bye week while outscoring opponents by a 46-19 margin over that course, and have blown out the Hurricanes, Islanders, Blue Jackets and the Senators a couple of times during that span.

So what’s been the key to the Black and Gold lighting the lamp with impunity over the last month worth of games?

BEHIND THE B's SURGE

It’s about two different things that are essentially working in tandem that has recently made the Bruins pretty darn close to unstoppable for other teams.

One is the sheer dominance of their stacked top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, who caught fire again right before the bye week with Bergeron’s four-goal outburst in their squashing of the Carolina Hurricanes. Marchand and Pastrnak share the team lead with 17 goals on the season, and the three Bruins forwards lead the team in points while giving teams everything they can handle on a nightly basis.

Marchand is on pace for 39 goals and 91 points this season, Pastrnak is set to nearly match last season’s production with 34 goals and 79 points and Bergeron is on pace for 35 goals and 69 points as “weak link” of the stacked forward trio. Even more impressive the Perfection Line has given up just a single even strength goal in their time together this season, a single goal allowed in a one-sided road win over the Islanders. Bruce Cassidy put that line together while injuries were hitting the Bruins hard in the opening months of the season in order to give them something they could rely on offensively. Now they’ve become so good together playing the 200-foot game that there’s no good reason to try and break them up.

“We have three really good players. Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is about as good a 200-foot player as there is in the league. He can obviously score goals but defensively…I knew he was good coming to the team, but when you watch him on a nightly basis, he’s always in the right spot. He is never is out of position and he’s always hard on the puck when it’s around him,” said David Backes. “From that, Marchy gets to open up his offensive side of things. Pasta [David Pastrnak] does the same thing and Pasta is certainly a very special offensive talent. March [Brad Marchand] just as well."

“Marchy maybe helps a little more on the defensive side of things but they’re a pretty special combination when they are together. They play power play together so they get a lot of that commonality. They get the consistency and they produce. We love having that. I don’t know what you do as a game plan to shut them down, and hope someone is going to beat you with somebody else. They are also a matchup line that’ll play against another team’s best line, but they’ll get the better of that matchup. That’s a nightmare, I think, for coaches.”

The real secret behind Boston’s big offensive splash over the last two months has been the scoring depth that’s backed up the B’s top line. Danton Heinen has brought a scoring and playmaking touch to Boston’s third line, and is among the NHL’s top rookie scorers while playing the very same 200-foot game that Bergeron and Co. are working on the top line. The 22-year-old Heinen is joined by a solid two-way center in Riley Nash, and a resurgent David Backes as he plays the best hockey of his Bruins career since returning from his diverticulitis surgery.

Heinen is on  pace for 21 goals and 64 points as a rookie left winger on the third line, and Backes is on pace for 22 goals and 47 points despite missing 17 games in the first half of the season. Even better they stepped up and provided the bulk of the offense in recent weeks when Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak hit a rare slow patch in their production.

“We have talked about it. We need it, different lines contributing. Some nights, they all do it at once,” said Cassidy. “It seems lately we are getting a lot of those five, tonight seven-goal games. You know that is not going to continue forever, but good for them. I don’t think they’re cheating or it’s dumb luck. They are playing the right way.”

Add to that a second line of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner that’s beginning to take shape and a fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari that’s actually influenced some games with their high-effort and blue collar approach, and the Bruins have a forward group where Bruce Cassidy can roll his four lines. This has allowed the B’s head coach to selectively limit the amount of ice time thrown on the shoulders of Bergeron and Marchand, and it makes it much more difficult for opponents to key on one particular group in efforts to shut down the Bruins.

“I think our goal-scoring has come around, and a lot of that has to do with us being healthy for one of the few times this year. In the last few weeks we’ve had our full lineup out there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You’re starting to see us be a harder team to check and match up against because we’ve got a lot of different lines scoring. The first part of it is to keep the puck out of the net and do the right things defensively, and then the rest seems to take care of itself for us.”

