Why deny it? The Bruins are the best team in the NHL right now

Why deny it? The Bruins are the best team in the NHL right now

The Boston Bruins are the best team in the NHL.

Sure, it’s a little less than one month into the regular season and certainly there is a wariness about what the second half of the year is going to bring.

But after playing the first dozen games of the year, the Bruins are right at the top of the heap in points (9-1-2), have the league’s leading goal scorer, boast the top trio in all of hockey with the dominant Perfection Line and have the NHL’s best goaltending as well in Tuukka Rask.

David Pastrnak leads the NHL with 12 goals scored, is second behind Leon Draisaitl with his 24 points in 12 games and both Pastrnak and Brad Marchand sit in the top-5 on the NHL points leaderboard. Rask leads all NHL goalies by a wide margin with a 1.41 goals against average and a .951 save percentage — which actually got worse in a 5-1 smoking of the San Jose Sharks earlier this week.

The Perfection Line has 24 goals in 12 games, and has racked up 57 points over that span. Basically Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak are good for two goals per game, and that’s what entire teams like the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks are averaging right now. That is a stunningly dominant offensive weapon for the Bruins and something that’s allowed them to get the early lead against almost every team they’ve played.

So, the Black and Gold are pretty, pretty good, and this humble hockey writer would say they are the NHL’s best.

Just don’t expect the Bruins to make those kinds of proclamations as long as their 42-year-old captain still has a say about it.

“We still have a long way to go. We’re a few games into the season, so we still have to work and find ways to improve,” said Zdeno Chara.

As we saw in the Stanley Cup Final last June, being “the best” might not matter when it comes to a seven-game series against a team that can physically punish you, but right now the B’s are the best by pretty much any measure you can throw at them.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that the Bruins know full well that they aren’t at the very tip-top of their potential yet. As was the case last year, they are too reliant on their top line and power play to carry them offensively. But that has begun to change over the last couple of weeks, helped by Brett Ritchie looking more like a power forward who could help the Bruins, and the emergence of speedy, skilled Anders Bjork as a guy who could be an impact player for the middle-6 group of forwards as his confidence comes back.

“We’re getting there. I think these past four, five, six games, we’ve progressively tightened up and played more our style where teams have got to earn their way out there. I thought at the start of the year we were a little bit too loose, even though our goals against was down. I thought that was a product of probably our goaltenders and [our team] playing the right way once we got the lead,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I see us more start to finish now, playing that way. Nobody’s going to be at 60 minutes every night at this time of the year. You’re still figuring out your team and guys are still getting going, but we’re getting closer.

“I like where we’re at, playing good times. I don’t care what San Jose’s record are, to me they’re a good hockey team. They’ve proven that over the years. They’ve got good players, good coaching and they’re a strong team. We want to be equal to the task. I thought that it was a good measuring-stick game in that sense, from a team from the West.”

The Bruins were more than equal to the task in Tuesday night’s win over the Sharks, where it looked like boys versus men on the ice when it came to actual hockey skills, and the Bruins effectively had tough guy opportunist Evander Kane running away from them when it came time to answer for his running around during the game.

Certainly, the Bruins are getting pushed in the Atlantic Division right now by the surprising Sabres, and one would expect that both the Lightning and Maple Leafs will eventually get their collective acts together to push the Black and Gold.

In their own right, the B’s just welcomed David Krejci back from an injury-plagued October, so his return will finally allow the Bruins to slot their forward group as they planned ahead of the season. That means three forward lines that can attack offensively, led by centers Patrice Bergeron, Krejci and Charlie Coyle, and the kind of depth that’s going to overwhelm lesser teams like the Sharks and Rangers, which is exactly what transpired in the last couple of games.

“You want to take each game one at a time and focus on each game while taking care of business. Obviously that top line is going and we’re feeling good. It gives us a good chance to win games,” said Coyle. “But other guys are pulling the rope too and giving what they can do bringing a different element, whether it’s on the score sheet or not. And the goaltending has been just awesome. There’s a lot clicking right now. We want to hopefully keep it going.”

The trick now will be to keep it going and somehow weather through the dog days of February and March when the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” will take full effect, sapping their energy and slowing their skating legs. But for now the Bruins are the best team in the NHL and they’re consistently showing it every single night with a good deal of unfinished business in their minds left over from last season’s bitter finale.

Bruins break out great Halloween costumes>>>>>

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Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

While the NHL made big news last week with the unveiling of its plan to return to play with a 24-team tournament expected to get going this summer — barring any unforeseen COVID-19 setbacks — there is still plenty to be hashed out.

The NHLPA and NHL will need to come to agreement on other aspects of the league’s return-to-play plan and teams will need to begin skating, practicing and preparing to play in the postseason tournament that’s still months away.

The NHL is expected to make a formal announcement that the 31 NHL teams can begin Phase 2 with small practice groups at NHL facilities sometime over the next few weeks, and the word is that NHL training camp won’t begin prior to a July 10 start date. This means we could be seeing Stanley Cup playoff hockey in August and September before a Stanley Cup is awarded to the winner of the 2019-20 NHL season sometime in the fall.

