By: Drew Johnson | Follow Me On Twitter: @doobshmoob
The Boston Bruins will host the New York Islanders on Thursday. It is the first meeting the two teams will have this season.
It seems the story is always the same for the Bruins – their defense. Currently, Boston has Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and Kevan Miller sidelined with injuries. Brandon Carlo skated this week but will not play Thursday but is considered likely for Saturday’s game. Combining all of this with Patrice Bergeron – the best two-way forward on the team (and arguably throughout the NHL) – missing time, you’d think the Bruins would be in over their heads.
The truth is, however, they haven’t been. Boston is ranked first in goals against with just 59 in 24 games to-date. This is despite having played a number of games less-than-or-equal-to 14 teams in the NHL this season. But there is a bigger story to be told on Thursday evening, and that story will soon be cemented in the rafters of the TD Garden.
Middleton’s Number Retirement Ceremony
Make sure you’re either at the Garden or on your couch by 6:30pm on Thursday as the Bruins will be celebrating the career of Rick Middleton by retiring his number before puck drop. Number 16 will be joining Bruins legends such as Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, and Milt Schmidt in the rafters.
It is a rare occasion that an organization puts a player’s number on the shelf for good, so you certainly don’t want to miss this.
David Pastrnak currently shares a three-way tie for first place in goals scored with Patrick Laine and Jeff Skinner. Boston’s first-line right winger has potted 19 goals in 24 games. Two of these goals came in the Bruins’ most recent game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 22-year-old is making opposing general managers wonder why they didn’t pick him earlier in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Pastrnak was the 25th selection, after all, but is playing more like a top-10 pick.
In his last nine games, Mathew Barzal has two goals and six assists. He is currently second on the Islanders in production with 20 points in 23 games. The 21-year-old has been charged with the difficult task of filling the skates of John Tavares who of course left the team in pursuit of free agency and was subsequently picked up by the Maple Leafs. Barzal has shown his age, however, in being a minus-11 despite not seeing time on the penalty kill.
Josh Bailey has been aiding Barzal in filling the void Tavares left when he packed his bags for Toronto. The winger has seven goals and 14 assists in 23 appearances. However, Bailey has gotten just seven shots on goal in his last five games, scoring just a goal and an assist.
Anders Bjork has continued to struggle – so much so that he has been taken out of the lineup. It seems that the youngster’s biggest issue has been finding his role. He has been skating on Boston’s third line but has struggled in fulfilling the duties expected of such a position – namely defense and secondary scoring. In one instance in the game against Toronto, Bjork took a bad tripping penalty and the Leafs went on to score on the ensuing power play. Bjork has since been sent down to the AHL to play with the Providence Bruins. Many wonder how soon he will return to the NHL after as Ryan Donato, who spent time in Providence this season, has since been called back up to Boston.
New York’s power play has been something the Islanders would like to forget. The team has gone 0-for-11 with the man advantage in their last five games. It has been an emphasis for the team leading up to their game against Boston – it will be interesting to see what they can come up with. Due to the injuries on the back end as well as to Bergeron, the Bruins’ penalty kill isn’t at it’s best. This is a prime time for the Islanders to put an end to their power play blues.
Bruins vs. Islanders Outlook
The Bruins are 3-1-1 in their last five games and will be looking to continue their climb up the Atlantic Division Standings with a win against the Islanders. There is currently a gap of five points between Boston and the top-three teams within their division, but with games in hand, that difference feels more narrow.
As stated before, the power play will be key for New York. During the time their special teams unit has been shut out, the Islanders have gone 2-3-0. Tuukka Rask will be getting the start, so it will be up to him and Boston’s weathered penalty kill to ensure that New York doesn’t solve their power play woes just yet.