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Poll: Are the Bruins legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?

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This post is part of Bruins Day on PHT…

The Boston Bruins were finally able to end their two-year playoff drought last season, but they were bounced in the opening round by the Ottawa Senators.

Things were looking bleak for them during the season until management decided it was time to let go of Claude Julien. They replaced him with Bruce Cassidy, who was able to get them back on track.

But what are the expectations for Cassidy and his team this year? Can they do more than just make the playoffs?

The Bruins showed us that they’re one of the premiere possession teams in the NHL. Last year, they ranked second in the league in CF%, fourth in total shot attempts and first in shots against.

No matter what you think of possession stats, you have to believe that they’ll have some measure of success if they’re able to post similar numbers next season.

Looking at Boston’s roster, it’s clear that they have the necessary star power to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

Patrice Bergeron‘s point total may have dropped in 2016-17 (53 points in 79 games), but he’s still an elite two-way center that every team would love to have. Both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak provide their team with excellent offensive production on the wings, while David Krejci can be a quality second-line center when healthy.

On defense, Zdeno Chara is definitely not the player he once was, but the Bruins finally have some good, young defensemen that can also contribute. Brandon Carlo had a very good rookie season and Charlie McAvoy wowed the hockey world with his performance in the playoffs.

Carlo played in every single game of the regular season in his first year. He finished with six goals, 10 assists and a plus-9 rating, while averaging 20:48 per game. He was so impressive that the Bruins trusted him to play alongside Chara for a good chunk of the year. Taking another big step forward in 2017-18 would be huge for his team’s chances of making a long run.

McAvoy didn’t play in any games during the season because he was at Boston University. Once his NCAA campaign came to an end, he played four games with AHL Providence before making the jump to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not only did he hold his own in the postseason, he also managed to pick up three assists in the six games while averaging over 26 minutes of ice time (he played over 31 minutes in Game 5 against Ottawa). It’s still a little early, but it certainly looks like McAvoy has the potential to become a number one defenseman in the near future.

Between the pipes, Tuukka Rask has had his share of ups and downs. Now, it’s time for him to put together another consistent year. When Rask is rolling, the Bruins can compete with anyone. But when he’s in a slump, it’s hard for them to be competitive on a nightly basis.

Boston doesn’t have another goalie in their organization that can play at as high a level as Rask does when he’s on his game. So if Rask struggles like he did at times in 2016-17, they don’t have anyone else to turn to.

Even though they have some high-end talent, the biggest question mark surrounding Boston’s roster is depth. Competing with some of the deeper teams in the conference might be a problem.

The free-agent signings of David Backes and Matt Beleskey look silly at this point. Backes put up a respectable 17 goals and 38 points in 74 games last season, but he has four years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $6 million. Yeah, that contract looks like it’s gonna hurt.

As for Beleskey, he comes with a much more manageable cap hit of $3.8 million, but he still has three years remaining on his contract, and he’s proven to be a major flop. The 29-year-old had just three goals and eight points in 49 games.

Both veterans were expected to provide the Bruins with some depth behind their bigger names. Unfortunately, things just haven’t worked out that way.

They also have some quality on the blue line with Torey Krug, McAvoy and Carlo, but they’re a little thin after that. Chara isn’t getting younger, Adam McQuaid isn’t getting faster, and Kevan Miller and Paul Postma are nothing more than depth players.

Getting quality performances from Krug, McAvoy and Carlo will be key if they want to last longer than one round next spring.

Alright, it’s time for you to have your say. Have a vote, but also feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.