When people think back to the golden age of the Boston Bruins, it’s natural to conjure up images of Bobby Orr’s majestic end-to-end rushes and Phil Esposito’s knack for scoring rebound goals. Yet those early ’70s teams were also the pugilistic precursors to the Broadstreet Bullies, earning the alliterative nickname “The Big Bad Bruins” as they blended grit and skill on their way to two Stanley Cup victories. (Heck, even Orr was known for his considerable – if infrequent – bouts of anger.)
Despite the all-too-short Cam Neely era, the Bruins haven’t been able to approach that mixture of skill and sinister play in decades. While it is obviously too early to say that this version of the team has Cup victories in their future, they might have the best chance to mimic the team’s successful combination of talent and testosterone.
Now, any team can throw a bunch of knuckle-draggers on the ice, as evidenced by the New York Islanders’ convenient decision to call up enforcer Michael Haley for the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. The difference with the Bruins is that they have some tough guys who can actually play. Just look at Milan Lucic, a power forward who draws Neely comparisons for his dual abilities to duel and fill the net.
The Bruins’ almost-over-the-line display of aggression against the Montreal Canadiens might be considered a “coming out party” for the renewed badness in Boston, but they’ve transformed into a meaner breed overall. The Bruins are tied with the St. Louis Blues for second place in the NHL with 56 major penalties, already seven more than they earned throughout the 2009-10 season. It’s not as if this Boston group is just a bunch of big dumb animals either, considering the fact that they only rank ninth in the league in minor penalties with 208. The fact that they seemingly pick their spots shows that this increase in nastiness is far from a coincidence.
Add that to their status as the top team in the Northeast Division, and it’s possible that this might be part of a successful blueprint for the Bruins.
Claude Julien’s system, Zdeno Chara’s elite defensive play and the Vezina-worthy work of Tim Thomas already make the Bruins a tough to team to score against. Yet with this considerable jump in brutishness, Boston now ranks among the most miserable opponents to play against, period.
They might not have the name recognition of other Eastern Conference favorites like Philadelphia, Washington or Pittsburgh, but any team would be foolish to sleep on the Bruins. Especially since they might just be big and bad again.
Even with two games in hand, some might be surprised to see the Washington Capitals tied with the Boston Bruins in standings points in early December.
That’s the case on Wednesday Night Rivalry, as a somewhat up-and-down Capitals team (which is glad to welcome T.J. Oshie back) hosts a Bruins squad that’s riding a three-game winning streak.
It should be an interesting matchup on NBCSN, which you can also watch online or via the NBC Sports App.
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No one wants to hear “It could be worse” when injuries are really piling up, but … uh, it could be worse for the New York Rangers.
At least, it could have been worse for Rick Nash. The team announced that he’s only expected to miss about a week after undergoing an MRI related to a groin injury.
It’s been a redemptive season for Nash, so it’s nice to see that it isn’t getting totally derailed. Granted, injuries like these can linger even if a guy returns to the lineup, so we’ll need to see if he gets back to 100 percent.
The Rangers certainly aren’t at full-strength right now. Their laundry list of injured forwards is quite daunting, even for a team with vaunted depth at that position:
(It sounds like Pavel Buchnevich is still quite a ways from returning, sadly.)
Alain Vigneault sells the biggest benefit of these issues: opportunities for other players – including Oscar Lindberg – to step up.
“I just think this is part of the NHL and it is what it is. It’s there and you deal with it,” Vigneault said . “You get a lot of players at different times that wish that they can get more ice time to prove that they can have a bigger role and that they can do more. Well, no better time than the present for us right now.”
Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.
The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.
It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).
Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:
Yeah, not ideal.
The road ahead
It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.
For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.
The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.
While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.
— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.
— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)
— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)
— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)
— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)
— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)
Enjoy the games!