With realignment taking place this off season, many Eastern Conference owners naturally believed their teams suffered from an uneven balance of 16 teams residing in the East, compared to 14 teams that makeup of the Western Conference. It’s hard to justify an argument against those sentiments hailing from the East, but don’t tell that to the Boston Bruins.
This season, the Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers all joined the Bruins in the recently aligned Atlantic Division. Many, myself included, pointed to the Red Wings as the team that would endure immediate success playing against divisional foes in the Atlantic, but to the surprise of many, the Red Wings can be found in the middle of the pack, while the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning sit just one point back of the division leading Bruins.
However, unlike the Bruins, the Lightning’s early season success has come against Western Conference (7-2-0) foes and unlike Boston; Tampa Bay will be playing without their top player for the majority of this season.
Meanwhile in Boston, the Bruins are starting to find their stride after an inconsistent start to the season. Coming off a home stand that saw the Bruins pick up at least a point in all five games followed by back-to-back road wins in Carolina and New York, the Bruins are once again dominating their Eastern Conference counterparts.
After their road win in New York last night, the Bruins rank first in the Atlantic Division and second overall in games played against opponents hailing from the Eastern Conference. Overall, Boston is 12-5-0 against the East, but boasts a remarkable 8-2-0 record against divisional foes in the Atlantic.
Ideally, with a personnel overhaul like the Bruins endured this off season, you would want your schedule laced with out of conference opponents to ease the transition. Instead, the first quarter of the season ended with 17-out-of-21 games coming against Eastern Conference foes.
Regardless of realignment, the Bruins achieving success against familiar opponents isn’t an aberration by any means. Dating back to the 2010-11 regular season, the Bruins are 116-60-17 against the Eastern Conference and 48-20-3 against divisional opponents in that span.
Once again, the Bruins are being led by the exceptional goaltending play of Tuukka Rask (12-5-1, 1.61 GAA, .946 SV%, 2 SO) and an astounding shorthanded team that had killed off 33 straight power-play opportunities prior to Derick Brassard’s tally in the Bruins win over the Rangers Tuesday night. Overall, Boston’s penalty-kill units rank third in the Eastern Conference (86.6%), but the more impressive statistic lies within their division, where the Bruins have killed off 27-out-of-28 penalties this season.
Whether Bruins fans want to believe it or not; the power-play is improving. Although, one could easily argue a consistent effort lacks with the man-advantage, the Bruins are heading in the right direction. Overall, the black and gold rank 18th in the NHL in power-play efficiency with a 18.2% conversion rate, but that total can be misleading.
Against the East, the Bruins power-play has converted 20.4% of the time this season. Meanwhile over their last ten games played against Eastern Conference opponents, the Bruins have found the back of the net six times in 21 opportunities (30.5%). To understand just how effective Boston’s power-play has performed recently, just remember the St. Louis Blues lead the NHL in power-play efficiency at 25.7%.
Over the next ten games, the Bruins will be tested once again with eight-of-ten coming against Eastern Conference foes, including a trip to Montreal on December 5. It may be early and a few months before the Olympic break, but the Bruins are in the position over the next stretch to send a clear message to the rest of the Eastern Conference that playoff hockey includes four games, per a series, in Boston.