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Bruins top line picking up where it left off

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The Boston Bruins have had one of the NHL’s most dominant lines over the past two years in the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, a group that has put some video game type numbers on the board. Over the past two years alone the Bruins outscored teams by a 54-35 margin and attempted more than 60 percent of the total shot attempts when they were on the ice during 5-on-5 play. Individually, all three were among the league’s top-25 scorers in points-per-game this past season.

They not only carried the Bruins offense, they carried the entire team with their relentless two-way play.

Three games into the 2018-19 season and they are still dominating, and it continued on Monday in their 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. That game featured a hat trick from Bergeron, a three-assist game from Marchand (which follows a four assist game on Saturday), and a four-point day (two goals, two assists) from Pastrnak.

So far this season their stat lines are just as dominant as you might expect:

  • Patrice Bergeron: four goals, two assists, six total points
  • Brad Marchand: zero goals, seven assists, seven total points
  • David Pastrnak: three goals, two assists, five total points

This through the first three games of the season this trio of players has accounted for seven of the team’s first 10 goals, after accounting for more than 36 percent of the team’s total goals a year ago. What makes that percentage even more astonishing is the fact that Bergeron and Marchand each missed more than 15 games due to injury (or in the case of Marchand, injury and/or suspension). So that percentage could have easily been even higher.

The good news for the Bruins is that line can pretty clearly carry the team in every phase of the game as they are just as dominant without the puck (which doesn’t happen often) as they are with it.

The key question for the Bruins is going to be whether they get enough consistent offense and production from the rest of the team to help take them to the next level, because as good as these three are nobody is winning a championship with just one line. I happen to think the Bruins can find enough around them because they have some really intriguing young players filling out the rest of the roster in Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and Jake DeBrusk, while they are also still playing without their top offensive option on the blue line in Torey Krug.

No matter what happens with the rest of the team, the line at the top is going to ensure they at least have a chance to win every single night.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season starts with a doubleheader on Wednesday featuring the Washington Capitals vs. the Boston Bruins at 7:30 p.m and the San Jose Sharks vs. the Anaheim Ducks at 10:30 p.m. ET.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovBrett Connolly
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerChandler Stephenson
Nathan WalkerNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Christian DjoosJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

[WATCH LIVE: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live stream here]

BRUINS
Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciDanton Heinen
Ryan DonatoSean KuralyDavid Backes
Joakim NordstromNoel AcciariChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
John MooreBrandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Question for Bruins (again): How long can Chara keep going?

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BOSTON (AP) — How much longer can Zdeno Chara keep this up?

The Boston Bruins defenseman – and leader in ice time – will turn 42 this season, and sooner or later the window will close on his opportunity to skate around the ice again with the Stanley Cup. For his teammates, that means focusing on this season as their best and possibly last chance to win with him.

”The older you get, it’s just about winning,” said David Krejci, one of five holdovers from the franchise’s last title, in 2011. ”We know that we’re not going to be playing in the league for 10 more years, but we have maybe three, four, five years left, who knows, but this is it. We worked really, really hard this summer to get the job done this year.”

Chara was already an eight-year veteran and two-time All-Star when he signed with Boston a dozen years ago, and the Bruins built a contender around him that went to the Stanley Cup finals twice in three years. (They lost to Chicago in 2013.)

Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and David Krejci are the only other players remaining from the 2011 champs. Bergeron is 33, Rask and Krejci will turn 32 during the playoffs, and Marchand will turn 31. (Steven Kampfer was traded away in 2012 and rejoined the Bruins this summer; he just turned 30.)

Charlie McAvoy, the 20-year-old defenseman paired with Chara for most of his career, has seen players come and go and values the stability brought by the core.

”As long as we have those veteran guys the culture will always be the same, I really believe that,” he said. ”I really think it could be another special year. You bring back all these guys, the veterans, it could be an awesome year and I’m really excited to get it going.”

Here are some other things to look for from the Bruins this season:

SOPHOMORES

Helping to take some of the pressure off the aging core is a group with about one year of experience, led by McAvoy. Also among the sophomores are Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk, and Sean Kuraly.

”None of us are forecasting a setback, I call tell you that,” McAvoy said. ”Something about the experience of having a full season, playing a few playoff series now, seeing that element. I can use all those things to allow me to come in and play great hockey from the start. That’s my goal.”

Those five combined to score 151 points (48 goals, 103 assists) last season.

