By Kevin Gesterling Follow Me on Twitter @BruinsHockey08
The Boston Bruins at the bye week are in a position not maybe would have reasonably imagined they would be in given their so-so start. After a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, the Bruins owned a 6-7-4 record and Tuukka Rask looked lost in net. Actually, scratch that, the entire team looked lost, but Rask took most of the blame for the struggles the Bruins endured based on his numbers at the time because let’s be honest they were less than stellar.
Since then, however, the Bruins are 17-3-3 in their last 23 games and have claimed into a comfortable position in the Eastern Conference playoff race just about halfway into their season (40 games in).
So, it seemed to be a great time to do a report card for the team. So below we will go player by player and assess the situation.
As mentioned above Tuukka Rask took a lot of heat for a relatively poor start to the season, and he ended up being benched for a short period because of it. But since he has come back he has been the backbone of the Bruins turnaround posting a 9-1-1 record with a .955 save percentage in December which included two shutouts and 3 games allowing one goal. This came after posting save percentage numbers of .896 and .901 in October and November respectively. It may be unfair to expect him to post a .955 save percentage every month but I don’t think it is unfair to expect Rask to be close to that level because that is what the Bruins need at this point and he has provided that.
When the Bruins needed someone to carry the team, they called upon Anton Khudobin, and Anton delivered. In the three games after the Anaheim game, Khudobin posted 3 wins (one in a shootout) while stopping 103 of 107 shots on goal in that period of play. More importantly than that, without his stellar play, who knows where the Bruins would be right now in the standings. His grade is heavily influenced by those three games and not many others because overall he hasn’t been all that special. When he was needed, however, he was outstanding.
Zdeno Chara has actually been pretty quiet this year. He has been pretty good, but when it comes down to it, he hasn’t really done anything too special nor anything that stuck out negatively. He has been sneaky good, which is fine with me.
You can’t go wrong here; this kid has been better than I expected. I didn’t have huge expectations like many Bruins fans. And I don’t think that’s to say I didn’t think he was a special player. I just think it is unfair to pin so much on such a young player. But Charlie McAvoy has posted a stat line of 5G-16A-21P and a +14 and has passed the eye test, in my opinion, he has been stellar this season.
Another player who has just gone out and done his job. He has been a slight decline in my opinion over last season mainly because he has had some costly turnovers particularly in the early stages of the season, but he has cleaned that up mostly. Overall nothing flashy, but that’s his game. Carlo has been solid, but as I eluded to above, he seems to be slightly below where he was last season.
This guy has been a major thorn in my behind, how many times is he going to put the other team on breakaways when we are on the power play because he makes a stupid decision? He has been a wreck this season in my opinion. It is bad enough he is small for the position, but then you throw in the fact that he quite frankly has not made smart decisions on the offensive side of the puck and it leaves me wondering what value he really has here. I am not trying to be negative here, but Krug scares me big time. His -1 plus-minus this season is the worst of all defensemen on the Bruins who have played a majority of the games for the Bruins.
Not many saw Matt Grzelyck coming, but he has been a rock back on defense since getting normal playing time. Sporting a +8 plus-minus has proven what my eyes have told me about him, he’s been really good. He has effectively claimed a spot on the top six defensive pairing with McQuaid getting hurt and Paul Postma not getting it done when he was given a chance.
Here is another player I would put under the quiet but sneaky good category, he doesn’t impress you with flash or offensive ability, but he has been good on the back end, and he has been physical this season and has maintained pretty solid health this season thus far. He has officially taken over Adam McQuaid’s role in my eyes, and there isn’t a thing wrong with that.
Adam McQuaid and Paul Postma
Both players in their brief playing time, however, had plus-minus ratings in the negatives. While McQuaid adds grit and sandpaper to a lineup that at one point needed it, he just has not been a valuable piece to the team this season, and I think mainly because he cannot stay healthy. As for Postma, he just has not looked good when he has been in the lineup, which in turn has opened up an opportunity for Matt Grzelyck, so in the end, it worked out nicely for the Bruins.
*I am going to give these two incomplete grades just because they have not played enough to make a real determination on them. However from what I did see they would not get passing grades.
David Pastrnak didn’t have much to improve on, I think one of his biggest weaknesses heading into the off-season was his blind passes that had led to bad turnovers. And not only has that improved, but I also do not recall seeing one in a while now, and it is no accident that Pastrnak’s production has soured since then.
Since the start of December Pastrnak has played 17 games and registered 5 goals and 13 assists and has looked fantastic during that stretch. The biggest stat, however, might be the turnaround in his plus-minus as he has posted a +10 since the start of December. Pastrnak started the on fire on offense but sported a -7 in October in ten games, but since being put on the line with Bergeron and Marchand, his play has benefited as has his plus-minus. I see great things coming from Pastrnak for the remainder of the season.
