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Looking back, all of those preseason predictions for the Bruins were as bad as this team is good

Brad Marchand returned to the lineup early following offseason surgery and scored twice while adding an assist against the Red Wings in his first game.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The NHL-best Bruins won’t officially close out the first half of their schedule until the Seattle Kraken visit TD Garden for Game 41 on Jan. 12, and they return from a three-day holiday break for Tuesday night’s Game 34, against the Senators in Ottawa.

Jim Montgomery’s red-hot Black and Gold, atop the league’s overall standings with 56 points, on Thursday night reached the midpoint of their home schedule with a 3-2 comeback trimming of the Winnipeg Jets.

The Bruins stand an astounding 18-0-2 (.950) on Causeway Street ice and 27-4-2 overall, the best start in the franchise’s near century in the skate-and-shoot business.


Fair to say most, if not all, of us got it wrong with our preseason prognostications. The guess here was that the Bruins and Capitals again would be in the Eastern Conference wild-card shuffle, right where they were last season when the Bruins nabbed the No. 7 spot with 107 points and Washington slotted in at No. 8 with 100. Some predicted they’d be entirely out of the playoff mix.

The Capitals have tracked as expected, right there in the No. 7 seeding spot when pre-holiday play came to an end Friday night.

The Bruins, meanwhile, have dominated since puck drop in October, starting with their 5-2 win in Washington paced by five scorers on opening night. That breadth of scoring, along with an impressive up-tempo pace of offensive attack, have been the club’s trademark for the first two-plus months of play.

Here amid their torrid and historic start, we revisit five of the lead storylines from the pre-season and how the Bruins thus far have ripped the script to bits:

1. Offseason surgeries and delayed starts for Brad Marchand (hips), Charlie McAvoy (shoulder), and Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder) will lead to a slow start, possibly burying the Bruins in a playoff DNQ pile by the Thanksgiving break.


Way wrong. Embarrassingly wrong for some of us.

The Bruins were 17-3-0 when they sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, including an unblemished 11-0-0 on home ice. They didn’t drop a point at TD Garden until a 4-3 shootout loss to Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 5.

So, uh, what happened?

Perhaps most important, all three of the surgically repaired were back in the lineup well ahead of initial projections. Grzelcyk returned first, after missing only four games, followed by Marchand (7) and McAvoy (13).

Matt Grzelcyk was the first of the three key injured players to make his season debut when he was in the lineup Oct. 20 against the Ducks.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Marchand made the most emphatic reintroduction of the three, rolling up a 2-1–3 line on Oct. 27 vs. the Red Wings. His return was a month ahead of schedule and McAvoy (a goal in his debut on Nov. 10) roughly the same.

Clearly, the front office built a healthy cushion into the rehab timeframe that was issued over the summer. But that’s standard operating procedure these days, industry wide, taking pressure off the franchise, player, and coaching staff.

More significantly, all three committed to doing the work and each one delivered an emotional jolt to the lineup over the three-week window that they returned. That was especially the case with Marchand, one of the game’s premier left wingers, and McAvoy, now in season No. 6 and growing into his franchise defenseman boots.

2. The ages of their No. 1-2 centers, Patrice Bergeron (37) and David Krejci (36) will be evident from the start, continuing to hold back an offense that couldn’t find its mojo, if it had it to find, in the 2022 playoffs.


Well, mojo found, and Bergeron (27 points) and Krejci (26 points) have been mojo masters.

Even in their advanced thirtysomethings, they’ve proven productive, efficient, and stable forces in what has been the league’s top-rated offense (based on total goals and goal differential). True, they’re far from the fleetest two pivots in an increasingly go-kart NHL, but they still deliver with requisite pace and their off-the-charts vulcanized IQ.

Now, with 33 games ticked off the schedule, the question remains how each holds up over the remaining 49 and possibly four rounds of playoffs. The grind should wear on old bones, but really, hasn’t that narrative worn older than Jake DeBrusk’s trade request?

Montgomery has been liberal with days off, allowing vital rest across the roster, and both Bergeron and Krejci have his trust to take whatever maintenance days they desire.

At this rate, the Bruins could be guaranteed a playoff spot with, say, 12-15 games to go, which also would allow the two elder centers some valuable R&R ahead of the grueling Cup chase.

