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10 things I’m pretty sure I know about The Bruins after 10 games

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It’s early, but we can still make some observations about the Bruins!

Philadelphia Flyers v Boston Bruins Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

So! How’s your season going? I’ve been enjoying it quite a bit even if half the division (or at least, the jersey part) is either a pitri dish, or losing their minds over real or imagined issues. For the Bruins, it’s meant 7 wins, one loss, and a pair of overtime losses, taking the 1st spot in the East Division on record and point differential.

And while yes, this season is still very young, I would like to share with you some of the thoughts I’ve been having while

I - Trent Frederic is the best 4th liner on this team, and it’s really not close.

Maybe it’s novelty, maybe it’s familiarity from the past years of up and down fourth line play, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that, of all the players that’ve cycled through this year’s final the gap in both talent, effort, and general consistency between Trent Frederic and the rest of his line is both pronounced and honestly quite impressive. It shows up in the fancystats a lot too, where his xGF% dwarfs his linemates by a consistent margin, and (of course, using a sample size of ten games is a little low, so keep that in mind) he’s begun to distinguish himself in the other shot attempt metrics as well. His fiesty, aggressive style has made him an easy favorite for fans, and frankly...it’s been made easier by his linemates who, well...haven’t been.

Part of the problem is that Kuraly and Wagner seem to have regressed back to who they were prior to their 2018-19 form: serviceable, if not especially good, fourth liners who play a decent style, but haven’t been the most successful at making that style translate into consistent on-ice results.

One hopes that a fully healthy lineup will force these two to play better...or they’re going to be in real trouble.

II - The young defenders look alright! (for the most part)

Yeah, I know they just played probably one of their least aesthetically pleasing games of the year and frankly I won’t be surprised if they have another one like that in the near future...but honestly? I’m feeling pretty good about Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril, especially since I didn’t think they’d be both on the team at the same time, at least before the season began.

Lauzon seems to be settling into a role as Charlie McAvoy’s d-partner, letting his physicality first-style compliment Mac’s general “I’m good at stuff” play (even if it means sometimes Mac has to do the heavy lifting on his pairing). And Jakub Zboril is a player who’s usually just trying his damnedest to get the puck going up-ice, and showing some honestly impressive defensive acumen...most of the time. He’s certainly still got some kinks in his game to iron out (especially when it comes to staying in position), but he’s making life very difficult for players at evens to get shots off, and I think that’s real progress.

IMPORTANT: These are still early, so I wouldn’t recommend taking these as sacrosanct, but they’re both keeping their heads above water defensively, and that’s important
Evolving-Hockey.com

Regardless, I think cautious optimism with these two has largely paid off so far! Very solid start for both of them!

III - The first three games were bizarre and frustrating, but under the hood, things said it would even out, and it did in a big way

It was almost kind of funny how Boston started their season considering how it’s going now, even if it meant I wanted to tear my hair out at the roots in frustration over a 150+ minute 5-on-5 scoring drought, but what made it so frustrating was that, when it was all said and done, they were usually doing everything right, they still dominated possession and shots, and they just...couldn’t make it translate. It drove all of us crazy, and it definitely drove the analytics community, who’s been high on this team since day one, absolutely nuts.

Thankfully, the goals finally started to come in, and as more players built the confidence, more players were willing to start attacking the vulnerable areas of the ice. Now they are, in order:

  • 3rd in the league in CF% (thanks for running up the tally, Colorado.)
  • 3rd in the league in FF%
  • Third in Expected Goals-For%
  • The best Goal differential in the division by a lot.
  • Three straight games of utter shot attempt dominance where they come back from multi-goal deficits.

Hockey! Sometimes it doesn’t make sense, until it does! Confused? Don’t worry about it.

IV - Kevan Miller/Jakub Zboril are a pretty solid pairing that occasionally gets first pairing minutes.

Kevan Miller plays the kind of hockey that made people fall in love with Adam McQuaid, a similarly physical bottom pair player made of tires and teflon parts, the kind of hockey that is emblematic (for better or worse) of Boston Bruins hockey. His story is nothing short of inspiring in the extreme. And to his credit, he’s unquestionably shown what feels like a major step in his hustle that was not there previously, and hasn’t shown up with Del Zotto levels of backchecking ineptitude like some feared after so long away from the game. He is a player who undoubtedly is a positive presence, and he’s made good on making sure it counts. To his left, a total unknown marred by the trauma of his draft class, in his first real consistent shot after a couple of years in the AHL...who is apparently quite alright at hockey, and compliments Miller’s playstyle perfectly!

...But at the same time, this pairing is just feels...strange? For a 3rd pairing, Bruce is showing a tendency to not play it like one, as they sometimes ended up with more 5-on-5 time than even Charlie McAvoy in some games. Sure, Mac ends up getting 20 minutes with regularity thanks to special teams play, but four of the past five games? They’ve given Kev and Little Z at-or-near the lead of 5v5 ice-time. Further, they’ve ended up the most sheltered of all the pairings by a considerable margin, and yet still tend to come out on top when it comes to defensive metrics. They’re a formidable duo.

