Breaking down how the Bruins have been so dominant — and how long it can last
The Boston Bruins are having a special season.
This is a season with historic potential. And one that is far from the script.
The Bruins weren’t supposed to be a strong player, with an NHL-best 83 points and an amazing 39-7-5 record. Boston was not considered as dominant, ranking second overall in goals (3.73) and first in goals against (2.12) with a league-leading penalty record (85.8%) and top five power plays ( 25.1%) through 51. games.
No, Boston was in trouble.
Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy will miss the start of the season due to hip and shoulder surgeries, respectively. The future of Patrice Bergeron was in doubt, it was rumored that he might retire. The team as a whole is getting older. And after losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs, it’s hard to tell which direction the Bruins are heading.
It turned out to be right at the top.
The Bruins have come a long way through the competition to reach unprecedented heights.
Boston immediately set a league record with the most home wins in an early season (14 in a row) and became the first club to win 16 of 18 opening games since the 1929–30 Bruins. When Boston beat Montreal on January 24, they became the fastest team to score 80 points in just 47 games.
Canadiens 1976-77 season is the record holder for the number of points in a season – 132 points. Can Boston beat him? Everything—and everything—seems possible.
The Bruins were so consistent they didn’t lose in a row until Game 49, leading 0-2-1 before rebounding with an All-Star break win and a goodbye.
Speaking of All-Stars, there are plenty of them in Boston (and not just David Pastrnak and Linus Ullmark, who were chosen to play in the league’s annual celebration earlier this month). The talent of this team lies deep – this is a novelty of this season.
What made the Bruins so good? Will they be able to keep the success in the second half? And do they have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup?
We’ll break everything down on the Bruins before Boston resumes its schedule on Saturday against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals (3:30 pm ET, ABC and Sportzshala app).
How the Bruins were built
Marchand’s red eyes spoke volumes. His emotionally hushed voice did the rest.
It was eight months ago when the Bruins’ top winger met the media following Boston’s 3-2 loss to the Carolinas in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series. Marchand was still dealing with the crushing defeat and uncertainty that lay ahead for Bergeron and the rest of the team as he spoke candidly about the Bruins’ window beginning to close.
“You only get a few of those opportunities throughout your career when you have a legitimate chance to go far,” Marchand said. “And we thought we had it this year. It hurts”.
That postseason exit ushered in a summer of speculation about the club’s future and endless roundabout debates that led to the same question: Is the era of the Bruins as a perpetual Stanley Cup contender over?
Last May, it was easy to say yes.
Today? Not so much.
Boston did not need to rebuild to become the best team in the NHL. The Bruins just needed to strategically shore up an already solid foundation.
Marchand and McAvoy will eventually surface after rehab. Until then, Boston had superstar Pastrnak heading into what was supposedly another outstanding season — the last of his current contract — and he outperformed expectations with 38 goals and 72 points in 51 games.
Jake DeBrusque is back too, a forgotten trade request and a two-year hand extension to score 30 points in 36 games before breaking his fibula in the Winter Classic. (He should be back next week or so). (He went into the break with a score of 15.)
The Bruins had previously upgraded their back end, trading to Anaheim for Hampus Lindholm in March and completing an eight-year, $52 million extension to lock him up for the long haul. In net, the Bruins last season went from the recently retired Tuukka Rusk to a consistent one-two hitting Ullmark (who signed a four-year, $20 million free agent contract in July 2021) and Jeremy Swainman (who was signed by the Bruins in 2017). was selected under the general 111th number).
Boston had strong bones, regardless of the outcome of the match with the Carolinas. But it would be fair to wonder if time has run out. Bergeron’s fate was yet to be decided by the end of last spring. So general manager Don Sweeney went about other things.
The first domino fell off the bench when Sweeney fired coach Bruce Cassidy on June 6. Cassidy has held this position since February 2017, playing 399 games, and compiled a record of 245-108-46, six consecutive playoff games, and reach the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals.
Sweeney replaced Cassidy on July 3 with Jim Montgomery, giving the veteran coach his first major role since Dallas fired him in December 2019 for unprofessional behavior. Subsequently, Montgomery reported that he sought counseling for alcohol abuse and enrolled in a residential treatment program.
