Heading into Thursday’s sport towards the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET, NHL Energy Play on ESPN+), the Boston Bruins are on tempo for 66 wins and 140 factors, each of which might set NHL data (at the moment 62 and 132, respectively). For a crew that misplaced within the first spherical of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs and fired its coach in the summertime, this has actually been a surprisingly nice begin.
However who has been most liable for this begin? Can any crew within the Japanese Convention mount a critical problem in relation to the postseason? And what ought to Boston do forward of the March 3 commerce deadline?
Our specialists sort out these questions and extra right here:
Who has been Boston’s MVP to this point?
Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Hampus Lindholm. He was huge for them when Charlie McAvoy was out of the lineup. Moreover, he’s every part groups search in a top-four defenseman in that he can lead a crew in 5-on-5 ice time whereas additionally being a determine on each particular groups models.
Arda Öcal, NHL host: Linus Ullmark. A .938 save share. Broke the NHL document for fewest selections wanted to get to 25 wins (28). A 25-2-1 document. He is just about locked up the Vezina Trophy midway by the season. Leads the NHL in saves above anticipated (27.3) and wins above alternative (4.55). He is made 804 saves on 857 photographs confronted this season. There are lots of gamers to select from for this query, however I am throwing flowers to Ullmark.
Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Jim Montgomery. After all, Ullmark, Lindholm, Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, amongst others, deserve the credit score and a spotlight they’ve drawn by nice seasons. However what an ideal marriage Montgomery has entered into with Boston. The Bruins have responded to his teaching type and system so seamlessly it is unusual to suppose his tenure started only some quick months in the past.
Montgomery coaxes the suitable buy-in out of his gamers, and appears to know when it is time to tinker and alter issues as much as maintain the Bruins recent. Any crew within the league would wish to bottle Montgomery’s method proper now.
Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: The solutions right here learn like somebody dared my fellow round-tablers to not write “David Pastrnak.” But it surely’s David Pastrnak. He has 37 objectives and 32 assists in 47 video games, making him the NHL’s highest-scoring non-Oiler. One among my favourite unfancy stats is “first objectives,” as within the participant who opens the scoring in a sport. Pastrnak has performed that 9 occasions for the NHL’s finest defensive crew, main the league in that class. And by no means underestimate the goofy, infectious pleasure he brings to the rink daily.
He’ll be compensated handsomely in his subsequent contact for all of this — it is only a matter of how lengthy Pasta desires to decide to the ‘B’ realizing that the Bergeron period will finish quickly.
Who’s the Bruins’ greatest challenger within the East?
Clark: For now, it is the New Jersey Devils. They obtain offensive contributions from all over the place, whereas having a defensive construction that is likely one of the finest within the league. The Devils have stability and will have the strongest probability of pushing the Bruins.
Öcal: Solely as a result of the Bruins have struggled probably the most this season in Canada, I am going to go along with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If there was ever a time for the Leafs to exorcise the Boston demons of the previous, it could be this 12 months. I am going to say this, I’ve by no means heard extra Bruins followers on the ESPN campus say “watch them win the Presidents’ Trophy, then pull a Tampa and get swept within the playoffs.”
Primarily based on the present standings, that would not be precisely the identical state of affairs — for the reason that Bruins and Leafs would not meet till the second spherical. They play twice extra earlier than the postseason begins, and it could be attention-grabbing to see the Leafs problem the Bruins in these video games.
Shilton: Contemplating I already picked Carolina to win the Stanley Cup this season … I ought to most likely say the Hurricanes. And I nonetheless suppose that with their depth of ahead expertise, stable again finish, a number of goaltending choices and wonderful teaching, they may emerge victorious from the East.
By way of who would possibly problem Boston most in a playoff collection, although? Toronto. By no means thoughts the historical past between these two golf equipment in latest postseason conferences. The Leafs would match up nicely towards the Bruins due to how related the groups could be: top-end offensive threats, puck-moving defenders who like getting concerned, a goaltending tandem that is among the many league’s finest. Going head-to-head each different night time may deliver out one of the best in each groups, and Boston would seemingly discover a worthy opponent in Toronto.
Wyshynski: There’s one factor the Devils, Hurricanes and Leafs all have in frequent, which is that none of them have received a Stanley Cup inside the final three seasons — not to mention two of them consecutively. This model of the Tampa Bay Lightning is not nearly as good as earlier incarnations — frankly, they have not been the identical since their Cup-winning checking line was damaged up as a result of wage cap and growth draft in 2021. Now they’re minus Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh, too. However they nonetheless have Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli. Brandon Hagel has discovered his groove.