Patrice Bergeron is on pace for his career highs in goals (Projected for 35, his career high is 31) and on pace to tie for second in points (On pace for 70) at this point and that number was heavily skewed by his 4-goal outburst on January 6th versus the Carolina Hurricanes.
Furthermore, Bergeron continues to be one of the best two-way centers in the entire league and a top 5 center in the league. Bergeron might be putting up great numbers on offense, but he has always made his name on the defensive side of the puck and in the face-off circle.
Marchand missed six games in the middle of November with an unspecified injury but since then has gone on a tear posting 25 points in 18 games picking up where he left off before the injury. Marchand is on pace for 91 points in 73 games. It seems like that probably won’t be the case because getting 100 points in a season is becoming more and rarer. It just shows you, however, how good Marchand has been.
David Backes is not going to wow anyone on the offensive side of the puck typically, but since returning from Diverticulitis surgery, he has been great posting 8 goals along with 8 assists totaling 16 points to go along with a +7 plus-minus rating and 21 penalty minutes since November 29th. Backes is playing like the player the Bruins thought they were getting when they signed him in the summer of 2016. And he is playing like the player that I liked from his days with the Blues but only posting more points than expected in this recent streak.
Here is a player who came out of nowhere, and he really has taken to the NHL very quickly and has come onto the scene blazing hot. Heinen is somewhat a surprise to me because when I looked at the Bruins top prospects I did not consider him as a top prospect and clearly I missed on this one. Heinen, however, is playing great, and he should be given an opportunity to continue his success with the ice time he has gotten this season.
Every Bruins fan is waiting for Ryan Spooner to have his coming out party after he showed flashes of brilliance at the end of the end of the 15-16 season. To this point, it hasn’t happened. Spooner is getting his chance to be a contributing member of an NHL hockey team, and he just isn’t grabbing onto it. Spooner does possess a good plus-minus, and he has gotten 13 points this season. But the overall thought is that Spooner should be further along by now.With that said he has been good, yet underwhelming. Maybe the Bruins and I overrated his ceiling. Who knows? But he is not the player everyone thought he could be.
David Krejci has played a pivotal role in the Bruins turn around. He won’t get as much credit as the top line or Tuukka Rask, but since he has come back into the picture the Bruins have been on a role, and he has had a big hand in that. I don’t know if it shows on the stat sheet as well as other players but his presence in the line up absolutely has been felt and he has been probably the unsung hero outside of probably Danton Heinen for the Bruins.
Here is a guy who is pretty streaky, when he is feeling it he is a noticeable player on the ice, however, when he isn’t, it is hard for me to really notice him. He hasn’t made any glaring mistakes even when he is on a cold streak. Dare I say DeBrusk has been solid, but yet unimpressive? At least at times. He had 9 goals and was great in two games I can recall off the top of my head which were opening night versus Nashville with a goal and an assist, and December 18th against Columbus with a goal and two assists. Otherwise, he has been … decent.
There is not much to write here outside of the fact that Riley Nash is doing Riley Nash things and that is not a bad thing at all. He has been good at his role, and he is not expected to produce much on offense, and so far he has not, and the expectation is that he will stay that course moving forward.
I had to do the line here because I did not think it would be fair to judge these guys on an individual basis because they do not put up impressive numbers. However, as a unit, they might be the best 4th line the Bruins have had since the 4th line of the 2011 Stanley Cup winning team which featured Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell. This line has been really good and has gotten ice time in key spots where it is warranted. Cassidy hasn’t abandoned the importance of the 4th line, which is one thing that Julien did that has been pretty much carried over, but to a lesser extent than Julien did.
Line Grade: B-
Overall Team Grade: A-
If we could knock off the 6-7-4 start and go with the 17-3-3 since then the grade would be an A+, since we can’t A- will do and it is something the Bruins will hopefully be able to maintain coming to a stretch where they can pretty much put a nail in Montreal’s hope of making a comeback in the standings when the face them 3 times in an 8-game span. The Bruins are 13 points up on Montreal with 2 games in hand, if the Bruins can play .500 or better against the Canadiens then that is a resounding success.
The Bruins enter a critical part of their season now because things really get hard in March so the more points the Bruins can get now the better because the last thing the Bruins want is to be in a tight playoff race come March especially with them facing Chicago and Tampa Bay twice, along with one game versus Pittsburgh and St. Louis in March as well. The sooner the Bruins can establish playoff position the better because it could be a tough road getting in if they fade and end up in a playoff race in March.