At least that’s the plan on most nights when all things are equal for a B’s team that’s done a very good job of playing front-runner over the last couple of months. If they keep scoring at their current rate up and down the lineup, that trend isn’t going to be changing anytime soon for them either. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Takeaways from the Bruins' 6-1 blowout loss to the Canucks

Takeaways from the Bruins' 6-1 blowout loss to the Canucks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins Saturday night 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Centre. 

1)  The young players for the Bruins are responding very differently while knowing they’re front and center in trade rumors going on this month. It’s a funny time of year when the rumors and the whispers kick up to high gear in the final weeks ahead of the NHL trade deadline, and it’s no different this season with the Bruins heavily involved with the deadline little more than a week away. Brandon Carlo has been mentioned early and often as a young D-man that’s drawn interest around the league, and it’s no surprise given that the 6-foot-5 defenseman has been a constant top-4 guy during his two seasons. He’s accomplished plenty at 21 years old and holds plenty of value around the league even if he’s never going to be a puck-moving demon like fellow youngster Charlie McAvoy. All that being said, Carlo responded to hearing and seeing his name kicked around by having one of his worst games of the season. Loui Eriksson basically backed him into the front of the Boston net on Vancouver’s first goal against the Bruins, and Carlo was an adventure with both defensive zone coverage and gap control all night. He finished a minus-4 in the blowout loss, and he was every bit that bad. Conversely, Jake DeBrusk has seen his name come up recently in the Ryan McDonagh rumors, and it’s clear other teams would hold him in high esteem given his solid NHL debut as a 21-year-old rookie this season. DeBrusk responded to the rumors by enjoying one of his best games of the season even if he didn’t end up on the score sheet. DeBrusk finished with four shots on net, hit a post in the first period on a nasty shot from the high slot and was turning pucks over while playing active, engaged hockey all night. DeBrusk was Boston’s best player, and that’s impressive given the circumstances. But then again, DeBrusk has shown early in his career that he responds in a very good way when he’s challenged by the circumstances around him. That kind of character is one of the reasons I wouldn’t want to give him up in a trade if I were Don Sweeney. Either way, it’s interesting to see how both of these young players are responding under the microscope. 

2)  Leave it to Loui Eriksson to pick his spot against the Bruins. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years covering Eriksson, it’s that the Swedish winger can be a very good NHL player when he really wants to be. Like when he’s playing for a big contract in his final year with Boston, and posted 30 goals and 63 points while playing grittier and tougher than he ever had in his previous two seasons with the Bruins. After signing a huge six year deal with the Canucks, he responded with 11 goals and 24 points last season and is once again just “meh” this season as a minus player that’s pacing for much less than 30 goals and 60 points. But he rose to the occasion against his old Bruins team and scored a pair of goals while attacking the Boston net, and generally playing with an urgent approach that I’m pretty sure Vancouver hasn’t seen much of over the last two seasons. One of the best things that Don Sweeney did was take a pass on the passive, play-when-the-mood-strikes Eriksson, and instead replace him with a bigger, tougher and more consistent – if not quite as offensively gifted – winger in David Backes. Good luck with four more years of Eriksson, Vancouver. Yikes. 

3)  Once again Thomas Vanek gave Bruins fans a reminder that he is a certified Bruins killer and that perhaps they could use a player like Vanek at the trade deadline. Vanek didn’t even have a shot on net during the game, but it was his play attacking the Boston net that freed up Daniel Sedin for a wide open goal during the four-goal, first period onslaught against the Bruins. The 34-year-old Vanek has 16 goals and 40 points this season along with a minus-13 rating, and definitely stands as one of those second tier wingers that could be available to Boston if they strike out on Rick Nash as the top rental winger that’s going to be available at the deadline. It’s interesting that both Vanek and Patrick Maroon, who are both on Boston’s trade radar, will be available to the Black and Gold if they want them after tormenting the Bruins pretty much every time they play against them. The current tally: 33 goals and 68 career points in 63 games, and a plus-21 mark against the Black and Gold. That is some serious damage against the Bruins over the years, so maybe it bodes well for what he could do if the notoriously streaky forward donned the Black and Gold.  

