The Boston Bruins Come On Strong

There is no hotter team in sports right now than the Boston Bruins. Since a December 14 loss to the Washington Capitals, the Bruins have reeled off a 17-game streak in which they have either won or at least gotten to overtime—meaning that’s 17 straight games with a point. They just completed a strange stretch of eight days where they played the archrival Montreal Canadiens three times—and won all three.

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The consequence is that Boston put some distance between themselves and the middle of the Atlantic Division. They have an 18-point cushion for a playoff berth and are making a run at the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place and the President’s Trophy, given to the team with the best regular season record.

This is a Boston team with a different look than the outstanding units that played so well from 2009-14, winning one Stanley Cup and reaching another Finals. This is a team with a lot of youth—four key players are between the ages of 20-22. They have the speed that comes with youth, a difference from the big physical teams of the recent past that pounded faster opponents into submission.

But within those stylistic differences, there is one common thread between the 2018 Bruins and their recent predecessors. It’s called defense. Boston is the best team in the league at preventing shots on goal. After a slow start that had the locals restless, goaltender Tuukka Raask has come on strong and has a 92.3% save rate. To give that stat some perspective, 92% can be seen as a benchmark for the league’s best goalie and even a half a percentage point is significant.

Raask, who has often been overworked during the regular season the last few years, now has a reliable backup. Anton Khudobin’s save rate is 92.4% in his sixteen starts. The Bruins know how to kill power plays, ranking third in the league here. And in something that’s most unlike even their Stanley Cup team, they actually know how to execute offensive when they have the man advantage—ranking seventh in power play conversions.

Boston’s attack is anchored by three players who have cleared the 20-goal mark a little more than halfway through the regular season. Brad Marchand, David Pastrank and Patrice Bergeron have combined for 61 goals.

Marchand and Bergeron are experienced players from the recent glory years. Pastrnak leads the youth brigade that makes this team so exciting. He’s the best of the four players who are age 22 or younger, although Charlie McAvoy might make a run at him for that honor. Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen are also barely old enough to drink.

And overseeing the youth is the proud veteran, 40-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara. He still leads non-goalies in time on the ice and joins Tom Brady and David Ortiz as recent Boston sports icons that still thrived at the age of forty. Okay, that might be a little excess enthusiasm for just how good Chara is. But like Brady, Chara will have a shot at not just thriving, but winning a championship at age 40.