Sweeney then turned his attention to the line-up. He targeted depth upfront in a July 13 trade that sent Eric Howla to the New Jersey Devils for Pavel Zaka. The versatile Zaka was perfect for playing in the center or on any wing, in any lane and in any situation. His 11 goals and 35 points are already approaching career highs. And Zaka remains with the Bruins, who signed him to a four-year, $19 million contract in January.
On the same day Boston grabbed Zaka, Sweeney added forward A.J. Greer to a two-year, $1.525 million contract. The 26-year-old was a bottom-six value player in his best pro season with five goals and nine points in 36 games.
It was a good start. But soon there will be bigger building blocks in Boston.
On August 8, the Bruins announced that Bergeron would return on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. The 37-year-old never missed a shot in his 19th season, becoming the clear favorite for the Selke Trophy (again) with a strong showing (38 points).
The same day that Boston signed Bergeron, David Krejci, who spent the 2021-22 season playing in his native Czech Republic, officially returned to the NHL by signing a one-year, $1 million contract. As expected, Krejci sealed Boston’s second spot with the alternating wingers and posted an impressive 42 points in 46 games.
All this incoming depth meant that players who were already folded, like Trent Frederick, had to step up or risk being left behind. The Bruins’ first-round pick in 2016 hadn’t impressed previous seasons. Under Montgomery, Frederick thrived in sixth place and already had a career best with 10 goals (all in 5-on-5) and 19 points in 48 games.
Breakthrough season Frederick waited a long time. It’s also one of the many places Boston has enjoyed at the same time.
Lindholm has been a revelation, from replacing McAvoy to winning the Norris Trophy for his consistent excellence. In what promises to be the best season of his career (33 points in 51 games), he brought an extra dimension to Boston’s blue line by completing the best pairing of McAvoy and Matt Grzelczyk.
And then there is Ulmark.
Boston’s goaltender is having the best season of his life, leading the NHL in wins (26), save percentage (.937), and goal average (1.90). Ulmark called the success “overwhelming” while defiantly avoiding potential complacency to ensure it continued. This helped him become arguably the most dominant player in the league’s number one goal. Swainman was trailing Ullmark 12-3-4 with an SV of 0.914%.
To be honest, it’s hard to find any gaps in Boston’s current roster. Montgomery brought a fresh voice and perspective that rejuvenated the Bruins both old and new. Several players are working at a level they haven’t touched in past seasons. It’s everything Boston can dream of.
Does the success of the Bruins so far mean construction is complete? Will Sweeney be added before the March 3rd NHL trade deadline? Can he risk ruining the peerless team chemistry? Or will the Bruins regret staying where they are while others improve?
Time will show. — Kristen Shilton
What the numbers say
The dominance of the Boston Bruins can be quantified. Whether it’s traditional stats or advanced analytics, they all say the same thing: The Bruins are on a different level this season.
“If there’s a performance-based metric, it’s bound to be near the top,” said Dmitry Filipovich, an analyst who posts “Hockey PDOcast” at Sportsnet. “Whether in a 5-on-5 game or in all situations, no one concedes fewer goals than them. But they also score themselves with the second highest total in both states of the game. The same trends apply to special teams. .”
Entering the game on Thursday night, the Bruins had a plus-81 goal difference. This is 37 goals better than the second NHL team in this category, the Dallas Stars, with a plus of 44.
The Bruins defense is the catalyst for this. Boston scored 111 goals in 51 games, 24 fewer than the New Jersey Devils. Their 2.12 goals per game leads the NHL; if that’s the case, the Bruins will be the best defensive team in nine seasons as the NHL’s goal tally continues to increase year on year.
Boston also caught this attacking wave. His 3.73 goals per game ranks second in the NHL behind a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. If that average continues, it will be the Bruins’ highest scoring team since the 1992-93 season (3.95 goals per game), in which center Adam Oates scored 142 points.
The Bruins were an average offensive team last season, finishing 15th in goals per game (3.09). So what has changed?
According to Statletis, the Bruins have slightly changed their offensive zone system. Last season, in a 5-on-5 game, only 23% of their shots were passes to the underhand; this season it’s 29.3% as they…