The “2012”-13 campaign is young enough that some Bruins are still looking for their first goals, but the magic (or whatever you want to call it) of the lockout-shortened season is that the B’s are actually over a quarter of the way through their schedule.
Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Jets was their 13th game of the 48-game season, putting the B’s at an impressive 9-2-2 with a Northeast Division-leading 20 points, but the surprisingly competitive Canadiens are nipping at their heels with 19 points (9-4-1) through 14 games.
In an 82-game season, it’s a bit easier to make thorough assessments through the quarter-mark of a team’s schedule. You get a better idea of legit and who isn’t (some folks aren’t yet believers when it comes to the Habs, but Michel Therrien’s squad sure does look the part of a playoff team) than you do through 13, 14, 15, 16 games, but here’s an attempt of sizing up what to make of a regular season that’s more than a quarter of the way done.
The biggest question entering the season was goaltending and whether Tuukka Rask could handle being the No. 1 guy. He has thus far, but was it really a question of capability to begin with? Rask is plenty talented and the Bruins have seen that over the last few years, but the biggest question remains whether he’ll be able to do it for the long haul – get through the season without nagging injuries, etc. So far, so good though, as Rask’s put up solid numbers (2.06 goals-against average, .919 save percentage) and has bailed the B’s out when needed.
Offensively, Tyler Seguin has obviously been a letdown and folks have wondered whether Chris Bourque is good enough to stick, but the good news is that the B’s got strong performances out of both players Sunday in Winnipeg. Seguin scored his second non-empty netter of the season by tipping a Zdeno Chara wrist shot past Ondrej Pavelec, and he also made a great play on the backcheck by diving to break up a play. Bourque, who has one goal this season, was one of the better Bruins on the ice Sunday, and it earned him a promotion to the top line late in the game.
Brad Marchand has just one assist this season, but he leads the B’s with eight goals. Patrice Bergeron has the league’s best success rate on faceoffs among players who have taken 200 or more draws, and though Bergeron has continued to be one of the elite two-way players in the game, it’s David Krejci who has been the Bruins’ best offensive player. Krejci has nearly been a point-a-game guy, with four goals and a team-leading eight assists to give him a team-best 12 points through 13 games.
Aside from some lapses – most notably in the losses to Buffalo – the Bruins have been typically strong defensively. Zdeno Chara remains the most difficult bluliner in the league to play against, and Dennis Seidenberg doesn’t get enough credit (as usual) for the success of his pairing with Dougie Hamilton.
The B’s were bitten by the injury bug earlier in the month, but the good news is that they haven’t sustained any long-term injuries. Most importantly, they’ve only suffered two regulation losses and have played at least one less game than every other team in a division they lead.
You can point to the power play (which is actually two for its last three, if you can believe it) or the blown opportunities against Buffalo, but looking at it big picture, it’s hard to argue that the Bruins haven’t exceeded expectations so far.
The Northeast Division
The expectation here and a lot of other places was that the Bruins wouldn’t have much trouble winning a seemingly weak division, but as of Monday every team in the Northeast with the exception of the Sabres is currently in position for a playoff spot (No. 2 Boston, No. 5 Montreal, No. 6 Toronto, No. 8 Ottawa).
That could be very different by the time the season reaches the midway point, especially in Ottawa. The Senators, who are already without Jason Spezza due to back surgery and had been struggling of late after a 5-1-1 start, suffered a huge loss last week when a sliced Achilles tendon ended Erik Karlsson’s season. The Senators lost their first game without the reigning Norris winner and have now dropped two in a row. Perhaps general manager Bryan Murray can make some moves to make up for the injuries, but right now things aren’t looking good for Ottawa.
The Sabres have proven they can beat the Bruins (2-1-0 in three meetings vs. Boston), but they’ve had a hard time beating other clubs. They’ve had two different three-game losing streaks and although their offense, led by early Hart candidate Thomas Vanek (12 goals and 25 points to lead the league), has produced, the Sabres have allowed 3.38 goals per game. That puts them 27th in the league in goals allowed per game.
The Maple Leafs forgot about their 2-3-0 start in a hurry by going 8-2-0 since then, though they could stand to get more offense out of their big names (two goals for Phil Kessel). As for the Canadiens, consider them a real threat. Any team with great goaltending and strong defense should be taken seriously, and the Habs have proven to have that.
The Eastern Conference
The Rangers were the clear-cut favorite in the Eastern Conference entering the season, with the Penguins and Bruins also expected to seriously contend.
Power rankings right now would probably shake up that order to put have the Bruins followed by the Penguins and then Rangers. It took the Rangers a little longer than they would have liked to hit their stride, but they’ve found it now with points in five straight (4-0-1). Anyone who picked the Rangers to win the Cup prior to the season should feel comfortable enough sticking to their guns, as Henrik Lundqvist has been his usual self, while the Rangers continue to block shots and make it tough to get quality scoring chances. Then there’s Rick Nash.
In Pittsburgh, the most important statistic is Sidney Crosby’s games played, which is all of them. Everyone knows that team has all the talent in the world, but Crosby’s concussion history makes it tough to count on them to have their best player in the lineup. Crosby’s been both healthy and productive (seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points). Keeping things in Pennsylvania, it’s hard to be too surprised by the Flyers’ disappointing start. Philadelphia has allowed an average of three goals a game. Think they wish that whole Shea Weber thing worked out?
Over in the Southeast, the division-leading Hurricanes have shown that they’re more than just improved on paper. Jordan Staal’s been a good fit with Jeff Skinner, while Alexander Semin has 10 points through 13 games. Semin’s former club has been one of the biggest disappointments in the entire league, as Adam Oates’ Capitals sit at the bottom of the conference with just 11 points (5-9-1) through 15 games.