MORE NEW BLOOD

Joining the youth movement are players in their first full season like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Ryan Donato and Anders Bjork. Brandon Carlo has two years behind him but is still just 21.

”You need those young guys,” Krejci said. ”And our young guys are fast, they’re good, they’re smart, they make plays. They deserved to make the team last year and I’m looking forward to what they’ll bring again this year, one year under their belts.”

IN NET

Rask returns for his 12th season but he has a new backup.

Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year contract to come to Boston from the Islanders, where he started 49 games last season and had a 3.19 goals-against average. He replaces Anton Khudobin, who had been the backup for two years and started last season 7-0-2 filling in while Rask had a concussion.

The fast start led fans to call for him to replace Rask, when he won just three of his first 13 games. But the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner did not lose a game in regulation from Nov. 26 until Feb. 10, finishing with a 34-14-15 record and a GAA of 2.36.

LONG TRIPS

The Bruins played two exhibition games in China against the Calgary Flames, with Cassidy and half the squad heading over to Shenzhen and Beijing for a week while the rest of the team stayed back in Boston. The split squad wasn’t ideal, but the Bruins started the 2010-11 regular season with two games in Prague and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Cassidy said that would be a nice precedent to follow.

”Well if it’s a repeat of ’11, yes,” he said. ”I’d love that to happen, trust me.”

AP freelancer Matt Kalman contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Three questions facing Boston Bruins

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future.

Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

If three questions aren’t enough:

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

1. Will the aging curve send them into a brick wall?

Here’s a confession: my expectation was that the Bruins would look like an old team, at least at the top, during the 2017-18 season.

Instead, the Bruins went from a good (if frustrating) team under Claude Julien into a frequently scary (in a good way) squad with Bruce Cassidy running the ship. The top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak flat-out abused opponents with their skill and puck possession, to the point that the machine kept humming even when a key piece was on the shelf due to injuries. Zdeno Chara may or may not own a personal Lazarus Pit, as he remained fantastic at 40. Boston ultimately succumbed to Tampa Bay during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet B’s fans could be forgiven for picturing scenarios in which a deeper run was quite plausible.

With that in mind, the bar will likely be set higher in 2018-19.

What if Father Time merely strikes a year later?

Chara is 41. Bergeron’s 33, and some of those years have been tough (remember all of the ailments he dealt with in 2013, and how much concussions threatened the early phases of his career?). David Krejci is 32 and slipping, while David Backes‘ style isn’t necessarily friendly to a 34-year-old. Tuukka Rask is already 31, and Marchand is 30.

Ideally, the Bruins’ veteran bests will age out just in time for their youngsters to take over. Whether it’s 2018-19 or a little later, there’s also the possibility that the Bruins might suffer if that transition ends up being bumpy.

2. Will young players make more strides forward?

Hockey fans (and sports fans in general) have a habit of daydreaming young players to stardom, yet sometimes the siren call of potential can be quite misleading. Such a phenomenon explains why, if you need to send a star player away in a trade, it’s often wise to get a first-rounder (even if its from a good team who will leave you pretty close to round two).

While the Bruins passed up on Mathew Barzal (read more about that in this larger piece about promising forward Jake DeBrusk), Don Sweeney & Co. have gone on to find some pretty fantastic young talent. It’s easier said than done to replenish your reserves when your team is trading away premium picks and/or rarely drafting at the top of the first round, yet the Bruins rank among the best at doing just that.

David Pastrnak is the young stud among the aging stars at top, and sometimes you need to shake your head at the fact that he’s still just 22. Delightfully for the Bruins, 20-year-old defensive blue chip Charlie McAvoy provides Pastrnak with a rival in the “Who’s the best under-25 Bruin?” debate.

Most of the time, when you’re drafting outside of the lottery spots, you’re not going to find superstars that often. The Bruins have also supplemented talent with useful supporting cast members including DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork.

The Bruins’ impressive fleet of reinforcements present interesting sub-questions. Will they at least be as effective as they were last season? Beyond an obvious choice like McAvoy, could DeBrusk and especially Donato offer a lot more as they continue to gain Cassidy’s trust?

Earlier in this post, there was the fearful scenario where older veterans fade before up-and-comers rise. On the flip side, the Bergerons and Marchands could sustain their all-world work while young players give the Bruins the sort of depth that true contenders relish.

