After another hiccup to the start of their road trip in Buffalo, the Boston Bruins closed out their five-game hiatus from the TD Garden with a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders last night. The victory the Black and Gold their first four-game winning streak of the season.
The Bruins return to the friendly confines of the Garden tomorrow night against the Ottawa Senators. But for now here are my five thoughts from Boston’s road trip.
1. Goal scoring coming at opportune times
In the last four games of the trip, the Bruins outscored their opponents – the Jets, Lightning, Panthers and Islanders – by a combined total of 15-6, averaging nearly four goals per game in that span. That in it and itself is pretty impressive, but it was their timely goals that were even more impressive.
Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton tallied early third period goals against Winnipeg and Tampa, respectively; while Chris Kelly added a timely power play goal in Florida, and both Marchand and David Krejci delivered markers just 4:38 apart last night. All three of those tallies came during the second period and at a time where momentum was shifting towards the opposite ends of the ice.
2. Tuukka rock solid
So far Tuukka Rask is making Bruins fans forget about Tim Thomas and his Facebook status updates. The Finnish netminder made timely stops last night in Long Island, including highlight reel stops on two shorthanded breakaways by Michael Grabner and a backhander from Mark Streit in his 36-save performance.
With a 1.89 goals against average and a .930 save percentage through his first 13 starts, Rask (10-1-2) is slowly making headlines as one of the best goaltenders in the league. And if this continues he could very well join his former teammate as a Vezina Trophy recipient.
3. Power play gets some goals, but still not progressing
The good news: the power play did score three goals on this road trip and have moved up to 27th in the league with a 13.7% conversion rate. The bad news: it’s still a work in progress.
Make no mistake, there were some nice moments on the man advantage including Dougie Hamilton’s first career goal against Buffalo and Marchand’s game-winner in Winnipeg. There was even Kelly’s accidental goal – if you want to call it that – at Florida. But against the Islanders, the power play went back to its struggles going 0-for-4 on the night.
Again, this is a work in progress, but this issue will need to be resolved by Claude Julien and the rest of his coaching staff sooner rather than later.
4. Penalty kill continues to deliver
Stop me if you’ve heard this from your’s truly before: the Bruins’ penalty kill continues to be the polar opposite of the power play.
Both special teams have been well documented, but it still needs to be said that Boston’s shorthanded unit continues to be its strength. They have killed off 24 straight power plays and are the only team in the league that is over 90% on the penalty kill (95.1%). And once again, in crucial situations, the Bruins PK has stepped up as seen in the third period in Winnipeg (on Rich Peverley’s tripping minor) and the end of the second/beginning of the third stanza in Long Island (with Zdeno Chara serving a hooking minor).
The Bruins have not allowed a power play goal since Feb. 6 in Montreal. They’ll have a good chance to increase that total against Ottawa Thursday night, which is tied for 17th on the man advantage (16.7%).
5. Bruins prepared for home stretch
With their final 32 games coming in a 59-day span, the Bruins will have their work cut out for them with very little rest. They’ll only have one two-day rest between contests for the rest of the 2013 season.
The good news is they have plenty of games on hand to catch the division leading Canadiens, who are one point ahead of the Bruins having played three more games, and the Senators, who are tied with Boston with 26 points through 20 games. At 12-2-2 through 16 games, there’s every reason to think that the Black and Gold can stay atop the Northeast.