The Bruins are 10-2-2 in their first 14 games, but March's schedule may pose some more problems for the club. - Richard Wolowicz
In the days leading up to Thursday's 4-2 win in Tampa, the Bruins were in another of the lengthy stretches they'd been in between games this season. After Sunday's win in Winnipeg, the Bruins spent three days preparing for a battle with the Lightning.
This time around, the time off proved valuable with more than one-third of the club falling ill on Tuesday before it headed south. The Bruins looked fresh and played their usual efficient game on Thursday. Rarely this season have they been as casually dominant as they were in November and December last season. Nor have they looked as woefully disjointed in the latter stretches of the year. For most of their 14 games this season, they've seemed, more or less, all right.
Scheduling issues arise for every team during the season -- lockout shortened or not. The anomalies for the Bruins this year have been how rarely they've played this month. At the moment, the Bruins are 10-2-2. Their 14 games played are the least in the National Hockey League. The postponement on Feb. 9 due to winter storm Nemo eliminated the lone back-to-back planned for the month. Moreover, it turned a difficult three-games-in-four-nights stretch into a manageable pair of games in those four nights -- both turned into Bruins wins. All of that, however, is about to change.
Starting with Sunday's game with the Panthers in Miami, Boston has at least four games in each of the next four weeks. In March, they have four back-to-backs, including three with at least one leg on the road. There isn't anything wrong of unfair about this, but it does suggest the Bruins have typically been the more rested side in almost every game they've played this month.
The scheduling situation may also point to rust being an issue at times this season. Most coaches would probably prefer a better-rested team given the length of the season. Still, the fact that Tyler Seguin continues to shoot 5 percent worse than he did a season ago despite averaging a similar amount of shots per game could be a sign of this rust. Other Bruins whose production has dropped to an extent include Milan Lucic, Chris Kelly and others. Regression, especially in Kelly's case, is a factor more so than any intangible manifestation of rust or fatigue.
As March moves on, though, the real Bruins will start to reveal themselves for better or worse. There's nothing to suggest they aren't as capable defensively as they've been in these first 14 games. Additionally, there's some room for improvement offensively. The way they respond to the uptick in games that they'll face the rest of the season will be more interesting to watch.
Currently, the Bruins are second in the Northeast Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. They trail Montreal by two points, but they've played three fewer games than the Habs to this point. In March, the teams play twice -- the first time being on the second leg of a back-to-back for each team. The Montreal matchup has never been a particularly good one for the Bruins under Claude Julien. The aggressive Montreal forwards seem to thrive on the mostly-slow-footed Boston defense, and it's caused problems at times. Even in the 2-1 Boston win two weeks ago, it was the play of Tuukka Rask that bailed the Bruins' defensemen out after a series of mistakes in the first period.
Every team in the league expected these issues when the lockout ended. Packing 48 games worth of intensity into three months was never going to be easy. The light schedule the Bruins fielded in February only compounded the problems in March and April. Parts of it were beyond their control. The Beanpot and other events at the TD Garden prevented them from playing at home for long stretches of the month even before the Feb.9 game with Tampa was postponed.
All of this is about to change quickly. With 17 games in March's 31 days, the Bruins won't have the benefit of added rest. Health issues have already popped up this season, and it makes sense that Julien would rest his players in February, preparing for the marathon approaching in March.