(Image: AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12
After beating the New York Islanders on Tuesday night in Patrice Bergeron’s 1000th NHL game, the Bruins will embark on a schedule that, on paper, has some favorable matchups for the B’s over the course of the next 11 days.
The Bruins will take on the New York Rangers, the third-to-last place Los Angeles Kings twice, the bottom-feeding Chicago Blackhawks, the free-falling Anaheim Ducks, and the struggling Colorado Avalanche during this span.
First, up for the B’s is a trip to Madison Square Garden tonight as they’ll face-off against the Rangers.
The Rangers sit seventh in the Metro and twenty-first in the league, having gone 5-4-1 in their last 10 games (22-22-8 on the year, 1-2-1 since returning from the break). Head coach, David Quinn’s team, has been lackluster in its own end, allowing the fifth-most goals in the NHL (175). The scoring has not been there for the Blueshirts either as they have the sixth-fewest goals-for in the entire league (148).
All in all, the Rangers’ goal differential stands at minus-27, fourth-worst in the NHL, a result of the team’s inconsistency both offensively and defensively.
Henrik Lundqvist has performed admirably this season, considering the roster the team has iced in front of him on a nightly basis. The 36-year-old has played a ton this year with the eighth-most games played among goaltenders (38)–not ideal for any goalie, let alone an aging legend. However, Lundqvist has struggled lately, allowing three or more goals in three-straight starts.
As for the skaters, the bulk of New York’s offense is only coming from their top guys, namely Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello. Zibanejad gave the Bruins fits in the first meeting between the two sides with two goals, but he is the driving force of New York’s offense; shut him down, and you have a solid chance of shutting the rest of the offense down as well.
While Zuccarello’s numbers don’t look gaudy (he only has 29 points), the Norwegian has only played in 38 games after missing some time early in the year. Behind him, only two more Rangers have at least 20 points.
The Bruins may have lost to the Rangers just a few weeks ago, but that was in a game where the team was devastated after Tuukka Rask went down in a bad collision. After Rask went down, the team was flat, and a struggling Jaroslav Halak had to step in unexpectedly.
As for the Kings, they have struggled since the puck dropped on their season. With 158 goals-allowed and 125 goals-for (a minus-33 differential), the Kings have had trouble both scoring and getting a save.
Jonathan Quick has had a down year by his standards when he hasn’t been on the shelf, and Peter Budaj–who has a GAA of 5.02 in three games–lost his job to Jack Campbell as Quick’s backup; he hasn’t played since November.
Offensively, the Kings don’t have much going for them up front, as previously mentioned. Marquee signing Ilya Kovalchuk has been a disappointment with only 11 goals in 43 games while Anze Kopitar is having just an “okay” year according to his reputation–only 16 goals and 40 points in 52 games. Meanwhile, younger players like Tyler Toffoli and Alex Iaffolo haven’t quite taken the reigns like the organization had hoped.
Also, franchise defenseman Drew Doughty has failed to live up to the massive contract extension he signed last summer, and after trading Jake Muzzin, the Kings are already beginning to commit to a long term rebuild.
The Bruins are yet to play the Kings this year but have looked much better in their last two games compared to the two losses after the bye week.
Looking at the Blackhawks, Chicago’s dynasty has come to an end as the Hawks are the last place in the league and are in the pool that’s all about “lose for Hughes” in hopes of being able to take Jack Hughes first-overall this summer.
The Hawks have allowed a league-worst 198 goals-against, but have somehow managed to score the eighth-most goals in the league with 173, making for a goal differential of minus-25, fifth-worst.
While the Hawks have no trouble scoring goals, thanks to their high-powered top-six, led by Patrick Kane, who has been on fire with another MVP-caliber season with 78 points, they just can’t seem to get a save. Corey Crawford had missed significant time due to injury and was not anything to write home about when he was healthy, while Cam Ward has struggled mightily after being thrust into the starting role.
At the same time, young-gun Collin Delia has been fantastic for Chicago as Ward’s backup. It will be interesting to see who goes in net for Chicago and if it’s Ward, which version of him shows up.
After a couple down seasons, Jonathan Toews is on track to have a season similar to that of what is expected from him. As for the bottom-six production, it falls off a cliff once you move down from the top two lines.