3. Will the Atlantic simply be too tough?

The Washington Capitals provide evidence that NHL franchises don’t always know, for sure, when their best “windows” to win might be. Unfortunately, for most teams, being wrong doesn’t mean winning the Stanley Cup after you took what seemed to be your best shots.

This Bruins team could, conceivably, be as good or better than the 2017-18 edition and still get smoked in the first round.

We already saw the Bruins fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team brimming with prime-age talent that might find another gear (or perhaps make a bold addition like landing Erik Karlsson?) next season. The Maple Leafs pushed the Bruins to a Game 7 without John Tavares; if all of Toronto’s pieces fit together, the Lightning might not even be Boston’s biggest worry.

It would be foolish to totally dismiss the Florida Panthers’ chances of making a big step forward, too, considering their summer improvements, talent at the top end, and their imposing finish to 2017-18.

The NHL’s current playoff system dictates that second round can sometimes present a larger hurdle than overcoming the conference final. A lot can change between early August and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet right now, the Bruins don’t exactly seem like the favorites in a top-heavy division.

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.

It’s Boston Bruins day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

2017-18

50-20-12, 112 pts. (2nd, Atlantic Division; 2nd, Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, second round

IN:

Jaroslav Halak
John Moore
Joakim Nordstrom
Chris Wagner
Cody Goloubef

OUT:

Riley Nash
Rick Nash
Brian Gionta
Tommy Wingels
Nick Holden
Anton Khudobin
Austin Czarnik
Tim Schaller
Paul Postma

RE-SIGNED:

Zdeno Chara
Sean Kuraly
Matt Grzelcyk

The Bruins got off to a decent start in 2017-18, but they took off near the beginning of December, as they went 10-2-2 that month, 8-1-2 in January, 9-4 in February and 11-2-3 in March. At one point, they even managed to pass the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the division, but a mediocre finish led to the Bolts reclaiming the crown.

Many expected the Bruins to be competitive, but the fact that they were that dominant for a long stretch of time was kind of surprising. The future looks bright in Boston. Even though they have some older, established players on the roster, they also have youngsters like David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato and a few others.

One of the reasons they were able to so dominate was because of the play of their top line. Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have morphed into one of the best lines in hockey. They’re chemistry is superb and they seem to be a threat to score every time they’re on the ice together. Marchand led the team in points (85 points in just 68 games), Pastrnak finished second (80 points in 82 games) and Bergeron finished third (63 points in 64 games).

The Bruins didn’t really make a significant splash in free agency, which means GM Don Sweeney is hoping to see some of the younger players on the roster take a significant step forward.

In goal, Tuukka Rask went through some ups and downs last season, but he also had a dominant stretch where he just couldn’t lose. The 31-year-old finished 2017-18 with a 34-14-5 record, a 2.36 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. His numbers dipped in the playoffs (2.88 goals-against-average, .903 save percentage), but he’s the go-to guy again.

It’ll be interesting to see how this roster handles these expectations. Last year, they surprised everyone. This year, they’re expected to compete for the Eastern Conference crown.

Prospect Pool:

• Ryan Donato, C, 22, Harvard/Boston Bruins – 2014 second-round pick

After completing his third season at Harvard, Donato made the leap straight to the Bruins and he didn’t look out of place. He suited up in 12 games regular season games and scored five goals and nine points. Not bad for a guy fresh out of college. Unfortunately the on-ice success didn’t carry into the playoffs, as he only played in three games. Heading into next season, expectations will be high for Donato. Look for him to play a significant role for Boston.

• Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C, 21, Providence Bruins – 2015 second-round pick

Forsbacka-Karlsson spent two full years at Boston University before jumping to the professional ranks in 2017-18. He put together a solid AHL season last year, as he accumulated 15 goals and 32 points in 58 contests with Providence. He might not play much of a scoring role in Boston this season, but he could definitely contribute as a bottom-six forward if he makes the team.

• Trent Frederic, C, 20, University of Wisconsin – 2016 first-round pick

Frederic decided to sign his entry-level contract with the Bruins after two years at Wisconsin. He put together a couple of strong seasons in college (33 points in 30 games as a freshman, 32 points in 36 games as a sophomore). He also helped lead Team USA to a World Junior bronze medal last winter. Frederic finished the season with AHL Providence where he put up eight points in 13 contests. He’ll probably start the year in the minors, but he could get a promotion at some point during the season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.