The Black and Gold had a slow start to the season followed by a great stretch that has put them in position to push the Montral Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Here are a few lessons we have learned as the hometown team heads into the Holiday break:
Tuukka Rask is still the workhorse:
While Jonas Gustavsson is doing a very serviceable job backing up Tuukka Rask, there is no question Rask is playing his best hockey yet this season. Gustavsson owns a 6-2-1 record with a .943 save percentage, but Rask has been showing why he is being paid seven million dollars per season in Boston.
As the Black and Gold went on a nice stretch in December it was no accident that Rask was leading them. Rask sports a 5-1-2 record in December improving his record to 13-8-3 while lowering his goals against average to 2.40.
The Black and Gold have also killed 22 consecutive penalties and 52 of their last 55 which starts with their best penalty killer, Rask.
Claude Julien’s team has made a significant leap in the standings over the past few weeks and one of the main reasons has been because of their net minder. Let’s see if Rask can carry over his momentum after a three day break.
Health to key players has been crucial:
One of the breaks the B’s have been fortunate enough with this year has been the health of their core players: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Loui Eriksson, Brad Marchand and besides a few games early on, Zdeno Chara.
Last season, the B’s saw Krejci appear in only 47 games where he tallied just seven goals and 24 assists. Well, in 2015, Krejci has appeared in 33 games and has nearly matched his total from a year ago with nine goals and 22 assists already only trailing Bergeron for the team lead in points.
Having Bergeron and Marchand together has also paid huge dividends for the Black and Gold. They have played countless minutes together and know exactly where each other will be at any given time. It doesn’t hurt having one of the best two way players in hockey on your power-play and penalty kill.
The Little Ball of “Great” has been sensational for Julien this season leading the way with 15 goals while Eriksson has really found his game netting 13 goals and assisting on 15 others making his presence felt in front of the net in the dirty areas.
While Chara may look slow at times (and he does), he is still putting in his minutes and giving the B’s experience on the blue-line something they lack. His minutes may need to be cut down the stretch, but his presence alone on the ice is enough to put fear in opponent’s eyes.
With the health of these five players, the Black and Gold are pushing the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division. As long as they have a clean bill of health, it may be them chasing the Habs down the stretch for the division.
New additions bring the good and the bad:
With Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey adjusting to Julien’s system, there have been some growing pains, but they have also shown some flashes of why they were brought here. They have a combined nine goals and 21 assists in 31 games respectively.
Beleskey has been snake-bitten at times while Hayes has been benched, but they technically are still learning the trick of the trade in Boston. If they can bring that heavy game each night that Julien warrants while the core holds the fort, the points will come and we have seen that at times.
Brett Connolly finally has got his chance as well coming back from an injury-ridden season last year. We have seen him score in bunches, but then go stretches of 10 games without scoring a goal.
The bright spots have been the likes of Frank Vatrano, Landon Ferraro and Tyler Randell, but with their lack of experience we sometimes see mistakes and turnovers that lead to odd man rushes, but they are taking it in stride. Bruins’ fans certainly couldn’t have expected these three guys to be contributing at this high of a level this early in the season never mind know who they are.
The power-play is a big strength
After what we have seen in years past, who would have thought the B’s power play would be this dominant?
Julien’s team leads the NHL on the man advantage scoring 28.9 percent of the time while receiving minimal opportunities compared to that of the NHL average.
Ryan Spooner has played an intricate part on the power-play while Torey Krug, Bergeron, Marchand, Eriksson and Krejci have brought the level of play to the next level.
While the penalty kill is clicking on all cylinders, we can’t forget how successful this power play unit has been through the first three months of the season.
Blue line needs work, but improving
Early on in the season, it was tough to watch the Black and Gold play defense. The collective group just wasn’t getting it done. Kevan Miller was committing inexcusable turnovers, Colin Miller wasn’t even playing, Zach Trotman was making too many mistakes and Dennis Seidenberg and Chara looked old.
Recently, they are sticking to the system and playing with layers and a purpose. Adam McQuaid has stepped up in a big way and has earned top four minutes. It is tough to see Chara log ridiculous minutes out there on a nightly basis, but he is the straw that stirs the drink back there and needs to lead by example especially with the inexperience on the back end.
It seems as if things are starting to click better on the back end for the Black and Gold. This only helps Rask better his game. If the B’s can keep improving and play their tight-knit defense, the victories will follow as they have all month.