An aging defense corps, mixed with an inability to get meaningful depth production makes for a bad combination, especially considering the lack of help on the backend for the declining Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith.
The Bruins have already beaten the Hawks once this year, too. In a 3-1 final at the Winter Classic, the Bruins were able to effectively neutralize Chicago’s top producers while getting strong play from up and down the lineup, hopefully, a sign of what to expect next week.
Moving on to the Anaheim Ducks, who were in an absolute free-fall going into the All-Star break, and still are. The Ducks have lost five straight after winning two in a row following up their 12-game losing streak–for those of you keeping score at home, that’s 17 losses in their last 19 games, yikes.
The Ducks have looked limp almost all year as times have seemingly passed them by in the NHL, not to mention the fact that they have not been able to catch a break with the injury bug.
At 26th in the league, the Ducks have not been able to get quality goaltending after John Gibson has regressed a bit. On top of that, the Ducks have allowed 24 goals in their last four games (172 on the year, tenth-worst), including a nine-spot given up to Winnipeg last week.
Scoring hasn’t been the Ducks’ forte either as 33-year-old Ryan Getzlaf leads the team in scoring with just 34 points in 48 games. Outside of guys named Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, or Ondrej Kase, no one can put the puck in the net–none of those guys listed has more than 12 goals or 34 points on the season.
In total, the Ducks are tied with the Kings for the fewest goals scored in the league at 125, and their differential of minus-47 is the worst in the NHL by a country mile.
With calls for Carlyle’s job and questions about Bob Murray’s management of the team, the Ducks are in turmoil.
Anaheim has already lost to the Bruins this year as well, a 3-1 loss at TD Garden. They were outshot and outplayed by Boston, on top of failing to take away the Bruins’ biggest threats. They allowed two power-play goals as David Pastrnak had a goal and two assists, Torey Krug had a goal and an assist, and Brad Marchand had two assists.
The Bruins will also host the Colorado Avalanche as well, who they lost to earlier this season in a clash between two of the top lines in hockey. That game saw the Bruins lose John Moore, and Zdeno Chara after they were already without Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller, and Urho Vaakanainen.
This matchup will see that same clash once again, but with a healthy Bruins team and a Colorado team that has struggled mightily since the early-season meeting. The Avs have dropped out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, too, but sit only two points back of Vancouver for the second wild-card spot.
The top line of Colorado needs no introduction. Mikko Rantanen (74 points) and Nathan MacKinnon (72 points) have been other-worldly this season, both fourth and sixth in the league in points, respectively, while Gabe Landeskog (59 points) is en route to scoring 40 goals.
However, the Avs have gotten next to no production from their other forwards. After Landeskog, there is a stark drop off as the next highest-producing forward is Carl Soderberg with 31 points, followed by Alexander Kerfoot with 26.
Colorado’s goaltending has not been up to snuff either. Semyon Varlamov has been the very definition of a pedestrian after a good start to his season, and Philipp Grubauer, who was thought to be the next solution in net when he signed, has just been plain bad all season.
Although they already beat the Bruins this season, the Avs have lost four straight, allowing at least four goals in each loss–five goals twice, and six once. On top of that Colorado has lost 11 of their last 14 and their wins have become more sparse since the first half of the season. When they win, it’s on the backs of the top line; when they lose, it’s due to the first line getting shutdown and ineffectiveness from the other forwards.
From the Bruins’ perspective, no game is an “easy” game or an automatic win these days; everybody knows that. Although they tend to struggle in New York and Anaheim, the troubles of those two teams make those matchups appear very favorable for the Bruins; the same can be said for the Kings as well. While the high-powered top producers for the Avs and Blackhawks have been all-world this year, if the Bruins can shut them down, they should fair well.
The Bruins absolutely cannot afford to take any games off, not just during this upcoming stretch, but for the rest of the season as well. As things currently stand, the Bruins sit just one point back of the Montreal Canadiens for third in the Atlantic with a game in hand and just two back of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With some enticing meetings over the next few games, the Bruins’ ability to rack up points and potentially catch or surpass the Leafs or Habs is going to be crucial.
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