I wrote a post on Puck Daddy this morning about how the Canucks look just about ready to reclaim their rightful position atop the Northwest Division. Then it’s on to the Western Conference.
And while Vancouver was winning nearly every game between the beginning of November and right now, so too were the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, who went from deep in the Eastern Conference basement to having the second-highest point total in the league.
Since Nov. 1, the Bruins and Canucks have gone a combined 36-9-2, a mind-blowing pace for either team. And interestingly, both came after very slow starts. The Canucks’ troubles, particularly with goaltending, were much publicized and they went just 5-5-1 in the first month of the season, while Boston just had problems with everything, and started out 3-7-0. That can obviously be attributed to a lot of things, mostly the fact that the Bruins played in so many seven-game series in the 2011 postseason that both teams ended up playing the most intense hockey of the year until June 15.
Not that the wear and tear of playing 100-plus games each was enough. Both teams also faced significant injuries during those runs and guys had less time to begin their offseason regimens. While nearly everyone else in the league was golfing, getting surgery, rehabbing and generally recovering from the 80- or 90-game grinds they just went through, the Bruins and Canucks were still busy blindsiding, boarding and biting each other.
But now that things have leveled out a bit, both teams are running roughshod over the competition in a very serious way. In the Bruins last 23 games, their goal differential is plus-57, which I guess explains why they’ve only lost two in regulation during that stretch. Meanwhile, the Canucks are 16-7-1 since Nov. 1 with a goal differential of plus-31. Clearly, these are teams playing at the tops of their games.
But no matter how good a team is (and again, both of these teams are very, very good) you can’t keep winning the way they have. So the question, then, really becomes, “Which team is going to slip up first?” It probably won’t come before they meet in a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals on Jan. 7 in Boston.
The obvious choice would be the Canucks. It’s no great secret that the Western Conference is considerably better than its Eastern counterpart given the number of high-quality teams in it, but this also presupposes that the Northwest Division in which they play isn’t really bad. It is. Minnesota had a nice run at the top but it looks to be more or less over, and Calgary, Colorado and Edmonton are not very good, to put things nicely. Even if they falter against stronger out-of-division opponents here and there, they also have a several games against the Oilers, Wild and Avs on which they can land fairly comfortably. They have three or four games left against everyone in the Northwest.
If they were to hit the skids seriously at any point in the near future, one would think it would be at the end of January, when they host San Jose, Edmonton, Detroit and Chicago (though they have a full week off between Edmonton and Detroit for some reason). Beating teams like that is a fairly tall order, let alone playing three out of four against them.
Boston, meanwhile, plays in the softer Eastern Conference against a softerer Northeast Division, and that has certainly helped them win 20 of their last 23. And like the Canucks, the only stretch on their schedule where they face a number of decent teams in a row is near the end of January. But during that time, they face the Panthers, Lightning, Devils, Rangers and Flyers. In a seven-day stretch. And only one of those games (against New York) is at home. No matter how good a team is, playing well in five games against goodish squads (the Bolts excluded, obviously) in a week’s time, with four road dates, is a tall order. Plus the Bruins are just playing so well right now that their pace of winning almost 90 percent of their games in the last two months is wholly unsustainable.
Unfortunately for the rest of the NHL, neither team seems particularly likely to slip up for long. They’re going to be at or near the top of the league table for pretty much the rest of the season.