Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bruins for real?

One of the surprises of the NHL season so far: the resurgence of the Boston Bruins.

A member of the Original Six, the Bruins have the Eastern Conference's best record (they're tied with the Rangers with 36 points but have three games in hand; thus they get the nod) behind only San Jose overall. Boston is winning games impressively, having downed preseason favorites Montreal twice this month (including a 6-1 win) and most recently Detroit, 4-1.

Boston has the fourth-ranked power play in the league, though its weak link at this point is the penalty killing, which is "only" 15th in the league.

Claude Julien preaches defense but it's the offense as much as anything spurring the Bruins to the top of the East. Only the Sharks, with their "shoot shoot shoot" style of offense and the Red Wings, with their stable of all-stars, have scored more goals per game than Boston, which has also allowed the fewest goals against per game.

Offensively, the surge is being led by Marc Savard, who with 30 points is tied for fourth in the NHL in scoring. Seven players have scored a half-dozen goals or more - led by Phil Kessel with 13. Scoring eight goals is Savard and Blake Wheeler, David Krejci has potted seven goals and a trio of players - the currently injured Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman and Milan Lucic - each have netted six goals.

Zdeno Chara has four goals. Once his offensive game heats up, the Bruins will be more dangerous.

Eleven Bruins have 11 or more points, including Patrice Bergeron, who missed virtually the entire 2007-08 season after receiving a concussion from a check from behind by Philadelphia's Randy Jones. Bergeron, who played just 10 games last year, is having a very nice bounceback season.

Defensively, Chara, Wideman, Mark Stuart, Shane Hnidy, Aaron Ward and the currently injured Andrew Ference have done a solid job of protecting goaltenders Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, both of whom are playing very well.

Thomas has a GAA of 1.88, third-best in the league, but with a caveat; the two goalies ahead of him are primarily backups in Florida's Craig Anderson and Pittsburgh's Dany Sabourin. Fernandez is in the top-15 with a 2.32 GAA, tied with Montreal's Carey Price. Both netminders are also in the top-15 in save percentage: Thomas is second (.948, behind Anderson) and Fernandez 15th again (.918).

The Bruins are a dangerous team. They have a very capable duo in goal (Thomas is the No. 1 but Julien won't hesitate to turn to Fernandez), fueled by an excellent offense that, apart from Savard, doesn't have a "name" player, though Kessel and Lucic are changing that. Lucic is drawing comparisons to Cam Neely. Maybe a lot of those guys are playing over their heads but they're demanding attention.

If Boston continues at this pace, no team will want to play them in the playoffs.



Unknown said...

They've looked very good, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. They haven't actually won anything except a whole bunch of regular season games.

But they are very exciting to watch.

KiPA - Kevin in PA said...

I wasn't anointing them champions. I even put a question mark in the title.

Anonymous said...

If they hadn't beat Detroit 4-1, and if Detroit's only other regulation loss wasn't against San Jose, we might not be able to infer the Bruins will continue to kick ass. But facts are facts, and the Bruins are solid. No one is looking forward to playing them right now, and this isn't likely to change all that much in the coming months.

Nick in New York said...

I totally called Wheeler wrong. I thought he'd spend a good deal of time in Providence, but he's absolutely proven me wrong. Good for him.

This is a very fun team to watch right now, hopefully they can keep it up.

Funny how two of the league's grand old franchises are enjoying renaissances of sorts this season: Boston and Chicago.