Allow me to back track a bit because the title is not entirely fitting. It has more to do with some (a lot) of the negativity towards the Bruins 16-2-0 start and the next 18 games. So, let’s head back to the beginning.
We all know the story, or we should by now. It was an offseason full of questions that took time to get answers. Who were going to be the number one and number two centers was the number one question facing the organization. That was answered when Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci signed their remarkably team friendly deals. Even when those questions were answered we had to sit through the drivel about how Bergeron and Krejci were too old to lead a team to the promised land.
Of course, there was a large contingent of fans and media and hockey minds asking how the Bruins would move Mike Reilly or Nick Foligno to make cap room. Well, we know what happened to Reilly and Foligno is having the best start he has had in 6 years. But the real question should have been what I’ve been asking here all season long: How are they going to move Craig Smith?
There were many asking why the downgrade from Eric Haula to Pavel Zacha? Well, we now know that it wasn’t actually a downgrade, but an overall upgrade. There was also a large group wondering how Linus Ullmark would respond after a “bad” playoff series a season ago. Well, he’s responded with a Vezina type season and a historical one at that.
But the biggest question making the circuit after Bergeron and Krejci signed was how would the Bruins compete with season opening injuries to Matt Grzelcyk, Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy? Not to mention Brandon Carlo and Krejci also missing time. You know the story! Hockey pundits were telling us that they needed to remain competitive and be in the chase for a playoff spot come American Thanksgiving to have a chance. Even then we were told they’d be battling for a Wild Card spot.
As you know by now the three returned earlier than expected but still missed considerable time. Yet, the Bruins went on a historic run going 16-2-0 in their first 18 games of the season and were the best team in the NHL.
Stop the presses!
We can’t have that so they made excuses. The Bruins had the benefit of an easy schedule for the first 18 games and there is no chance they can repeat it in their next 18 games was the message we were being fed. There’s always a chance but even yours truly thought it near impossible and even asked here whether fans would be happy with a 12-6-0 record in the next 18 games. The vast majority of fans were willing to accept that but even 12-6-0 is a .667 points percentage that would put you on pace for a 109-point season that any NHL team would accept.
I’m a firm believer that you have to play the games in front of you. The Bruins did so through injuries, new coaches, learning a new system and through a dark cloud facing an organizational decision that some will argue should have had heads rolling. The Bruins faced some adversity through their first 18 games – even more than some other teams so to downplay their start seems foolish to me.
I’ll ask you this question: Teams get “easy” portions of schedules all the time so why don’t these historic starts happen more often?
When the second set of 18 games began, I had to listen to people talk about the injuries of those other teams. It’s the same people saying the “Bruins needed to survive” with their injuries that were saying “yeah, the Bruins won but team X was missing Player Y and Player Z.” I understand injuries play a role, but you can’t make two different arguments because they don’t fit your narrative.
And when you’re the top dog, everyone raises their efforts just a little bit (or a lot) because they want to compete with the best. And they’ve done that against the Bruins these past 18 games yet the team still finds a way to win.
The Bruins did however do a tad bit better that the 12-6 I asked about. They went 12-2-4 in their last 18 games – 4 points better than everyone was telling me they’d be happy with. With an overall record of 28-4-4, they have a comfortable lead at which ever standings you are looking at – division, conference or league.
To put into perspective just how comfortably set they are, the Bruins have 46 games remaining and their magic number to clinch a playoff birth is 42 – any combination of Bruins wins and Red Wings losses totaling 42. We know the Red Wings are not going 46-0 the rest of the way so let’s put that into more perspective: If the Red Wings finished the remainder of the season with the same .833 winning percentage the Bruins have to this point, they would finish with 116 points. That means the Bruins only need 56 of the possible 84 points available to them the remainder of the way or .667 points percentage to clinch a playoff spot.
What is obvious now is that the Bruins are getting the respect they deserve for the most part following these last 18 games. Has it been perfect? No, it really hasn’t. As much as they’ve left a few points on the table they shouldn’t have, they’ve also stolen some points they had no business taking.
There’s no predictions for the next 18 games, only that the team is at the point where, improving on areas that need some work is what should be at the top of the list both on and off the ice. On the ice, they need to work on better starts, reducing the amount of odd man rushes against, playing a complete 60-minute game and reducing the number of needless penalties they are taking. Off the ice they need to make a cap move that puts them in position to add “the missing piece” at trade deadline for a serious cup run.