The Bruins started off the season 0-3 but have been on fire since going 7-3-1 in their last 11 games since. They currently sit two points out of the playoff picture but have games in hand on the New York (Islanders), New Jersey, and Tampa Bay for the final two wildcard spots along with Detroit and Ottawa for the second and third spots in the Atlantic Division. David Krejci has been leading the way for the Bruins with 17 points in 14 games, good for fifth in the league. Behind Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson have been providing solid offense as well, registering 14 and 12 points respectively. Newcomers Jimmy Hayes & Brett Connolly have stepped up into larger roles and have scored four goals each. While they have been winning, many signs point to their success being unsustainable.
Even Strength Struggles
The Bruins have been very average at even strength so far this season. With a goal differential of just +1 (26 GF, 25 GA), they sit at 16th in the league with a 51% GF%. Likewise, they also sit 16th in the league in CF% at 49.9%. Looking beyond shot attempts, the Bruins sit 20th in the league in scoring chances for at 49.1 SCF% but are getting a majority of high-danger shot attempts (50.9% HSCF%), good for 12th in the league. The underlying statistics early in the season don’t point to the Bruins making the playoffs this season.
A major part of the Bruins’ even strength weakness falls on the inexperienced defensive core that traded away Johnny Boychuk at the beginning of last season and Dougie Hamilton this past summer. Zdeno Chara leads the team in ice time while Torey Krug, Kevan, Miller, and Adam McQuaid round out the top-four. Veteran Dennis Seidenberg hasn’t touched the ice yet this season due to an injury sustained in training camp. The Bruins boast easily one of the weakest defensive cores in the league.
Tuukka Rask hasn’t been able to live up to the increased pressure so far this season. Rask has done a great job at stopping low danger shot attempts (Sv%L), posting the highest save percentage of his career for that region, but has struggled heavily against shots from the medium (Sv%M) and high (Sv%H) danger attempts. While this is a small sample and he’s played much better as of late, Rask’s Sv%H has dropped over twelve percentage points from last season to 79.10% which is comparable to last season’s performances of Alex Stalock, Anders Lindback, and Chad Johnson, all in the role of a backup goaltender. The ability to save the puck in the high danger region is really what separates good goaltenders from great goaltenders and great goaltenders from elite goaltenders and Rask hasn’t proved he’s on those levels so far this season.
With backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson proving his worth this season, it is unlikely Rask will have to play 70 games this season but he has to be on top of his game for the Bruins to compete.
Special Teams Rollercoaster
The Bruins’ special team’s are a tale of two cities so far this season with the power play firing on all cylinders and the penalty kill struggling mightily.
The Bruins have the hottest power play in the league so far this season scoring at 33.33% of all odd man opportunities (16 for 48). This is almost double this season’s league average of 18.90%. Bergeron and Krejci have led the way for the Bruins on the advantage with 17 combined points (55% of their total points to this date). While the Bruins may be doing a lot of things right, this percentage is unsustainable. In fact, no team has maintained a power play percentage of over 26% in over 25 years.
As the season goes on, the power play will cool off as they regress towards the league average. Expect them to finish the season in the 19-21% range.
The Bruins’ penalty kill have been putting on a clinic of their own, how not to kill penalties. They have only killed 70.4% of all penalties this season which puts them last in the league by almost five percentage points. As the league’s eighth most penalized team, this has put the Bruins in a big hole every single game.
To this point, their power play has been able to bail them out for the past dozen games. The Bruins will be in a big hole when the power play starts drying up. Relying on your power play to make up for the goals your penalty kill gives up isn’t a recipe for success in the NHL.
Historically, the Bruins have had an above average penalty kill so expect this percentage to climb up as the season goes on. It doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to kill penalties above the league average at any point, but expect them to hover around the 80% mark later this season.
The Bruins are currently riding a hot wave, but they have major deficiencies that need to be fixed if they want to achieve long term success. With just over $2M in cap space, they have some wiggle space to make a deal, but it more so falls on the coaching staff to improve the current club.
Follow Steve Ness on Twitter at: @QuickkNess