Jeff Mannix is Host of WJJB 96.3 FM The Big Jab
Studio Host/Producer, Maine Red Claws Radio Network
If you’ve been lost in football season and the early season success of the Boston Celtics, you may not be clued in on the one of the great stories of the NHL this season. Entering the new week, the Boston Bruins have the fourth best record in the league. They recently went on a run of 18 straight games without a regulation loss, a streak that propelled them toward the top of the league.
Most people around the team believed the team had potential when the season began. Coming off their first playoff berth after two straight years without a playoff appearance, many were hopeful the Bruins could build on the success of last year. But, not even the most optimistic of fans could’ve predicted how good the team is.
So, why have the Bruins turned into an elite team this season?
Is it because of Bruce Cassidy has had the reigns of the team all season? Since taking over from Claude Julien last season, the Bruins have won 63% of the regular season games under Cassidy. He’s brought a style to Boston that he preached for five seasons as the coach of the Providence Bruins, Boston’s American Hockey League affiliate. His teams are active, always swarming the puck carrier on the forecheck and forcing mistakes. His teams work as a unit on the ice. Everyone knows their roles and gets into proper position to make a play.
Is it because of their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak? The combo has turned into one of the most prolific scoring lines in the league. The trio has combined for nearly 150 points so far this season. All three players are already over the 20-goal mark for the season. With 28 games left in the season, so long as all three remain healthy, it is very possible that the Bruins top line combines for more than 100 goals. That didn’t even happen in 2011 or 2013, the last two times the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final.
Is it because of a wealth of dynamic, young talent? The impact of players in their first few seasons in the league is undeniable. Three of the Bruins top eight scorers this season are rookies. Danton Heinen (who skated for former Maine Black Bear standout Jim Montgomery at Denver University) trails only Marchand, Pastrnak, and Bergeron in points. Jake DeBrusk, a first-round draft selection in 2015, has the sixth most points on the team. And defenseman Charlie McAvoy is a likely Calder Trophy finalist for NHL Rookie of the Year. The last time a Bruins player won Rookie of the Year was 2004, when goalie Andrew Raycroft won the honor.
Is it because of the team’s veteran leadership? Boston is blessed with some of the hardest working and dynamic leaders in the game. Zdeno Chara, who has won the “C” since arriving in Boston in 2006, is considered one of the best captains in the game. Bergeron would likely be a captain with pretty much any other team in the league. Add David Krejci, an assistant captain for years, and David Backes, a long-time captain of the St. Louis Blues, as well as Riley Nash, and it’s no wonder the youngsters are bringing it every night. They have tremendous role models to look up to in every single practice.
Is it because of the team’s goaltending tandem of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin? With these two between the pipes, the Bruins have surrendered the fewest goals in the NHL. Until a defeat against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, Rask had gone six full weeks without a regulation defeat. And Khudobin’s strong play, especially after Rask’s early ineffectiveness, kept the Bruins afloat until they found their stride.
In truth, all of the above reasons are big pieces to the puzzle. The NHL trade deadline is two weeks from today. The Bruins are in position to be real contender, even if they don’t make any major moves in an effort to improve.
If you haven’t been watching the Bruins, now is the time to start. You’ll thank me in a few months.