I just wouldn’t stick either of them out on the power play.

V - The injury bug springs eternal, and I HATE IT.

The Boston Bruins will have at least two players on IR until the sun burns out or the training staff gets audited by Don Sweeney in a desperate attempt to save his job. They had Pasta and Marchand on IR for awhile, Grzelcyk is on the mend, Debrusk got put on the IR on the 26th, and now apparently Jack Studnicka and Karson Kuhlman are now healing something up as well.

I do not know why this keeps happening, aside from “hockey is a contact sport”. I know every team has to deal with it in some capacity and there are some teams who get it worse than Boston, but it feels like nobody gets it more consistently than Boston; a completely healthy lineup early on or even late into the season has felt like a seemingly impossible task over the past five years.

Unfortunately, until medical technology advances to the point where fractures and muscle pulls/tears are fixable overnight, we’ll continue to be dealing with this. I however, will reserve the right to kvetch about things outside of my control because THAT IS THE HUMAN CONDITION, DAMMIT.

VI - This team missed David Pastrnak’s energy dearly.

Sure, there’s no cure for a cold power play quite like a floundering Flyers penalty kill and a Pittsburgh team that allegedly pays people to stand in front of their net, but almost immediately you could tell, even from the first game back, something was different about the way the Bruins played. Sure, neither of his first two games back were what you would consider quality hockey, but they showed something I think is arguably more dangerous than a consistent, 60 minute effort: The ability to completely take over a game in less than 10 minutes, and keep the screws to the opponent. And Pastrnak? Pastrnak allows for that, not just with his ability to find space on the ice to score goals, but also to allow offensive creativity and relentlessness to help truly engage the team, and reward it. Other players have shown flashes of what he can do, but nobody on this team can say they’re quite as good at it as Pasta is.

VII - Nick Ritchie is an enigma.

So apparently Nick Ritchie is a power play weapon?

I’m as surprised as you are.

Ritchie is such a bizarre player. For a (brief) time, he led the Bruins in goals, and was one of the most dynamic players on the power play that didn’t have David Pastrnak on it. At evens, he’s not lighting up the world, and frankly I just don’t think he’s the kind of player that David Krejci needs right now (how are you that big and that easy to move around?), but put him on the power play and he’s a force on par with Pasta, and that’s extremely strange.

At 5-on-5? Passable. On the power play? A FORCE OF NATURE.
Evolving-Hockey.com

Given his generally poor reputation, especially when it comes to special teams (generally more about how he ends up putting his own team on them), I think I’m fine with being pleasantly surprised and a bit puzzled with his performance so far, rather than the alternative we started the year on, which was “hoping for the best.”

VIII - Jack Studnicka is still a work in progress

Studs is a curious case. I’ve liked a lot of what he’s doing, but the actual execution of it hasn’t translated into consistent results. His first goal was pretty sick, but there’s this nagging feeling that there’s still some seasoning to be done. But with the individual tools he has, where exactly do you start? More weight training? More practices? More icetime? Less ice-time at evens but more on the special teams? Where is the niche this kid fills?

Really, I’m starting to think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try and get Jack back into the center rotation at some point. He had his most success there everywhere he’s gone, and trying to translate that into top 6 winger-dom hasn’t exactly been a smooth transition so far.

Maybe giving him some time in the AHL, and swapping out with one of the young wingers (or hell, go nuts and ask Oskar Steen/Zach Senyshyn if they wants to spend some time on the 3rd/4th line for a couple games to kick players up the lineup. Sure you don’t have time to see what they are, but how bad could they possibly be?)

Of course...he has to get healthy first. Please refer to section V for my opinion on that matter.

IX - This division is as tight as it’s ever gonna be.

The difference between first place and fourth is four points. The difference between top of the division and bottom is eight. The difference between first and second right now is down to points percentage. Compare that to the other divisions, where it seems like somebody is obviously atop the pile, there is an obvious second place, third and fourth are mostly just jockeying for position to be slaughtered come playoff time...and then there’s the bad teams. Losing more than a couple of games at a time could be a disastrous place to be, but it also means that now, for some reason, every overtime the Bruins force suddenly allows them to keep their mouth above water, if it comes to that.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not ideal whatsoever and it’s not going to ever be a patch on an honest regulation win, but if the Bruins ever have one of those games where it seems like nothing’s working (see: the first three games of the season), then I wouldn’t necessarily mind more 3-on-3 OT if it meant keeping pace in this division.

I just need to make sure my cardiologist knows about it first.

X - We’re still a long way from knowing what this team truly is, and don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it.

A 56 game season is a weird place, since now the otherwise pedestrian milestone of 10 games suddenly means you’re four games out from being done with a quarter of the season. Time’s flying at breakneck pace, and a team as talented but also as notorious for it’s love of waiting until the last second to live up to that talent on the scoresheet means that they still have a long way to go towards


Poll

How do you feel about the Bruins after 10 games?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Pretty good!
    (774 votes)
  • 20%
    Still have some concerns
    (230 votes)
  • 9%
    WAY too early to tell
    (111 votes)
1115 votes total Vote Now