Following Charlie Jacobs’ harsh words earlier this week, the Bruins are looking to vastly improve during the 2nd half of their season. They were sitting out of the playoffs before Thursday night in Pittsburgh, and even then were only a couple points up on Florida. So looking back, how has the team performed in what are the dog days of the NHL? Can this team really rebound after their worst start since the 2007-08 season? Or does history show that they'll actually regress?
First, let’s look at goals per game. Goals lead to victory, and the Bruins have had recent struggles with both. Through December 31st, the Bruins averaged just 2.65 GPG—today that would make them 17th, slightly ahead of Anaheim. But with their losses to Ottawa and Carolina they’ve actually sunk down to 2.57 GPG, currently sitting pretty at 20th in the league.
|Team GPG||Through Dec. 31st||Jan.||Feb.||Mar.|
In the Claude Julien era (excluding the shortened season), Boston has averaged 3.04 GPG from opening night through NYE, and have been lower than 2.65 only twice—in ’09-’10 and ’07-’08. In those seasons, GPG rose two out of the three remaining full months. In February of 2008, GPG was up from 2.61 to 3.16. And in 2010, it rose again from 2.64 to 2.71. In fact, January and February typically have shown bumps in all but one year—in ’08-’09 Boston started out with a 3.70 GPG through the New Year before cooling off—and they’ve tended to finish strong in March, with a +2.7GPG the last three years. By and large, history has shown that the Bruins have a little more of a scoring touch in the latter half of the season.
At the other end, they also need to stop the puck. We’ll look at these in three categories—overall team GAA, Rask’s GAA, and Rask’s SV% by month. Starting with the current ‘tender, let’s look at GAA. Don’t be shocked if Tuukka has some shaky games in the next few weeks, since January and February have not been kind to the Bronze-medal-winning Finn. The last two years, Rask has posted a 2.64 and 2.44 GAA respectively. In 2011, it was 2.85, and even worse when he was taking over for Timmy in 2010, with a 2.96 GAA. It crept higher in 2010-11 (3.22), but in all other cases fell back below 2.00 in the month of February—excluding 2012 due to a low number of starts.
|Rask GAA||Through Dec. 31st||Jan.||Feb.||Mar.|
Best of all, March might be Tuukka’s best month. Getting hot around Saint Patrick’s day may lend credence to the "drinking before the game" theory, since he hasn’t posted higher than 2.29 in the month since joining the team. Last year, Rask was as much a part of the Bruins’ long win-streak as anyone, with a 1.69 GAA. So stay in the hunt, Boston. Let Tuukka put you on his shoulders after the trade deadline.
|Rask SV%||Through Dec. 31st||Jan.||Feb.||Mar.|
Rask’s save percentage numbers follow suit. Tuukks has hovered between .893 and .921 in January over the last few seasons. In 2013 & 2014, those numbers improved. In 2011 & 2012, they fell. So the winter is a bit of a crapshoot—Boston will have to rely on kicking their scoring woes, and possibly playing Svedberg and even Subban to give Rask some rest if they want to keep him fresh. If they can stay in the hunt come March, Tuukka shines again. He’s not as good as he is during the first half of the season, but he hasn’t had a March with a save percentage below .906, including last year when he was .944 during Boston’s busiest stretch of the season.
Overall, the Bruins have had a shaky time in net during the harsh winter. Their GAA in January hasn’t dropped below 2.50 since ’08-’09. However the last two years have shown the ship get righted in February, with a 2.20 and 1.70 GAA over the last two seasons respectively. March has again been solid in recent years, peaking in 2014 with a 1.64 team GAA. In comparison to the beginning of the year, the GAA for the team does rise, which should concern some if the team keeps going into overtime tied 2-2 and struggles mightily to light the lamp that third time.
So what does this all mean in terms of wins? Or, more importantly, points? After last night Boston has won two games in a row just twice since Thanksgiving, but that hasn’t stopped them from tallying points (aka the #BostonPoint). This is crucial, since point percentage in the past has gone down in comparison to the first half of the season. The Bruins have been a team that starts strong, and stays consistently good down the stretch. The problem is Boston has been neither consistent nor good to this point in the season, so they’ll have to reverse the trend if they want to play hockey in late April.
|Through Dec. 31st||Pt.%||Jan.||Pt.%||Feb.||Pt.%||Mar.||Pt.%|
Boston will face adversity truly for the first time in several years. Claude Julien's club made the playoffs in 2009-'10 after starting 20-12-7, but the current team is behind even that pace. The harsh reality is the Bruins' point percentage before the New Year was more than one-tenth worse than their average in the Julien era. Play that out over the course of a full season, and it's the difference between being a 107-point team, and a 90-point team. NBC's Pro Hockey Talk stated that if the Bruins can go (after last night) 19-15-6 down the stretch—a point percentage of .550—they'll have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. And they might be onto something.
Toronto's point percentage is worse than the Bruins, at .549. And even though Florida has games in hand, and has a better point percentage, their 2.22 GPG is 5th-worst in the NHL. That'll catch up to them, and all the overtime-loss consolation points in the world won't be able to make up for their lack of goal-scoring. The Bruins just need to do their part, which is kick the trend of slowing down in the second half. And the kicker is that the Bruins trend of their point-percentage going down is still better than what they've put forth so far this season. If they can average between .607 and .638 the rest of the way, it'll be hard for either team to catch them.
Boston almost always has a major slump over the course of the winter. Whether it be February of 2012, March of 2009, or their epic 10-game losing streak during January of 2010. This year's team can't afford a stretch like that this season. More recently however, Boston has improved in the waning weeks of the season. Their point percentage through February and March the last couple years is at an incredible .755 clip. The Bruins can't assume they'll repeat that kind of success, and need to put forth a consistent effort over the next three months if they want to hold position in the playoff hunt.
Goals for, goals against, overtime points. The Bruins don't need some of these to fall their way, they need all three. Rask needs to keep improving upon what's already been a strong 2015, the offense needs to pick up and score two-to-three goals in regulation, and the collective need to battle for extra time and avoid coming away empty handed. History has shown that these can happen. Now we just need to hold onto our butts and keep our fingers crossed that they will.