So here we are churning toward Thanksgiving and the Bruins are once again playing themselves into the playoff structure. Just like last year. And the year before.
We all know how that turned out.
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That's why you can excuse Bruins fans if they're not exactly dancing in the streets over the B's early season success, which currently has them in possession of an Eastern Conference playoff spot. The B's have laid waste to the established NHL trend that pretty much assured a playoff berth if you were above the line on Turkey Day. Fans have seen enough turtling from this team the past few years to believe in postseason inclusion only when we see it.
In other words, why should this year be any different?
Short Answer: It shouldn't. A pre-April choke is as likely this year as it's ever been. Despite the emergence of some young talent and the inclusion of the some new blood among the veteran ranks (more on both below), the DNA of this team is still roughly the same. Same coach. Same captain. Same goalie. Same management. They're all lost the benefit of the doubt.
That said, and in fairness, there are some differences between this year's squad and the immediate past that should offer some hope. For example:
-- Finally, the B's have some young players making legitimate contributions, namely defenseman Brandon Carlo and winger David Pastrnak. It's not just having the young bodies out there; it's what they're doing. They're factors. The training wheels finally seem to be off a stronger and more aggressive Pasternak, and Claude Julien is trusting him in most situations. And Carlo has showed more poise in a month than the B's previous cadre of young defensemen (Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, etc) have shown in two years.
For us to feel truly good about the future, the B's will need more than those two to emerge this season, whether it be Austin Czarnik, Frank Vatrano, one of those aforementioned d-men or someone else. But for now, it's a nice start.
-- David Backes is in and Loui Eriksson is out. Sorry Bruins beat writers, Loui just wasn't that good. I know you love how he fared in newfangled metrics like Corsi and Fenwick, but he wasn't an impact player. I don't care what his stats say, he wasn't a difference-maker and wasn't hard to play against. Backes is a different story, and you can already feel he's having an influence off the ice. Eriksson's contributions in that regard were zero.
Bottom-six forwards Dominic Moore and Riley Nash also feel like better fits down there than predecessors like Max Talbot.
-- Tuukka Rask is playing his best hockey since his Vezina-winning, Cup Finals days. He's finally stealing you games, and the skaters are starting to feed off it. That didn't happen the last two years.
It'd be nice if he could also do it against Montreal, but let's walk before we can run.
So add it all up: Between Backes, Rask and some legitimate contributions from Carlo and Pastrnak, the B's should be in better shape this time around. But the key word, of course, is "should". With this team, you never know.
E-mail Felger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.