The Bruins have not lost a game in regulation since a 3-2 defeat to the Rangers on Jan. 19. Since then, the team has collected 30 points over the last 17 games, making them one of the NHL’s two hottest teams in that time period.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, who have dominated the NHL all season, earned the same amount of points in the same time period with one more game played than the Bruins, but when the two teams clashed on Feb. 28, the Bruins defeated their Atlantic Division rival, 4-1.
Boston’s point streak has catapulted the Bruins to third place overall in the NHL At this moment, their persona is more of a serious Stanley Cup contender than of a playoff-bound team not expected to win more than one series.
Here are four key talking points surrounding the Bruins’ season so far:
Jaroslav Halak’s early season heroics kept the Bruins afloat, and strong goaltending from Rask and Halak anchor the team now.
Starting goaltender Tuukka Rask played poorly at the start of the season. He was pulled halfway through the opening game against the Capitals after allowing five goals on 19 shots. In October games, Rask posted a .902 save percentage to the tune of three wins and three losses. The NHL’s average save percentage this season rests at .909.
Halak, who signed a two-year contract with the Bruins in the offseason, solidified the team’s goaltending situation. A 32-save shutout in the second game of the season gave way to a .947 save percentage through seven October games, with Halak accumulating a 4-0-2 record in that time.
After Rask took a brief leave of absence from the team in November, his performance picked up considerably. As a whole, the two goaltenders have played a similar amount of games — Rask’s 36 to Halak’s 32 — but the Bruins have settled into more defined starter-backup roles in the latter half of the season. Since Jan. 1, Rask has played 16 games to Halak’s 11.
Rask has not played in a regulation loss since Dec. 23 and has recorded three shutouts since the start of the new year. Halak struggled in January, but has played his best hockey of the season in his last six starts, posting a .949 save percentage and one shutout.
Sixteen games remain on the Bruins’ schedule, and quality play from both goaltenders means Rask should receive plenty of rest before the playoffs begin.
The top line — Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak — continues to dominate the team’s scoring.
Bergeron missed 16 games to injury in December. He will play 66 games at most this season. In spite of this, he’s on pace to score 79 points this season, which would break his career-high in scoring set all the way back in 2006, when he was 20 years old.
It certainly helps that his linemates Marchand and Pastrnak (who is currently recovering from thumb surgery) perform at elite levels, too. Marchand (76 points, 64 games) leads the Bruins in overall scoring, while Pastrnak (66 points, 31 goals) appeared primed to become the first Bruin to score 40 goals in one season since Glen Murray in the 2002-2003 season before his recent injury.
The Bruins have scored 196 goals this season. Forty one percent have come from Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak. That percentage is slightly higher than last year when the Bruins’ triumvirate scored 37 percent of the team’s goals.
The fourth line has excelled while the team struggled to find a quality third-line center.
Riley Nash departed in free agency after producing his best career season as the Bruins’ third line center last year, leaving a notable gap in the lineup. General manager Don Sweeney elected to wait and see if an in house candidate emerged among the team’s number of young forwards. Colby Cave, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Trent Frederic all received time at center. Forsbacka Karlsson and Frederic were sent back to AHL Providence, while Cave was picked up on waivers by the Oilers. The Bruins have since acquired center Charlie Coyle, who has stabilized the third line in just four games with his new team.
Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, and Noel Acciari have instead picked up the slack. The three forwards are deployed on defensive zone faceoffs most among all Bruins skaters, and are all depended on playing the penalty kill. But Kuraly (17 points) and first-year Bruin Wagner (16 points) will match or break career highs in scoring this season. Acciari scored a goal and an assist against the Lightning on Feb. 28, the first multi-point game of his career.
This is all in addition to the energetic forecheck this line has provided for the Bruins, leading coach Bruce Cassidy to start the line for recent games’ opening faceoffs.
The Bruins boast one of the NHL’s top defenses while finally starting to limit Zdeno Chara’s minutes.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is a workhorse to still lead a defense in his 21st NHL season. As he’s aged, though, the need to keep Chara rested has increased. Chara averaged 23 minutes on ice or more the last six seasons. In 2018-2019, he has played an even 21 minutes per game.
The Bruins deploy their defensemen as a whole more evenly this year, with Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, and Brandon Carlo each playing roughly 21 minutes each night in addition to Chara. Matt Grzelcyk and John Moore both average roughly 19 minutes per game.
Gone are the days of Chara’s powerful slapshot finding the net on the power play. In fact, Chara appears almost exclusively on the penalty kill when it comes to special teams. Torey Krug performs better on the power play than nearly every other defenseman in the NHL (28 points on the power play), with Grzelcyk and McAvoy swapping in when he does leave the ice.
Overall, the Bruins have the second-lowest goals against total in the league, just behind the stingy Islanders.