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The real question, though, is how safe it’s going to be for players, referees, team and league personnel and anybody else essential that’s involved to help make these NHL games happen in designated hub cities once they are up and running.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara acknowledged there is still plenty left to go when it comes to the issues of health and well-being while talking about a return to play with Bruins reporters last week.

“These are the questions that still need to be processed. After the approval of the format there are other steps that need to be gone over,” said Chara. “I’m sure this is one of those things that everybody needs to be aware of that the safety and health of players, staff, coaches and everybody working around [the games] needs to be taken care of. Those are the questions that will need to be asked and answered.”

Some NHL players like Leafs winger Mitch Marner already expressed concern about any NHL personnel with underlying health conditions like Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi, who has Type 1 Diabetes. Clearly there are also some older NHL coaches like Claude Julien, Joel Quenneville and John Tortorella who could be more at risk if a COVID-19 outbreak were to happen during these playoffs, and that doesn’t even take into account older NHL assistant coaches as well.

“I’m all down for starting everything up [with the NHL season again]. Let’s rock. [But] what if someone gets sick and dies? It's awful to think about, but still," said Marner of Domi, his former London Knights teammate, a few weeks ago during a video chat with fans. "There's dudes like [Max] Domi who has diabetes. If he gets it, he's in [a predicament]."

TSN 690 radio host Tony Marinaro admitted on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call with James Murphy and yours truly last week that it’s a “scary” scenario for the Canadiens given their situation with players and coaches. It wouldn’t shock anyone if there may even be some hesitant players who opt not to return to play this summer depending on their individual health situations and concern level.

“I just got off the phone [on-air] about an hour ago with Dr. Leighanne Parkes, who is an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and I asked her about Max Domi. I asked her about Max Domi because as we know with this COVID-19 that it’s mostly the elderly that are losing their lives. But if there is somebody losing their life before the age of 80, then it’s someone with an underlying health condition. Max Domi is a Type-1 diabetic and that is scary and extremely dangerous.

“I asked her about the [21-page] document put out by the NHL for their health protocols [during the return to play] and she said it was a well thought out document. She said the NHL has covered most of the bases, if not all of them, and it was really well thought out. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to individual choice, Max Domi’s individual choice. But it really is scary and it really is dangerous for a player with a pre-existing condition.

Even though the protocol is there and the document is there and they take all the safety measures, do you want to take the risk? Would I? No. Would you? Probably not. But if there is one thing our experience has shown us, we’re not wired like these [NHL players]. These guys want to play. I can’t speak for Max Domi, but if I were a betting man I’d bet that he would play.

Domi himself admitted it was on his mind while talking it over on a conference call with reporters a few weeks ago amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent NHL work stoppage.

"Being a Type 1 diabetic, it's something that raises some concern. But you really don't know how everyone's going to be affected by this disease. Being a Type 1 doesn't change much. I would handle myself the same way as if I didn't have [diabetes]," said the 25-year-old Domi, who is third on the Canadiens with 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games this season. "Everyone is affected by this in their own way. A lot of people have been struggling.

“A lot of people have suffered loss. It's been a really tough time for everyone, and you have to be sensitive to that. You have to understand that this is very real. People have gotten sick from this. People have died from this. All you can really do is do your part, stay at home, stay safe and be respectful of any rules that were put in place.”

The good news is that most teams, and subsequently most players, will be eliminated from playoff contention within the first few weeks of a Stanley Cup playoff return-to-play. The attrition of playoff rounds will quickly lessen the amount of people, both quarantined and coming into contact with each other, present at the hub cities.

A few shortened playoff series at the start of the NHL tournament could make that an even more expeditious process that’s as safe as it can possibly for everybody involved. But at the end of the day it will be about some level of risk for each and every NHL player involved.

It all boils down to a very personal decision — and it shouldn't be all that surprising if not every player signs up to assume that COVID-19 risk once play does resume.

Who are the Top 10 NHL players from Massachusetts?

Who are the Top 10 NHL players from Massachusetts?

There’s a strong tradition of hockey in the state of Massachusetts, and not so surprisingly there is also no shortage of standout NHL players from this state.

A great deal of those talented players arrived in the years since Bobby Orr first came to town in Black and Gold and brought with him a hockey rink boom all over the Commonwealth, so there’s no coincidence to the timing of it all.

Another non-shocker: The greatest generation of Massachusetts hockey players continues to be the 1990’s when Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk and Tony Amonte along with Bill Guerin grew into dominant forces of talent at the NHL level. There may never such a concentration of star NHL players from Massachusetts all playing at the same time.

There were older pioneers and standouts, of course, like St. John’s Prep phenom Bobby Carpenter, one of the few high-level elite Massachusetts guys that laced up for the B's, and Acton-Boxborough’s Tom Barrasso on those Stanley Cup teams in Pittsburgh. Here’s a list of the top-10 all-time NHL players born in Massachusetts with apologies to Scott Young, Mike Milbury, Cory Schneider, Tom Poti, Tom Fitzgerald, Chris Nilan, Shawn McEachern and Jay Pandolfo for not quite making the cut.