Bruins fans can be forgiven if they’re not terribly moved by the Bruins’ record-tying start to the season. The 2022-23 B’s broke all sorts of regular season records, of course, and never lived to see the month of May.
But the B’s 6-0 start this year, which tied them with the 1937-38 team for the franchise record for best start to a season, is remarkable in that the half dozen performances have all been quite noticeably flawed in one way or another, yet they’ve still managed to come out on top, all in regulation no less.
Yes, the B’s have gotten very good goaltending from Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. But they haven’t had to steal games, only hold the fort for a period or so before their teammates got their act together.
And yes, the B’s competition has been pretty light. But let’s not forget that the Blackhawks, whom the B’s have beaten twice, went into Toronto and beat the Maple Leafs and the Predators, whom the B’s beat once, knocked off the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. They also beat a good Kings team that has one of the best 1-2-3 center lineups in the league. Having to play four games in six nights as they did on their just completed road is a challenge as well, no matter which NHL teams you’re playing.
So is it time to start believing in the B’s? As a team that could/should make the playoffs? Sure. As a true Stanley Cup contender? Well, let’s hold off on that for while, at least until they play a team or two from the Eastern Conference.
Still, they are a more intriguing team than this observer expected to see thanks in great part to new additions, some youthful, some not so much.
Here are a few takeaways from the just concluded road trip, and a look ahead to what should be a more telling homestand coming up:
*Let’s go out on a limb and say 19-year-old Matt Poitras should remain a Boston Bruin and not go back to his Canadian junior team in Guelph.
Not only does his development scream out for more NHL work as a opposed to playing against fellow teenagers, the simple truth is that the Bruins need him in their lineup. While the B’s are tops in the league defensively (1.17 goals against average), they’re just 13th overall in offense (3.17). They can’t afford to lose any point producers.
Taking nothing away from Pavel Zacha or Charlie Coyle, Poitras already appears to have the best offensive instincts of any of the B’s centermen. While known as a pass-first pivot, Poitras has shown little hesitation in going to the net with the puck when he sees his opening.
But to these eyes, the most impressive trait that Poitras possesses is his doggedness in puck battles. Undersized in most of them, he finds a way to come away with the puck more often than not.
“He’s a competitive little bugger,” said coach Jim Montgomery.
It will get harder for Poitras. If his production continues, his reputation will proceed him and he’ll get some of the attention that the B’s lavished on Connor Bedard in their two meetings. The Blackhawks’ outstanding rookie was held without a shot on goal in Tuesday’s meeting while Brad Marchand was seen quite literally blanketing him as he tried to get off the ice.
It will be fun to see Poitras take on those challenges. So far, he’s met everyone that’s been put in front of him.
*At 6-0, the B’s can afford to be a little patient with the power play, but the guess here is that it will need some personnel adjusmtent at some point. They’ve clicked on just three of 22 chances this season and the execution seems to be getting worse. All it did in Chicago was to stall momentum.
So what to do? The answer feels inevitable. After having a right-handed shot in the bumper for over a decade with Patrice Bergeron, the left-handed Zacha has been placed there and it’s just not working. That is not to lay it all on hard-working Zacha. Far from it. Their two most explosive offensive players, David Pastrnak and Marchand, have experienced their woes with the puck. But we’ve seen it succeed with Pastrnak and Marchand, not so with Zacha. Iff it doesn’t get straightened out soon, they may no choice but to try the right-handed Poitras in the bumper to see if that makes things click.
If the PP keeps going like this, it will eventually cost the B’s games.
*We weren’t sure what to expect from 34-year-old James van Riemsdyk, but he may be the steal of the free agent class at a cool $1 million. He has fit in well with Coyle and Trent Frederic on a will-imposing grind line. And while he may no longer fly up and down the wing, his skill in close quarters is still outstanding. The backhand feed on Frederic’s goal in Chicago was sublime.
*We were equally skeptical about what 34-year-old Kevin Shattenkirk could bring after three years lost in the Anaheim rebuild. He didn’t jump out in any positive way in preseason and it’s still undermined how much they’ll miss Connor Clifton’s youthful legs and physicality on the third pairing with Derek Forbort. But Shattenkirk’s hockey IQ and his ability to put passes on teammates’ tape has been eye-opening. His delivery to Zacha’s blade on the B’s first goal in Chicago was flawless.
*We’re going to start learning more about these B’s in a hurry. After their return engagement against the Ducks at the Garden on Thursday – the first game back from a long roadie is never easy, no matter the opponent – they settle in for an Atlantic Division stretch against Detroit – which finally looks ready to stake it’s claim in the division – the Florida team that dashed it’ dreams last spring and the Maple Leafs to finish up the home stand. They then travel to Motown for a quick two-game roadie that concludes in Dallas.
With the addition of Alex DeBrincat, the Wings look like the real deal, at least offensively. They lead the league in goals per game with a 4.86 average and are second in power play, succeeding at a 41.4% clip.
If the B’s are still standing atop the ultra-competitive division after that run, then it will be time to really take them seriously.
The B’s signed prospect defenseman Jackson Edward, 19, to his three-year entry-level deal with an NHL cap hit of $860,000. The rugged 6-foot-2, 193-pound D-man, currently playing with the London Knights, was the B’s seventh-round pick in 2022.
The B’s also placed defenseman Ian Mitchell for the purpose of assignment to Providence. Presuming he clears and the B’s send him down, that would leave the B’s with only six defensemen but they very well could be looking to add a forward. Milan Lucic has missed the last two games after taking a shot off his foot and Jakub Lauko suffered a scary cut near his left eye in the win in Chicago on Tuesday.
Mitchell played two games for the B’s and picked up an assist on Poitras’ first NHL goal.