By: Max Weisman | Follow me on Twitter: @maweisman
The National Hockey League All-Star Break has come and gone, and for the second straight year, the Boston Bruins find themselves atop the NHL standings, albeit this time tied with the Vancouver Canucks. The record-setting Bruins of a year ago were 39-7-5 at the break, and this year, they’re a respectable 31-9-9 as they try to claim a second straight Atlantic Division title.
According to Tankathon, the Bruins have the second-hardest remaining schedule, behind the Washington Capitals. The Bruins’ most formidable remaining opponents include two games against Vancouver, Florida Panthers, and Edmonton Oilers and a game apiece against the Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, and Vegas Golden Knights. Both of the Bruins games against the Canucks come in February, on the eighth and the 24th. The more important games, though, are against Florida in late March and early April. If Florida is still hanging around in the division by then, the Bruins must win those games to put the Panthers away.
Let’s look at some things that went right for the Bruins in the first half of the season and must continue to go right after the break. So far, the Bruins have scored 3.49 goals per game, good for fifth place in the league. After losing stars Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tyler Bertuzzi in the offseason, the Bruins’ goal scoring has not dipped, a key reason why they are among the best teams in the NHL this year. The Bruins are also fifth in the league in power play percentage, sitting at 26% respectively, an improvement upon their 22.22% from last season. If the Bruins are to make a run for the Stanley Cup this spring, they’ll need to keep their power play percentage up, which starts with doing so in the second half of the season.
The Bruins are getting scoring from their usual suspects, David Pastrnak with 72 points and Brad Marchand with 47, respectively, but they’re getting a massive boost from players who have stepped up a lot this season. Charlie Coyle is one of those players. Coyle has 18 goals and 24 assists, good for 42 points, through the first half of the season. He is on pace to top his career high of 56 points in a season, set when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17.
Another one of those players is fan favorite Trent Frederic. Frederic has 14 goals and 15 assists thus far, which is good for 29 points. He is another player on pace to top his career high in points. Frederic is two points behind his career high of 31, set just last season, and is three goals behind his career high of 17, also set last year. As of January 15th, the Bruins are 31-2-2 in the previous four seasons when Frederic scores a goal, according to Bruins reporter Ty Anderson.
The Bruins penalty kill has taken a little dip since last year, although without the best two-way forward in NHL history for the first time in 20 seasons, that might be a little expected. The penalty kill through the first half of the season is 82.78%, good for seventh in the league. The Bruins will need to maintain or improve that level of penalty killing as they play twelve teams in the top ten of power play percentage in the second half of the season.
The Bruins are allowing 2.59 goals per game, second in the league behind Vancouver. That all starts with the goalies. Both Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark are having great years. Swayman is 16-3-7 with a 2.30 goals-allowed-average and a .924 save percentage. Swayman is third in the league in both categories, behind Adin Hill of Vegas and Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg. Ullmark, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, is 15-6-2 with a 2.78 goals-allowed-average and a .915 save percentage.
That bodes well for the Bruins’ aspirations of a Stanley Cup at the end of the season, as the last five Stanley Cup champions all had a goals-allowed-average of under 2.68. It all comes down to the Bruins’ tough schedule, though. They play eleven teams in the top ten of goals per game during the second half of the season.
Fortunately, a tough schedule isn’t new for the Bruins. They played eleven of their 14 games in January against teams above .500 and went 6-2-3 in those games and 9-2-3 in January overall. Of the Bruins remaining 33 games, they play 28 against teams above .500, with 19 of them coming against current playoff teams. If January is any indicator, though, the Bruins will be ready for the challenge that awaits them in the second half.