The Boston Bruins are currently 8-1-2, first in their division by two points even with at least a game in hand on everybody, including three against second-place Toronto. They’re also only one point behind the East-leading Devils, who have played two additional games.
Obviously being 4-0-1 on the road is a really good way to inflate your point total, as is being 4-1-1 at home, with that one regulation loss being the kind of defensive disaster teams like the Bruins see once every three years at most.
But one thing that’s been kind of lost in Boston making yet another run toward the top of the conference, if not the league, is that it has not been all that impressive in doing so. At least, not in the way to which the hockey world at large may have become accustomed over the last two seasons. They played 30 games last season in which they scored four goals or more, and they won 20 by a margin of three-plus. This was a team that would back opponents against the ropes and just pummel them. Mercilessly. Until they were battered and bloodied, sometimes both figuratively and literally. Christ, they had six games last season in which they beat their opponent by six or more goals. All of them were shutouts.
This year? Not so much. They’re winning, and they’re often winning somewhat convincingly, but the margins are coming up much thinner. In all, they’ve only picked up three wins of more than one goal, and none of more than two. One of those two-goal wins involved a Tyler Seguin empty-netter.
Last night’s game, too, was a very disappointing showing. The Bruins played rather poorly for 58 minutes or so, then clawed back two goals with Tuukka Rask pulled to force overtime and quite literally steal an underserved point from the Rangers.
This all goes without mentioning that yes, the Bruins have been dominant in possession, particularly when the game is close. And obviously, pretty much all of their games have been for more or less the entirety of their season. In fact, they’re actually more dominant in getting and holding onto the puck than they were in those situations last season, which speaks very well to the way they’ve played to this point, but nonetheless, there hasn’t really been any sort of emphatic statement game.
That’s odd for this team, especially considering that they haven’t exactly played the toughest slew of teams in the league. They’ve drawn the Rangers three times, and that’s always tough on paper if not in actual practice. They’ve beaten the near-invincible Devils (though in a shootout). They even had a tough time shutting out Toronto on the road. But that’s five games out of 11, and the others were against mediocre-or-worse sides like Winnipeg, the Islanders, Carolina, Montreal and Buffalo twice.
These are teams the Bruins should be gutting, but they aren’t. You can chalk that up to something of a freak occurrence, one suspects. You don’t run play that effectively and not have your goal total skyrocket without luck playing some sort of role. And hey, even if you don’t believe corsi is a complete indicator of the kind of play the Bruins are turning in, then perhaps you’d be better swayed by their second-in-the-league shot differential per game. Nonetheless, they were only 12th in goals per game, thanks in large part to their shooting percentage of just 8.3. Last year, it was 9.8 percent, and they were third in the league at 3.17 goals per game.
Things will turn around for guys like Seguin (shooting 5.9 percent) and Patrice Bergeron (5.1) and Rich Peverley, who was incredible last night (3.7). The fact that those guys have just five combined goals doesn’t make a lot of sense.
A lot of the lack of goalscoring, probably, can be traced back to just how hideously bad the Bruins power play is. It’s third-worst in the league at 9.3 percent, with just four goals on 43 chances.
What’s so amazing about the Bruins, I guess, is that they’ve wrung 18 points out of just 11 games despite the fact that they’re way underperforming compared with what they should be doing. And history tells us that things will probably start going their way in the very near future. It’s not hard to imagine that a lot of those one- and two-goal wins will quickly become three- and four-goal wins that we’ve seen.
I’ve seen a lot of people in recent days say that the Devils aren’t getting their due for the way they rocketed up to the top of the Eastern Conference (to be fair, most of those people have been Devils fans) despite the absence of Zach Parise, and everyone writing them off as being more or less finished before the season started. That’s true, the Devils haven’t gotten a lot of attention. But the fact that the Bruins are anywhere close to them despite being fairly unlucky, and not really bowling anyone over is a far more interesting story.
This is a team that can score three goals in the third period against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers’ defense like it’s not even that big of a deal. If they put that together for three periods a night, even twice a week from here on out, there could be serious trouble. And if these guys go on any kind of hot streak, you have to shudder to think what happens to the rest of the East.