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Let’s get ahead of ourselves: comparing these Bruins to the 2011 team

Are we in for another historic season?

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NHL: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

At 11-2-0, the Boston Bruins are off to a strong start (on the ice...the front office not so much).

With Brad Marchand five games into his return from double hip surgery and Charlie McAvoy slated to return soon, the excitement is building. It’s still early, but just for fun, this start is worth comparing to the Bruins’ 2010-11 season.

The difference between the NHL then and the NHL now is huge, but there are still some encouraging similarities between 2010-11 and one major difference.

Similar: Defense

When the Bruins hired Jim Montgomery, there was a lot of discussion around his new, offensively focused system.

He told Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic that he was confident about the team’s defense thanks to their experience under former coach Bruce Cassidy and Claude Julien before that.

However, through the first four games of the season, the Bruins surrendered an average of 3.75 goals per game, which put them in the bottom third of the league. Last season, only three teams averaged more than 3.07 goals against per game and made the playoffs.

Luckily, the team has since made adjustments and found a good middle ground between high-flying offense and lock-down defense.

The Bruins have recommitted themselves to the defensive game they are known for and have gone from the league’s fourth-worst team in terms of average goals against per game to the fifth-best.

In 2010-11 the Bruins allowed the third-fewest goals against per game through their first 13 games at 2.00. Both seasons also saw the Bruins sporting top-tier penalty kills.

By the time the regular season ended, the Bruins trailed only their eventual Stanley Cup foe, the Vancouver Canucks, as the league’s best defensive team.

Yes, the presence of Zdeno Chara in 2011 made a huge difference, but the combination of McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm (if they play together) could rival the Chara-Dennis Seidenberg combination.

Similar: Winning in lots of ways

Though the 2010-11 Bruins were known for their defense, they weren’t too shabby an offensive unit either. The team finished as the NHL’s fifth-highest-scoring team on a per-game basis, scoring 2.98 goals per game.

That 2011 Stanley Cup team did something that these 2022-23 Bruins have also done exceedingly well: win in multiple ways.

Whether it was a track meet-style thriller or a tightly played overtime squeaker, the 2010-2011 Bruins could win both. The 2022-23 Bruins have started the same way.

Though the 2010-11 Bruins were 7-20-9 when giving up three goals or more, the league was far less offensively potent back then.

Still, the Bruins could win important games in which they struggled defensively. They prevailed in a 7-4 battle over the Pittsburgh Penguins (the Penguins led by two goals entering the third period).

They won a back-and-forth 4-3 game over the Tampa Bay Lightning (their future conference final opponent).

They took a 7-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers (they trailed until more than halfway through the third period).

They also won an 8-6 slugfest (literally) over the Montreal Canadiens.

That game saw the two teams combine for seven fights (including Tim Thomas versus Carey Price AND David Krejci versus Benoit Pouliot). The teams racked up a combined 192 penalty minutes.

To this day, that’s one of my favorite regular-season Bruins games.

So far this season, the Bruins have lost one game after giving up three goals or more. They are 4-1 in games where they’ve allowed more than three goals and 7-1 in games where they’ve allowed fewer than three goals.

The Bruins have shown an ability to win the low-scoring games they’ve always won, but they’re winning the track meets as well, just like they did in 2011.

Let’s compare the 2022-23 Bruins with the most recent Stanley Cup champions for good measure. Last season’s Colorado Avalanche were 25-17-7 in games where their opponent scored at least three goals. They were 31-2 when allowing two goals or less. Though they were known for their defense, they were an offensively talented team, thanks to the next coming of Bobby Orr in Cale Makar and superstar Nathan McKinnon.

Last year’s Bruins were 10-25-3 in games where they allowed three or more goals.

I’m not saying the Bruins have proven they will be as dominant as the Avalanche, but so far this season, they’re in the same conversation.

Similar: Goalie Situation

The past two seasons have been a bit of déjà vu for the Bruins’ goaltending situation.

Until his failed comeback attempt last season, Tuukka Rask had been the Bruins’ starting goaltender, love it or hate it, for nearly about a decade. But before Tim Thomas left Boston and Rask became the full-time starter, there was a bit of a tandem situation, especially before the Bruins’ 2011 cup run.

