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25 Games In: Where are we at with the Boston Bruins?

The Boston Bruins have started a lot better than most, but what have we learned about them coming into this early season?

Buffao Sabres v Boston Bruins Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s another week where we had an interminable amount of time in-between Bruins games, and our reward for that wait was a 3-1 wet fart of a loss.

So, while we’re waiting for the Coyotes to show up, why don’t we talk about them a little more in-depth, since we’ve got so many days at once to go through?

Better than Expected...

I think we’re all here at some way or another, right?

The B’s had an offseason to forget after one of the more embarrassing first round defeats that didn’t come out of Ontario of the modern era; losing both David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron to retirement. Their solution to this problem was largely to make small promotions from within and to bring in a boatload of older veteran talent. Expectations were that the Bruins would finally begin their long-awaited (by the rest of the NHL, at least) fall from grace and other teams would.

How did that go, exactly?

Yeah, as it turns out, reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Boston’s “demise” has in fact been a commanding Atlantic Division lead for much of the early season; buoyed off of the back of Pastrnak and Marchand’s leadership, as well as getting some big step up performances from Charlie Coyle, Pavel Zacha, Trent Frederic, Johnny Beecher, and of course, Matthew Poitras. The Poitras thing was even bigger than you might expect; Center was considered the big weak point of the Bruins, and for him to come in out of camp and be such an impact player was an incredible stroke of luck.

While the Bruins offense has had it’s issues is actually in cashing in results, they’re still finding some strong pushers of play; Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen are some of the better getters of chances but have yet to really cash in consistently yet, and if they end up getting their goals in future games, they oughta be in better shape going forward; DeBrusk and Heinen are only the most obvious candidates; guys like Pavel Zacha and James Van Reimsdyk have also been good at shoving the puck in the correct direction, but have been inconsistent in their finish. Should they clean that up? Clear sailing (or at least much less rough sailing) ahead.

But the goalies. Oh man the goalies.

Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark may not be league leaders in their respective goaltending categories, but they could still very well end up winning the Jennings again from their absolutely stunning play to this point. The Goalie Hugs are not just being given by each other, but also from an audience who has watched them steal game after game after game.

While yes, they have more contenders to their throne than you might expect this year, the Bruins are still very much scaring the rest of the NHL’s elite even without their franchise center, even with their more baffling losses beginning to come after a period of being seemingly impossible to crack.

...Worse than you’d think.

While Boston has gotten their wins, it’s not been off of the backs of much offensive might.

Boston’s ability to generate shooting chances, let alone shots on goal, has cratered this year. Currently sitting well below average in pretty much every category up to this point.

Bruins Shooting (or lack thereof)

The Stats Last Year This Year
The Stats Last Year This Year
Corsi For-% (Shot Attempts) 51.19 (15th in League) 48.59 (21st in League)
Fenwick For-% (Unblocked Shot Attempts) 51.77 (10th in League) 48.58 (23rd in League)
Expected Goals For-% (Quality Shots) 53.26 (8th in League) 51.14 (14th in League)
Needs work, B0ss! Data from NaturalStatTrick.com

Poitras was a genuine win for the Bruins, but a big part of why is that he joins a fairly exclusive club of players who actually are trying to get things going. If you’re worried it’s one of the players that didn’t spend a lot of ice time with Patrice Bergeron, save your breath. Among forwards, it’s usually some combination of David Pastrnak, Poitras, and usually some other lucky player creating the lion’s share of chances per night.

The issues are coming from a lot of places otherwise they shouldn’t be. While Charlie Coyle has a strong finishing touch this year, when he’s not in position for a shot he’s found himself more often than not mildly overwhelmed at what he’s been asked to do as a middle six forward, and he’s far from the only center having these troubles. Just about every player listed as a Center or has played significant time at Center this year is having a boatload of trouble driving play and also in winning faceoffs consistently.

In fairness to a number of forwards on the team, their individual impacts are largely based on their defense; Frederic, Steen, Beecher, Geekie, and Lauko are posting much more positive ability in suppression rather than in shot creation and in fairness most teams use their bottom six to keep the puck pinned away from their goalie rather than create shots. The problem is that this philosophy is beginning to creep into the 2nd line as well, forcing once again players on the wing to do a lot of the play driving while the centers catch up, which feels entirely backwards from how this should be going.

All of this pales in comparison of course, to the perplexing and worrying drop in effectiveness from one Brad Marchand. A lot of questions have been hanging around the Boston Bruins stemmed from their loss of Bergeron, but an underlying question that’s left some puzzled; what does Marchand look like away from Patrice after so many years?

Seems like the answer is uh...”not great.”

While there’s no guarantee that this will stay this way...he was almost entirely in the blue last year. That’s a pretty drastic drop.
Evolving-Hockey.com

Marchand’s drop in effectiveness in general speaks to a longer term problem we’re all kind of aware was going to be the case; this team needs a good center and badly, and those are hard to come by without making deeply painful cuts. For right now, it looks like this is the hand that they’ve been dealt, and they’re content on playing it for the time being.

That’s before you get to the defense, which as been uniformly pretty rough. While a lot of people are coming down on McAvoy and Lindholm for not being worldbeaters, I think more attention should be paid to the fact that just about everybody else has been so much worse. Oh they’re keeping the shot quality down, if that’s any consolation, just about everybody’s good at keeping shots to the outside for the most part...but a lot more of them are making it to their goalies. I will be very nice to Mason Lohrei and make it clear he is a rookie who still needs seasoning, because otherwise he’s just “What you think Matt Grzelcyk is: XL” and I think he can work his way out of that with time.

All of this leads to a team that is getting insanely lucky, and is getting some huge plays from a handful of guys to keep them afloat.

So what do we do going forward?

For right now? Ride it out. Be patient. Really keep a big picture perspective on this.

On the Optimism side? Even in what should be considered a down year for the Bruins, they’re still succeeding big time, will likely make the playoffs, and will still get consideration for individual players at the NHL Awards. Most teams would kill for that kind of sustained success even after what should be a dynasty ending offseason.

On the pessimist’s side? Welcome to being Islanders North. Sure, playing with that kind of fire can lead to not only the playoffs but some shock wins, but eventually they’ll hit a wall and they won’t be able to identify with dental records afterwards.

Unlike the Islanders however, this team is extremely temporary; just about every other name on it will either be on the way out for retirement, free agency, or more than likely a trade. As rough as losing 3-1 to the Sabres was (and is), they’ve otherwise found ways to win that can work for right now.

Long term? Start finding ways to stretch that $50,000+ in cap space (and the upcoming increase) into a franchise center.

The team’s future rests on that.