Road Warriors, er Bruins, Return Home

Boston, MA – It’s been almost a month since the Boston Bruins hosted a fellow MassMutual East Division opponent at TD Garden. Tonight the New Jersey Devils will take on the Bruins in an empty Garden. For the Bruins, it’s just a quick, one-stop homestand before jetting off to face the Philadelphia Flyers on the shores of Lake Tahoe Sunday.

Since Boston was last at home, a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Bruins have traveled up and down the northeast corridor. It was quite an impressive run. Bruce Cassidy‘s boys showed their resilience and veteran poise throughout their travels.

The Bruins have beaten all opponents, save for the New York Islanders. Their only two regulation losses bookended a solid 10 game point streak, 1-0 and 4-2, both against the Isles on Long Island.

Currently, Boston (10-2-2) sits atop the division with 22 points, three points ahead of the Islanders.

The Bruins extended road trip featured a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals, a 5-3 win over the Caps, a 4-3 OT win against the Flyers, followed by a 3-1 win in Philly. The two games in D.C. featured the Bruins trailing 3-0 going into the third period. The first win over Philly also featured a third-period comeback as Boston forced overtime with 15 seconds remaining in regulation.

Boston did have some rest and relaxation sandwiched in between that trip and their next, as two games scheduled at home against Buffalo had to be postponed due to the Sabres COVID outbreak.

Back on the road Boston continued on their winning ways, taking two from the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden before succumbing to their kryptonite, Islanders, last Saturday. Brad Marchand gave Boston the OT win in the first game at MSG, 3-2. While Nick Ritchie‘s second-period goal was the difference in Boston’s 1-0 win in game two in Manhattan. Islanders forward J.G. Pageau scored twice, while Matthew Barzal gave the Isles the game-winning goal in the early part of the third. The Bruins lost defenseman Jakub Zboril early in the Islander game. His return date is unknown.

In the three weeks since last defending their home ice, the Bruins have lost defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, regained Matt Grzelcyk, and lost Matt Grzelcyk to and from injury. The 27-year-old Charlestown native is unable to go on Thursday night.

Taxi Squad forward Par Lindholm opted to return to Sweden, citing family concerns along with diminished playing time.

But most importantly, David Pastrnak returned to the lineup after off-season hip surgery.

Pastrnak wasted no time in making his presence felt. The 24-year-old Czech winger scored five goals in his first three games. The 6′-0″ forward has 10 points in seven games, picking up where he left off last season. Pastrnak notched his ninth career hat trick in the 4-3 OT victory over the Flyers.

Today, the Bruins are tied for second place because of solid goaltending by veterans Tuuka Rask and Jaroslav Hakak. The two-headed monster in goal has been frustrating opponents all season. Halak has a 1.38 Goals Against Average thru five games. The 35-year-old Slovakian sits at 4-0-1 while sporting a .938 Save Percentage. Rask, meanwhile, is 6-2-1 with a 2.51 GAA and a .906 SV%. The save percentages for the two are as low as they are because the Bruins defense has given up so few shots most nights.

The defense has been the biggest revelation thus far. Losing Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug to free agency led some pundits to question how good the back-end would be. Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy have both upped their game since taking on bigger roles. McAvoy’s is the natural progression he’s been on since joining the team after his sophomore season at Boston University in 2017. Carlo, a 6′-5″ Colorado Springs native, has been as good as the front office was hoping he would become in Chara’s absence.

Before getting injured a few different times, Grzelcyk was also upping his game. Operating the point on the top power-play unit and slotting into one of the top four spots on defense, the former BU captain was making the most of his chance after signing a new contract this off-season.

Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon have been tremendous in their maturation process through the first 14 games. Lauzon, a second-round pick in 2015, has been earning his stripes on a pairing with McAvoy. While Zboril, the 13th overall pick in the same draft, has been developing into a solid stay-at-home defender.

The brightest spot on the Bruins blueline has to be the return of Kevan Miller. After two seasons dealing with knee injuries, the burly, 6′-2″ Californian has been the backbone that the team has lacked. The veteran has been physically dealing with opposing players and calming for the young defensive corps.

The offense hasn’t been too much of an issue. Captain Patrice Bergeron and linemate Brad Marchand continue to torment opposing defenses. Each forward has 18 points, as Marchand leads the team with nine goals, and Bergeron’s 11 assists are tops. McAvoy has 11 points, good for third on the team; his 10 assists have been a catalyst for the Bruins transition game.

Ritchie’s five goals, four of which have been power-play goals, are tied for third with the returning Pastrnak. The Bruins would obviously like to see more secondary scoring from Craig Smith (3), Charlie Coyle (2), Jake DeBrusk (0), and David Krejci (0).

As usual, the power-play has been clicking, but the team doesn’t want to really on that. Five-on-five scoring has been an issue. The Bruins would like to address that, but from within at this point. They spent the extra time off working on goal scoring; one recent practice session was used as a skills day.

Trent Frederic has shown flashes of his potential in all phases of the game. The former Wisconsin Badger has been fearless, trying to goad players into dropping the gloves or just chirping them into drawing a penalty. He’s taken on current heavyweights like Tom Wilson and Brendan Lemiuex and held his own.

Anders Bjork seems to be close to making the jump to the next level. His speed and skill have been in evidence all season despite not showing up in the box scores.

Bruins photo appears courtesy of Bob Fina @ http://www.insidehockey.com

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