In 2009-10, Rask played in 45 regular season games, starting 39. Thomas played in 43, starting in 43. But come playoffs, Rask took over, playing every playoff game through the team’s historic collapse in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Flyers.

Heading into the 2010-11 season, it looked as if Rask would take over, even if Thomas had won the Vezina Trophy just two seasons before and Rask played a major role in the team’s collapse against the Flyers.

At the time, the media and Rask and Thomas themselves referred to the situation as a tandem, which is what it was in the 2009-10 regular season.

A flaming-hot start by Thomas and an abysmal start by Rask meant Thomas was the starter again in what would become a historic season for him and the team.

Does that sound familiar?

Last season, Linus Ullmark and Swayman both appeared in 41 games and started 39, with that little Rask hiccup in between.

There was a lot of “tandem” talk coming into this season as well, although many were hoping, even expecting, Jeremy Swayman to make a major step in his development and take over the starting job, relegating the veteran Ullmark to the backup role.

Instead, Ullmark had a Thomas-like start, winning his first eight games (until Saturday’s loss in Toronto).

Swayman struggled, going 2-1 but sporting a goals-against average of 3.45 and a save percentage of .878. Then he sustained an injury that he likely won’t be back from for a few weeks. It’s Ullmark’s job now.

Yes, fans get warm and fuzzy over the post-win hugs between Ullmark and Swayman.

The cliché of having “two starting goalies,” is also nice in theory, but when was the last time a team with tandem starting goalies won a Stanley Cup?

Similar: Salary Cap Situation

There’s been a lot of discussion this season about the Bruins’ salary cap situation and what potential trades they might make to alleviate the crunch. The question is still pending and will be until McAvoy returns.

The 2010-11 Bruins were in a similar bind. The team was up against the salary cap but had some temporary relief with Marco Sturm and Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve. Both were supposed to return that season, meaning a trade to get under the salary cap was likely. The rumors abounded.

Peter Chiarelli traded Sturm and Matt Hunwick to help with cap compliance. Then, as a member of the Avalanche, Hunwick hit Savard in the corner ending Savard’s career and landing him on LTIR, giving the Bruins more salary cap relief (in an unfortunate manner).

The Bruins then made several moves at the trade deadline to help shed salary and acquire players that made a difference in their run to the cup.

The Bruins acquired Tomas Kaberle from Toronto and traded Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Atlanta Thrashers for Rich Peverley and AHL talent Boris Valabik. They also acquired Chris Kelly from Ottawa a few days before that.

Kelly and Peverley would be key additions. Kaberle, who did have 11 assists during the championship run, became mostly an afterthought in our memories.

What’s the point of making this comparison? You never know what can happen during a season, especially when the upper limit of the salary cap is looming.

Players like Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart felt like important parts of the franchise at the time. They were young and looked to have a place in the team’s future. Instead, the Bruins traded them away and won the cup.

There is one glaring exception.

Worse: Aging Core

The difference between now and then is the team’s core.

Patrice Bergeron was early in his prime in 2010 (though one could argue he has gotten even better since then), and so was Krejci. Marchand’s NHL career was 20 games old.

Those three players are still the keys to the Bruins’ success. Bergeron and Krejci are in the final phase of their careers. Marchand is recovering from double hip surgery.

The team has enjoyed an incredible start, and Bergeron and Krejci don’t look like they’ve aged. Marchand looks like he barely pulled a muscle rather than having operations on both hips. But we don’t know if they can continue to play this well through the gauntlet of an entire NHL season.

McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm are young and still two of the Bruins’ most important players, but if Marchand, Bergeron or Krejci trail off near the end of the season, the expectations that the team built early this season will likely not be met come the playoffs.

Some young players could come up and give the team an infusion of youth.

Fabian Lysell still has potential if he’s called up, and if Mason Lohrei decides to leave Ohio State, he could be an important addition by the end of the season (though it’d more likely be at the AHL level).

Overall, the comparisons between 2010-11 and 2022-23 (while premature) are encouraging, but the team’s best players will need to continue to defy their age if they want to win the team’s first Stanley Cup since 2011.