This entrance workplace will discover a technique to bolster the blue line, which may use one other veteran hand. Oh, and the opposite factor these Japanese Convention contenders haven’t got? Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of the best postseason goalie since Martin Brodeur, and somebody who may steal a collection towards the mighty B’s on his personal.
One phrase to explain the Bruins’ season:
Clark: Astonishing. We’re in late January and they’re able to complete the month with almost 85 factors. That is simply silly. Particularly once they have extra factors by 47 video games than some groups had on the finish of final season.
Öcal: WHAT???? Keep in mind how we have been speaking in regards to the Bruins earlier than the season began? Oh cool, they’ve a brand new coach. David Krejci‘s again. “The Final Dance” in Beantown. Finish of an period. However now they’re on tempo to have one of the best season in NHL historical past. You would not have even predicted this for any crew you thought would win the Presidents’ Trophy earlier than the season began, not to mention Boston. It is completely unimaginable to see.
Shilton: Serendipitous. The concept Boston — the too-old, too-injured, too-predictable crew it was forecast to be in September — can be steamrolling its manner by the NHL? Whereas barely breaking a sweat? It is surprising. It is great. It is extremely enjoyable to look at.
Wyshynski: Bergeron. The free agent captain’s choice to return to this crew was the validation the Bruins wanted that they’d one other run left in them. He is a rallying cry — “win one for Bergy!” — and a de facto affiliate head coach and nonetheless one of the best defensive heart in hockey.
What do you count on the Bruins to do forward of the commerce deadline?
Clark: Attempt to get one other bottom-six ahead who can strengthen that a part of their lineup with a bit extra manufacturing, whereas additionally having an alternative choice they will use on the penalty kill as they give the impression of being to be strategic with Patrice Bergeron‘s utilization going ahead.
Shilton: I might count on GM Don Sweeney to have a look at his crew and suppose, “If it ain’t broke, do not repair it.” However in fact, a GM’s job isn’t performed, and there is seemingly some modicum of enchancment the Bruins may make.
Well being is the No. 1 factor. If, over the following month, Boston runs into damage points that might change the technique, the wage cap would possibly forestall the Bruins from chasing any high-end leases or big-name contracts. Extra real looking targets might be a bottom-six winger like Ivan Barbashev, who has a historical past with Montgomery from their time in St. Louis. Boston clearly desires to win now. However including a giant piece on the deadline would not at all times equal success, and the Bruins do not wish to do an excessive amount of and disrupt the nice factor they’ve going.
Wyshynski: I feel they go big-name searching and land Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks. Bergeron, Krejci, Horvat and Charlie Coyle up the center would give Boston unparalleled heart depth. It might additionally create a succession plan in case Bergeron and Krejci are each performed after this Boston run, as Horvat is an unrestricted free agent subsequent summer time. He will not come low-cost, however whenever you’re all-in, you are all-in.
What has impressed you probably the most about what Jim Montgomery has performed?
Clark: How he maximizes his expertise. We have seen it with Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic and Pavel Zacha. They’re all having profession seasons beneath Montgomery. DeBrusk can be on tempo for almost 70 factors if not for his Winter Basic damage. Frederic had 12 profession objectives coming into this season, already has 10 this season, and is flirting with a possible 20-goal marketing campaign. In the meantime, Zacha is simply seven factors shy of a profession excessive.
Öcal: He is not resting on his early success. He is continually tinkering with the lineup, searching for methods to get even 1% higher. Typically, it is to search out extra chemistry amongst gamers. Different occasions, it is to handle ice time. One instance was the latest back-to-back in California, the place the Bruins had a distinct lineup from San Jose to Anaheim, however received each video games, drubbing the Geese 7-1 within the second sport.
As a aspect observe, I feel it is spectacular that each Montgomery and Bruce Cassidy, his predecessor in Boston, will probably be coaching at the All-Star Game. Each coaches are thriving in new environments.
Shilton: Very like the Bruins’ season itself, Montgomery has merely been a nice shock. But it surely’s not simply the match he is had behind the bench. It is how Montgomery continues to push Boston that’s spectacular. There isn’t any worry in Montgomery. He seems to belief his gamers and so they in flip consider in his strategies. That is the easiest way to clarify how Montgomery has been in a position to have such fast success with particular person skaters and in constructing the Bruins up as an entire powerhouse unit.
Wyshynski: The best way the gamers discuss him. It is past apparent that Cassidy’s explicit model of depth reached its expiration date for the Bruins. From coaching camp onward, gamers raved about Montgomery’s demeanor, accountability, teaching methods and even the sense of enjoyable he managed to deliver again to video games and practices. Their juggernaut success is not coincidental to his arrival. He is the suitable coach on the proper time for the suitable crew, and it has been inspiring to look at.