The last time I gave you all an update on the Bruins, they were hovering around .500 and in the midst of finding an identity. The rookies looked good but were unproven, Tuukka Rask was losing starts to backup Anton Khudobin, and consistent scoring was a real issue.
My oh my, how things have changed.
For anyone living under a rock in Boston, I’ll catch you up. Your local club hasn’t lost a game in regulation in over a month. In their last 18 games, the Bruins are 14-0-4. At an overall record of 29-10-8, the Bruins have the fewest losses in regulation in all of the NHL and sit a mere five points behind Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic Division (and with two games in hand, to boot). They have allowed the fewest goals in the league (116), and have the second-best goal differential (+40).
Anyone see this coming? Anyone at all?
Here are a few stats that I think help to answer this question:
The Bruins are the first team to boast three 20-goal scorers so far this season.
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak have each reached the 20 goal plateau by the All-Star break, becoming the first trio of teammates to do so in the 2017-28 season. Oh, and by the way, they all play on the same line. The combination of 63-37-88 has been easily the most effective forward line in the league, suppressing the top lines of other teams on defense while continuing to find ways to put the puck in the back of the net. Their play can only be described as relentless, and their offensive chemistry continues to dazzle us all. If these three continue this torrid pace, there’s no reason why a deep playoff run can’t be in Boston’s future.
Marchand to Bergeron. Always a thrill. pic.twitter.com/dfUkw5fo1V
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 30, 2016
In his last 18 games, Tuukka Rask is 15-1-2 (.941 save percentage, 2.16 GAA).
Rask looked mediocre at best to begin this season, posting a .898 save percentage and a 2.78 GAA in the months of October and November. He had a 4-8-2 record through that point and lost significant playing time to backup Anton Khudobin. Perhaps the Christmas season was exactly what Rask needed because he went from so-so to lights-out in December and hasn’t looked back since. He’s won 15 out of 18 possible starts and has stolen the Bruins a few contests along the way (see last week’s game against the Devils for proof). Now, his record may be a bit inflated due to the increase in production by the skaters in front of him, but he’s been solid in the last few months and continues to make the saves he needs to. He’s got the stats to show for it.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 22, 2017
The Bruins are 16-5-4 so far this season at home, allowing a stingy 1.66 goals against per game.
Very quickly the TD Garden has become a difficult place to play for opposing clubs. The Bruins have been a near lock to earn points in games on Causeway Street this season, with a home record that is one of the best in the league. Whether it’s been absolute beatdowns like the recent games against Ottawa (5-1), Arizona (6-1), and Columbus (7-2), or grind-it-out comeback victories against Dallas and New Jersey, the Bruins have been finding all kinds of ways to win at home. And this is critical when taking a long-term view of the season- the Bruins had a bit of a front-loaded home schedule, and have more road games than home from here on out. Racking up the points at home so far has helped to ensure that the Bruins sit comfortably in the playoff picture in the East, even as their schedule becomes more difficult with a few lengthy road trips ahead.
The Bruins have three of the top-15 points leaders among rookies in the NHL.
The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line has been dominant, but not the only source of offense for the Black and Gold this season. Rookies Charlie McAvoy (5 goals, 20 assists) and Jake Debrusk (11 goals, 14 assists) are on pace for productive debut seasons, but the offensive surprise among Boston newcomers has to be Danton Heinen. Just over halfway through the season, number 43 has notched 11 goals and 22 assists, putting him fifth in points for NHL rookies. And keep in mind, Heinen has played anywhere from three to seven fewer games than the four guys ahead of him on this list, showing just how well he has been able to produce in the minutes he’s been given.
I know I said before that the Bruins could easily compete for a Wild Card spot by season’s end, at the very least. It looks like now I’m going to have to amend such claims to say that a Wild Card berth, at this point, would be a let-down. This team has the leadership, experience, and young talent to do some legit damage in the playoffs. Barring injuries, I’m hoping these guys can give Tampa a run for their money in the hunt for the top spot in the division.