Things Aren’t as Bad as They May Seem for These Bruins

(Photo Credit: Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Scott Wood | Follow me on Twitter @ScottHoHPodcast

It’s been an up and down season for the Bruins to start the year, and there’s a lot of skepticism and negativity coming from pundits and the fan base. It all culminated during Mike Milbury’s recent appearance on The Greg Hill Show, where he suggested that the Bruins should look at trade Captain Patrice Bergeron and team-leading scorer Brad Marchand.

( Photo Credit: Codie McLachlan / Getty Images )

“The fact that they might not make [the playoffs] is a real possibility. So what do you do in that situation? Bergeron’s (36),” Milbury said. “…If he’s going to go anyplace, he’d want to go somewhere he might win a Stanley Cup. But this is a question that good teams face all the time. They run through a cycle, and they get to a point where you have Bergeron, we have this affinity for him, we love the guy, but if you’re really going to do business the right way, it’s probably time to move on, to be honest with you.

“It’s time to move on. Go to him, have the conversation. And then to take it a step further, although it would be hard — it would be really hard to trade Marchand as well — it’s probably worth a discussion.”

The team has shown an ability to beat the lower-ranked teams so far this season but has struggled against the NHL’s best, with only three of their wins coming against top-15 teams when they defeated the Florida Panthers in overtime at the end of October, and more recently, back-to-back wins on a Western road swing against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, losers of five-in-a-row and four straight respectively.

It was always going to be a struggle with the roster turnover they experienced in the offseason, however. With the departure of David Krejci and Tuukka Rask’s injury and the additions of Haula, Nick Foligno, and Tomas Nosek upfront, Derek Forbort expected to play to the left of Charlie McAvoy, and a brand new goaltending duo of young veteran Linus Ullmark and young rookie Jeremy Swayman, it was understood that there would be an adjustment period for the new roster to click into place.

The schedule has done the Bruins no favors. With fewer games played than any team in the Eastern Conference, save the struggling New York Islanders, we’ve seen multiple large gaps between contests. How does a team find its rhythm when there is no consistency in the schedule? How do you establish a starting goaltender when the next game after a great performance doesn’t come for another week?

And lastly, the Bruins are dealing with Covid concerns from coach Bruce Cassidy and their AHL affiliate in Providence. And a public trade request from young forward Jake DeBrusk. Leading scorer Brad Marchand even had to sit a few out for a slew foot against Vancouver Canucks’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson. 

But here we are two dozen games into the season, and the Bruins sit at a respectable 14-8-2. From a points percentage perspective, they currently sit seventh in the Conference, despite the roster turnover and turmoil.

( Photo Credit: Gerry Thomas / NHLI via Getty Images )

Things look much better still when considering the team’s advanced stats. (Thank you, moneypuck.com, for the perspective.) At the time of writing this, the Bruins currently have the third-highest Corsi rating in the NHL, are second in expected goals for and first in expected goals against. They are the best team in the league at getting shots on the net, with the smallest percentage of shots that either miss or are blocked. And for all the chatter about team toughness and net-front presence, the Bruins actually have the second-most number of goals off of rebounds (9). 

These stats all share a direct correlation with the top teams in the NHL, aside from the Bruins. A quick look at the teams ranked around the Bruins in each of these categories has one seeing a trend of the Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Carolina Hurricanes, all with the league’s highest rankings.

The problem only lies in two categories, both of which should see some reversion to the mean. The Bruins currently sport a league-worst shooting percentage at 5.76%. And with their goaltending facing early inconsistencies, this has made for a frustrating trend of being able to outplay opponents for long stretches of games (often outshooting them at a near 2-1 ratio) and still coming up with losses.

This appears to be turning around with Swayman sporting a .941 save percentage in his last five games (including a 42 save shutout against the Nashville Predators) and Ullmark also with a .941 in his last five (including a masterful 41 save performance against the high-octane Edmonton Oilers, followed by another 40-save performance two nights later in Calgary).

Of course, there are concerns. The depth signed in this off-season hasn’t put up points as we’ve expected, the goaltending hasn’t been consistent, and there is growing discontent with the Bruins lack of toughness, especially after the Predators and Canucks decided it was okay to take liberties with Captain Bergeron, breaking his nose in the process. And the sooner the Jake DeBrusk saga comes to an end, the better.

But the Bruins are playing well despite the negativity and currently sit in a playoff position. Despite slow starts, Foligno, Hall, Craig Smith, and Erik Haula will put up points as the season progresses. And the schedule will become more consistent the further we get into it. Mike Milbury knows exactly what he’s doing in riling up the fanbase and stirring up internet chatter with his name attached. The Bruins won’t be trading Bergeron or Marchand any time soon, nor should they, and Milbury understands this, despite his trolling.

This is a good Bruins team that is well-coached and regularly outplays its opponents. The wins will come. 

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