State of the Franchise: Boston Bruins
April 6, 2011 Leave a comment
The Boston Bruins are one of the more dominant teams in the NHL this season. They play as strong defensively as they do offensively (aside from Monday’s collapse against the New York Rangers).
On the offense, the Bruins are strong from top to bottom, strengthening their fifth ranked offense in the NHL. The team boasts eight players with 40+ point seasons, and four of those players are over 50 points. Leading the way for the Bruins are their two 60+ point forwards, center David Krejci and winger Milan Lucic. Krejci, a fourth year player out of Czechoslovakia, leads the team with his 62 points and 49 assists, which also rank him ninth in the league. Though he’s missed a couple games this season due to injury, when he has been in the line-up, he’s served as the ultimate playmaker, setting up all of his teammates for easy looks on goal.
The 22-year old Lucic has busted out for a huge season this year. Lucic has set career highs in every major offensive category, including a team-high 30 goals, 31 assists, 61 points, seven game-winning goals and a plus/minus rating of +30. He’s tied for fifth in the league with his plus/minus rating. However, the Bruins have depth in their offense and don’t have to rely on Krejci and Lucic to provide the scoring each and every night. Center Patrice Bergeron has been a steady source of offense, registering 22 goals and 35 assists. Off-season acquisition Nathan Horton has chipped in 25 goals, 27 assists and is third in the league with a plus/minus rating of +31, while the ageless wonder that is winger Mark Recchi has contributed 48 points.
Defensively, the Bruins are equally impressive as they are on offense. A veteran-led group, the high-liner is the massive six-foot, nine-inch Zdeno Chara. Chara, the league leader with his +32 rating, is a monstrous force on both ends of the ice. Offensively, his booming slapshot at the point of the power play has contributed 14 goals and 43 points to the Bruins attack. Not to mention, it also shattered the ankle of Rangers winger Ryan Callahan who threw his body in the way of a Chara slapshot, which has been clocked at over 100 miles-per-hour. Defensively, Chara’s huge frame and body-rocking hits put fear into forwards eyes and is a real game-changer.
Backing up Chara are defensive-minded veterans like Andrew Ference (+22) and Johnny Boychuk (+15). The team also traded for former Toronto Maple Leafs star blue-liner Tomas Kaberle, who is an assist machine from the point, registering 44 total this season and seven with the Bruins. The team has also gotten a surprisingly strong performance from rookie Adam McQuaid. In his first full season in the league, McQuaid has a +28 rating, which is best among rookies this season. His strong play has given the Bruins added flexibility on both ends of the ice that was unexpected heading into this season.
Between the pipes stands the team’s Most Valuable Player bar none. Goalie Tim Thomas has had one of the best statistical seasons in the history of the league, and is at the head of the class for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the league’s best goalie every year. Thomas leads the league in goals allowed average (2.02), saves percentage (93.8%), is second in shutouts (nine) and 11th in wins (33). Most impressively, of any goalie to start 50+ games this year, Thomas has the least amount of losses in regulation (11). If there is any flaw in Thomas’ game, he tends to struggle in shootouts, stopping less than 60% of the shots coming his way. The good news for the Bruins: there aren’t shootouts in the playoffs.
As we’ve mentioned many times before, heading into the playoffs, its all about who has the hottest goalie. We covered this a lot when we talked about Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings, and it carries the same amount of weight for the Boston Bruins. Thomas is having the best year of any goalie, and the only other goalie within earshot of him is Quick and the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lunqvist.
With three games left in the regular season, the Bruins are locked into one of the top three slots in the Eastern Conference. Trailing the Philadelphia Flyers by four points, they will most likely slot into the third position. The bottom of the Eastern Conference is a jumbled mess, with the sixth through eight seeds separated by two points total. Right now, the Bruins are lined up to face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. But, the Buffalo Sabres sit one point behind Montreal, and the Rangers are one point behind Buffalo.
Of the three teams, the Rangers should scare the Bruins the most, and not just because the Rangers pulled out a miraculous three-goal comeback on Monday night. The Rangers have probably the only goalie in the NHL that can compete with Thomas for the Vezina, and arguably the hottest goalie in the NHL right now in Henrik Lunqvist. They also have a balanced attack offensively, but have plenty of flaws defensively and lost winger Ryan Callahan for the year thanks to Zdeno Chara, which is part of the reason why the Rangers sit eighth in the conference. The Canadiens and Sabres present equal challenges to the Bruins as well, with both teams boasting two of the top-10 goalies in the league (Carey Price and Ryan Miller, respectively). The Canadiens probably present the easiest of tests for the Bruins, with Price on a bit of a slide recently and the Sabres Tomas Vanek tearing up the league offensively currently.
The only team I would pick to take the Bruins to seven games of the three I mentioned, I’d have to say it would be the Rangers. But, I don’t think the Rangers have enough offensively for their struggling defense, and I see the Thomas-led Bruins outlasting the Rangers in the first round. I’m not positive how far the Bruins can go in this post-season. But, with Thomas in goal, anything is possible.