Bruins

Bruins about to enter pivotal stretch in NHL schedule vs. quality opponents

Bruins

The Boston Bruins are about to enter one of the most pivotal stretches of their 2021-22 regular season schedule.

It's a period that could springboard the team to a much higher level or make an already difficult challenge of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs even tougher.

Nine of the Bruins' next 11 games are against teams that either occupy a playoff spot right now and/or advanced to the playoffs last season. 

It's a challenging couple weeks that features matchups against the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

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The B's have struggled against good teams this season. It's actually been one of their biggest weaknesses through 19 games. They own a 1-7-0 record versus teams currently in a playoff spot.

With so many games against quality opponents coming up in December, if the Bruins don't fix this issue, they will be facing an uphill climb to a playoff berth over the second half of the season.

The Bruins don't have a ton of time to figure things out and go on a run -- the seven/eight-wins-in-10-games type of run that builds real momentum.

Let's take a look at the Atlantic Division standings entering Friday:

Team GP Record Points
Florida Panthers 23 16-4-3 35
Toronto Maple Leafs 24 17-6-1 35
Tampa Bay Lightning 22 13-5-4 30
Detroit Red Wings 24 12-9-3 27
Boston Bruins 20 12-8-0 24
Buffalo Sabres 23 8-12-3 19
Montreal Canadiens 25 6-17-2 14
Ottawa Senators 21 5-15-1 11

The Bruins aren't in a bad spot, but they have plenty of work to do.

The Panthers are off to a historic start and show very few (if any) signs of regressing. The Maple Leafs look like a powerhouse with five consecutive wins and a 9-1-0 record in their last 10 games. The Lightning are still the Lightning -- an elite, experienced team with almost no weaknesses. Even the Red Wings, who beat the Bruins 2-1 at TD Garden earlier this week, are not to be taken lightly. Detroit has a talented young roster and a quality No. 1 goalie in Alex Nedeljkovic.

 
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The point is the Bruins are already looking up at four quality teams in the standings at the quarter point of the season. It's an unfamiliar spot for a Boston franchise that has reached the 100-point mark in each of the last four seasons (including a 106.6-point pace in 2020-21).

Some fans might look at the standings and say, 'Hey, the Bruins have a bunch of games in hand. They'll be fine.' Well, there are a couple problems there.

For starters, there's no guarantee those extra games will be victories, especially given how poorly the Bruins have played against the top teams. Another issue is that because the Bruins have played so few games to this point, the remaining matchups will be more condensed with less rest in between games over the rest of the regular season.

There are five points in the schedule from October through December where the B's have three or more days off between games. There are none of those prolonged breaks in their schedule from January through April (excluding the Olympic stoppage).

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The good news for the Bruins is they enter this important stretch in the schedule with some much-needed momentum following their 2-0 road win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. Third-line forward Jake DeBrusk, whose trade request became public earlier this week, scored the opening goal. Veteran defenseman Brandon Carlo scored the other goal, and rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman made 42 saves in his best performance of the season.

Secondary scoring and goaltending were key to Thursday's victory, and that needs to be the recipe going forward for the Bruins if they are to survive these difficult 11 games coming up. It might be a little too early to call the next three weeks "make or break," but there's no question that a bunch of bad results over this period would be a significant setback for the B's.