The Bruins next game will be the first of two against the Edmonton Oilers, who despite having the best player on the planet, are unlikely to find themselves contending for a Stanley Cup Championship this year. In fact, the Bruins next stretch of opponents is arguably the worst they will face during their 2018-19 regular season, at least in terms of each team’s prior season performance. Let’s look at their upcoming opponents using a method some of you old timers may be familiar with. If you have followed Bobby Orr or his storied career, you likely know he was rather fond of breaking the season down 10 games at a time, and if it was good enough for one Robert Gordon Orr, it’s good enough for me. Let’s dive in on the next 10 games.
Below are the Bruins next 10 matchups, with each opponents 2017-18 season Win%, head to head results vs. Bruins, and Bruins head to head Win%.
As you can see, they are only facing one team widely expected to contend this season, in the Nashville Predators, a team the Bruins went 1-1 against last season. While the Flyers (2-0-1) are expected to be in the playoff conversation by many, they will be down their prized free agent acquisition James Van Riemsdyk (LBI) and well, they still have Brian Elliot (-5.88 GSAA, 78.11% HDSv%) in goal. As for the rest of the above teams, they are about as mediocre a group as you could assemble, and the Bruins absolutely dominated them this past season. Overall, as shown above, the Bruins won 88% of the matchups last season (22W-3L).
Each year’s schedule has its own challenges and easy stretches, but with the Bruins bottom six forward group seeming wholly undetermined, this stretch of games should help Bruce Cassidy solidify his roster before moving onto the much more challenging remaining schedule. That schedule includes all 12 games against the Bruins prime Atlantic opponents in Florida (96 pts), Tampa Bay (113 pts) and Toronto (105 pts). Surprisingly enough, the Bruins fared well against the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, at least in the regular season, but both Toronto and Florida dominated the Bruins.
Although any hockey fan or analyst will tell you the game isn’t played on paper, the two teams that beat Boston most often in 2017-18 (Florida and Toronto) got better in free agency with the addition of Mike Hoffman and John Tavares, respectively. Of course, in the case of Toronto, the free agent losses hurt almost as much as Tavares helps, but there is no doubt both teams upgraded their rosters on paper.
Based on last year’s results and the aforementioned upgrades to the Bruins competition, the Bruins would likely be thankful to split the season series, an improvement on last year’s results. While it won’t be easy with a vital player like Torey Krug out for the foreseeable future, the Bruins best chance of accumulating points looks to be their upcoming stretch. If they can string off wins now, they will be putting themselves in position to keep up with their rivals, allowing them to help dictate the end of season seeding in their 12 games against Tampa, Toronto and Florida. As we saw against Tampa Bay, specifically in the playoffs, the Bruins lacked depth scoring, and so far that hasn’t changed through 3 games in 2018-19. While every game, and point, matters in the NHL, having a relatively easy stretch of games allows Bruce to try various line combinations to see which works best.
Frankly, if the Bruins haven’t addressed their bottom 9 forwards by the time this stretch is over, they may not have to worry about competing with the likes of Toronto and Tampa, because as great as the Bruins top line is, one line can’t carry an entire team through the playoffs. While it may seem weird to say a stretch of games against an entirely forgettable cast of opponents is crucial for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, this stretch may prove to be one of the most important in their long NHL season.