PLUS

*Loui Eriksson – Credit where it’s due to the Swedish winger that stepped up and probably had his best game of the season against the Bruins scoring a couple of goals and doing some of the things that allowed to put up a massive final season in Boston. The two goals and constant pressure around the net were a big factor in the win for Vancouver. 

*Jake DeBrusk – The Bruins rookie winger didn’t end up scoring any goals, but he was all around the net with four shots and one post on a Grade-A chance from the high slot. It was an impressive performance in an otherwise gross effort from the Bruins, and it also came in front of his dad, Louie DeBrusk, who was working the color analyst gig between the benches for Hockey Night in Canada’s crew covering the Canucks/Bruins game. 

*Anders Nilsson made 44 saves, so credit where it’s due in the victory over the Bruins. But the backup goalie was shaky throughout while not making any clean glove saves, so the best thing the Bruins ever did for him was fall way behind early in the first period. That took the pressure off Nilsson, and he was able to keep it simple with a big cushion and ride that to victory. 

 

MINUS

*The minus-4 for Brandon Carlo was literally and figuratively the biggest minus for the Bruins in defeat. Carlo wasn’t nearly tough enough in front of the net early in the game, had some coverage issues in the defensive zone and really was a liability with Torey Krug as a pairing. Credit Carlo for stepping up and dropping the gloves with Darren Archibald after a big hit on David Pastrnak, and in doing so displaying a little toughness midway through the game. But it was too little, too late at that point.

*One shot on net and a minus-1 rating in 20:03 of ice time for Brad Marchand, who was clobbered early with a high stick that went uncalled and remained pretty silent in the game after that despite logging over 20 minutes of ice time. Marchand has had some pretty eventful games in Vancouver during his NHL career. This was not one of them. 

*The defense was dreadful in front of Tuukka Rask, but he also gave up four goals on nine shots before getting pulled after the first period. His rebound control was poor while he was in there in the first period and the Bruins only gave up a couple more goals the rest of the way, so it certainly feels like it was a combination of a bad night for the B’s and their goalie when they’ve both been so brilliant this season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Morning Skate: Blackhawks fans ejected for racist chants

cp-morning-skate.jpg
NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Blackhawks fans ejected for racist chants

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while blown away at the amount of money that Black Panther is going to make this weekend. 

 

*An ugly incident in Chicago where Blackhawks fans were chanting racist garbage at Devante Smith-Pelly as he served out a penalty during the Caps visit to Chicago. Hockey fans are better than this. Everybody should be better than this. Here’s the statement from the NHL released on Sunday morning, and I sure hope those four fans ejected are never allowed into the United Center again after embarrassing their NHL team, and their city: 

 "Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

"While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment - free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience."

 

*The Hockey Night in Canada crew goes over the latest in rumors, including the NHL expansion into Seattle and the unclear situation still developing with Erik Karlsson in Ottawa. 

 

*Eric Staal deserves plenty of credit for the success of the Minnesota Wild after he’s been reborn as a player since going to Minnesota a couple of years ago. 

 

*Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray wants the prices to come down for potential deadline deals, and certainly they will to some degree ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline. 

 

*The Dallas media is certainly getting worked up about Tyler Seguin, as they’re starting to call him Mike Modano 2.0 as they enter the playoff picture. My prediction: Seguin is on his best behavior this season in his first year under Ken Hitchcock, but a leopard doesn’t truly change his spots. The talent is obviously there in huge amounts if he really wants it, but let’s see what Seguin does when things truly get nasty in the playoffs. 

 

For something completely different: As I mentioned above, it looks like Black Panther is going to break all kinds of box office records this weekend. Good stuff.

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE