( Above Photo Credit: NBC Sports )
By: Kevin Gesterling Follow Me On Twitter @bruinshockey08
The Boston Bruins are finally showing what Don Sweeney has seen in them since he put his plan into motion a few years ago at the 2015 NHL Draft. The Bruins have begun to fuse their youth in with veteran leaders, such as Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, and it is paying off on many levels this season to this point. Let’s get into the specifics.
First what Sweeney (and coach Bruce Cassidy) is doing is it is giving the Bruins an identity that they can go with moving forward, the Bruins are no longer a team that will intimidate you to win a Stanley Cup, and that is because the league is going away from that style. The league is more of a speed league, so therefore a team like the Stanley Cup team in 2011 is no longer possible. Sure you can have a little grit, but you cannot win with a team full of tough guys anymore.
If you look at the Pittsburgh Penguins in the past two Stanley Cups, you will see that each of those cup years the Penguins had breakout performances from Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel in the last two seasons. Why is this important to the Bruins and Don Sweeney’s vision? Because the Bruins have that kind of depth in Providence, meaning that they too could benefit from the emergence of one of their prospects if they made it to the finals and needed a healthy body to fill in for an injury or struggling player.
Here’s another dominate shift by Anders Bjork as he puts on a coast-to-coast clinic for Providence. Although there wasn’t a goal to show for it, he showcases a beauty of a slap-pass as well. #NHLBruins pic.twitter.com/OM0XD0KTbq
— Bruins Network (@BruinsNetwork) January 7, 2018
The two players I can foresee being in this role are two players we have seen already in the NHL this year, and one is still playing in Boston right now. Those players are Anders Bjork and Matt Grzelcyk. I could see these guys playing a big role in a playoff run for the Bruins whether it is this year or the next couple of years. These two players will eventually get that chance along with the team very shortly I think.
This team has a much more significant upside than people give it credit for. The Bruins have four superstars on their roster currently and a capable goalie; the Bruins have Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Charlie McAvoy as their superstar players. With the latter two seemingly going to be able to carry the team for many years to come.
The player on this team that I worry about a little is Tuukka Rask. I just wonder if he is mentally tough enough to lift the Bruins to another Stanley Cup championship. He has had chances, and he has not come through in the clutch. Notably in 2013 in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Chicago. The positive side, however, is outside of that dud in Pittsburgh on Sunday he has been spectacular in the net since being benched in mid-November which is encouraging to me, very encouraging in fact.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) January 6, 2018
It isn’t just the stars though, the rookies are getting it done too. Two, in particular, are Jake DeBrusk (9G-12A-21P,+3), and Danton Heinen (10G-20A-30P, +10) have contributed to this team in a way that I don’t even think Sweeney and company expected at this point. Especially Heinen. Couple that with McAvoy who has been out of this world and the Bruins are looking strong moving forward given that the rookies continue to improve.
Third on this list is Bruce Cassidy, he has been a great coach since taking over. Not only does his record (41-18-8) show that but the way the team responded to his benching of Tuukka Rask in mid-November was something to behold. Because honestly, at that point I thought the season was lost. There were few good signs showing between not being able to score and Rask at that point looked pretty bad.
Thankfully though, the Bruins put all the ingredients together and have gone on a terrific 17-3-3 run since the loss in Anaheim on November 15th. And it is not just that they have gone on that route, but during that run, they have outscored their opponents by a 32 goal margin, and within that stretch of games, it includes 13 games where they allowed two goals or less and ten games allowing 1 goal or less, including 3 shutouts.
Ultimately what that means is that the Bruins are getting it done on both sides of the puck, and they are now in the top ten in both goals for and goals against. A feat that up to this recent stretch of hockey seemed unlikely if not impossible.
“You guys write and I coach…they were fun to watch.”
Bruce Cassidy on finding the words to describe Patrice Bergeron’s line: pic.twitter.com/xo37F1hD7X
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 7, 2018
I do not believe that the Bruins would not be able to have this kind of success if Claude Julien were still the coach, Julien’s style would have cramped the offense in favor of the defense, which as we’ve seen since 2015 is not the style that the Bruins have had success with. Cassidy is a more offensive minded coach but as the numbers show, that offense has not come at the expense of the defense.
Another thing that Cassidy has done is infused young blood into a line up that desperately needed it. And the result of that is that the team is faster and more fun to watch. As I mentioned in the beginning, the team is excelling at fusing younger players into the mix of veterans, and that is a great sign for the Bruins moving forward. Especially considering they are likely to hit tough decisions relating to the salary cap moving forward the next few off-seasons.
So I will wrap up with this as those are my main three points. We all wanted Don Sweeney to trade some of these assets (draft picks, prospects, etc.) for instant gratification in what we hoped would be a Stanley Cup run in any of the last couple of seasons, but the Bruins were never in that kind of contention. But by sticking to his plan, Sweeney just might be setting the Bruins up for multiple Stanley Cup runs, and his patience could ultimately help the Bruins be successful. And if the Bruins continue the positive step in the right direction, being in contention appears like it will be sooner rather than later.