3. Lack of scoring will be a big bugaboo, potentially the club’s fatal flaw.

Honestly, folks, who comes up with this craziness?

Well, before filling up the dunk tank, remember the offense last season produced 253 goals, good for 15th in the Original 32. The Bruins ended up with a +35 goal differential ( No. 10 overall), and then came up a hair short in the goal-for-goal department against a younger, more vibrant Carolina Hurricanes offense in the playoffs. The trend line was not promising.


Now everyone is scoring, including defenseman Brandon Carlo, who last Monday potted his first goal of the season, making him the last of the lineup regulars to get on the board.

David Pastrnak leads the way in both goals (24) and assists (23) through 33 games, and he made the highlight reels with a shootout winner against the Islanders.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Big things were expected of David Pastrnak, and he’s delivered even beyond expectations (contract years have a way of doing that). He leads the club in scoring (24-23–47) and is on pace for career bests in goals (60) and points (117).

Pastrnak also is on pace for a contract extension for $11 million a year or better, but talks have been, shall we say, slower than a gas-powered ‘64 Zamboni.

Beyond the overall breadth and scope of goal scoring (seven forwards already tracking for 20-plus) there have been some significant surprises, first and foremost Taylor Hall, thus far producing his best numbers since his 2017-18 MVP season with the New Jersey Devils. Also, Charlie Coyle, often Hall’s pivot on the No. 3 line, is delivering his best game since arriving in February 2019 and could pot 20 for the first time as a Bruin.

The back end, where Hampus Lindholm put up points at a career-best rate during McAvoy’s absence, has yet to engage as much as Montgomery would hope. McAvoy extended his goal drought to 13 games in Friday’s win at New Jersey. The entire pack of blue liners has combined for only 14 goals. It will be a point of emphasis — perhaps the point of emphasis — in the second half. The Bruins hit the break ranked No. 1 in goal scoring (128) and holding the league’s best goal differential (+56). If their scoring pace holds, the Bruins will finish 68 goals ahead of last season.


4. Jeremy Swayman will emerge as the No. 1 goalie, supplying a vital foothold, especially early on with key players recovering from surgery.

To which Linus Ullmark all but said, “Here, hold my mug of Norrlands Guld.”

Ullmark, 29, has emerged as the league’s top stopper and by far the front nine’s leading Vezina Trophy candidate. He had a very choppy first half in 2021-22, after arriving as an unrestricted free agent, and a solid second half, but not the kind of performance that foreshadowed the Hasek-like numbers he has pinned up this season.

Highly doubtful that Montgomery would feed him such a heavy workload, but Ullmark, an astounding 19-1-1, has a shot to be the only Bruins goalie other than Pete Peeters (1982-83) to record 40 wins.

Jeremy Swayman (left) has been good in net, but Linus Ullmark is 19-1-1 and the frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Swayman last season went 23-14-3 to Ullmark’s 26-10-2. Both had hot and cold streaks. Perhaps the 24-year-old Swayman, some of us thought in September, could grab the job and run with it.

Instead, Ullmark raced off with the No. 1 job and Swayman now fills in as needed.

5. Montgomery, with very limited NHL head coaching experience, is inheriting a 107-point team on the verge of makeover. His second kick at the can could be brief, perhaps his last.

The former stellar University of Maine forward instead has delivered numbers like no coach in Bruins history. It’s almost impossible to think he/they could keep it up for a full season and into the playoffs, but barring injury … at some point you just have to believe in the Monty Method.

Montgomery, 53, was 31 games into his second year as Stars coach when his battle with the bottle led to his abrupt dismissal from behind the Dallas bench. “A coaching genius,” another NHL team executive mused shortly after general manager Don Sweeney decided to give Montgomery a second chance.

Montgomery’s approach is not novel across the league: a speed game with everyone looking/thinking/expected to score, backed by a reliable defense, albeit one that was established long before his arrival.

Montgomery, never openly critical of his players, has loosened up the attack and loosened up the room by showing significant tolerance the few times bold scoring chances have blown up.

He’ll live with mistakes, perhaps a life lesson he learned in Dallas.

No matter how things ultimately play out here, he’s turned his second chance into a permanent work permit.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com.