(Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

By: Max Weisman | Follow me on Twitter: @maweisman

After starting the season 22-7-6, the Boston Bruins kicked off the new year with a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Now 23-7-6, the Bruins are in first place in the Atlantic Division and a point ahead of the New York Rangers for first overall in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins schedule only gets more challenging, however, as January continues. The Bruins have 14 games in January against teams with a .500 record or better. So far this season, the Bruins are 13-5-5 against teams at or above that mark.

Boston will travel home from Columbus to play Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Thursday, followed by Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. The Penguins and Lightning are a little lower in the standings than they’d like to be, but they are tough matchups anytime they have their stars on the ice.

A road trip follows as the Bruins head west to play Colorado, Arizona, Vegas, and St. Louis. It’ll be the Bruins’ first matchup against the Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Blues. The Knights are having a great season after their Stanley Cup win last spring, tied for first place in the Western Conference with Vancouver and Colorado, who sits atop the Central Division. St. Louis is no team to scoff at either; they sit two points out of a wild card position. The Bruins have seen Arizona once already this season, beating them 5-3 earlier in December at TD Garden.

The Bruins will then head home for five straight against some tough teams. New Jersey, Colorado, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Carolina come to town, and none are easy games. The Devils gave the Bruins fits in their first matchup of the season, a 2-1 overtime loss in which the Devils had the Bruins on their heels in their own end for much of the game. However, in their second matchup last Saturday, the Bruins fell behind 2-0 to New Jersey before roaring back with five unanswered goals to win 5-2. David Pastrnak and Kevin Shattenkirk had two goals each.

Montreal is the worst team out of the five that come to TD Garden that stretch, but any Bruins-Canadiens game is bound to get chippy, and the Bruins cannot take the Canadiens lightly. The two historic rivals have already played twice this season. In Montreal, the Canadiens got their first win against the Bruins since November 2019, but the Bruins returned the favor a week later at home.

When the Bruins went to Winnipeg a little over a week ago, the Jets poured on the offense, routing the Bruins 5-1 in a game in which the Bruins never stood a chance. Finally, the Bruins will welcome Carolina to the Garden in the two teams’ first matchup of the season. The Bruins won the season series against the Hurricanes 2-1 a year ago.

The Bruins will get a reprieve at the end of the month, playing Ottawa and Philadelphia. Neither team is very good, but the Black and Gold have yet to play either team this season. They can’t get careless when playing teams they should beat.

It would be crazy to expect the Bruins to win all 14 games; it isn’t a year ago. However, if the Bruins want to be a team with a good shot at winning the Stanley Cup come playoff time, they must perform well against the teams on their schedule, starting with their tough month in January. A good month will have them right where they want to be, atop the Atlantic Division. If the Bruins have a bad month, they will likely have to fight for the division title, with Florida creeping up behind them in second place.