Too good to be true, right? The Bruins, atop the NHL standings with their mesmerizing 32-4-4 record, return to work Thursday night against the Kraken on Causeway Street.
No way Jim Montgomery’s merry marauders can keep banking points at an .850 clip. Right?
Maybe it’s time we stop thinking something’s gotta give here. If there is some fatal flaw in the Black-and-Gold chemistry, or something that will render them ordinary in the second half of the 82-game schedule, it has yet to surface. That’s especially true on Garden ice, where the Bruins are 19-0-3 — this is not a typo.
Three months into the strongest 40-game opening in the post-World War II NHL, the Bruins are on pace to finish with 139 points, a full touchdown better than the 132 posted by the powerhouse 1976-77 Canadiens. That figure, chalked up in an 80-game season, remains the NHL goal standard.
Time now for a few comparisons between today’s Bruins and the ‘76-77 iteration of Les Glorieux, who finished with an .825 points percentage. Keep in mind, the Habs that season went 29-5-6 (.800) for 64 points in their opening 40.
Pasta and the Flower
David Pastrnak (32-26—58), who just scored seven of the Bruins’ 16 goals on their California sweep through LA, San Jose, and Anaheim, is on pace to finish with 119 points, substantially below Guy Lafleur’s league-leading total of 136 that season.
However, Pastrnak projects to finish with 66 goals, far better than the 56 potted by Lafleur. Flower’s teammate, Steve Shutt, led the NHL with 60 in ‘76-77.
No one flew down the wing, hair pinned back in the Forum breeze, and fired in long-distance slappers like Flower. But no one hammers one-timers off the dot in the left circle with Pasta’s intimidating force. Lafleur had more flow and grace to his game. Pastrnak has more trickery, with skates and stick.
Lafleur was Mercury. Pastrnak is Zeus. Your faithful puck chronicler will be at the bar for further discussion.
Linus Ullmark and Ken Dryden
Not even the most ardent member of Bruins Nation ever thought we’d be viewing those two through the same lens.
But hold on …
Ullmark tops the league in all three major statistical categories: wins (22), goals-against average (1.87), and save percentage (.938). The same pace would leave the Swedish stopper with 44 wins, the most by any tender in Bruins history, and a touch more than Dryden (41-6-8) in 1976-77.
Dryden turned 30 in August after that season. Ullmark will turn 30 this July. Dryden also won the Vezina, his third of five. Ullmark is tracking toward his first. Ullmark, 6 feet 5 inches and 212 pounds, is about an inch taller and 5 pounds heavier than Dryden.
It can’t be long before we’re comparing Jeremy Swayman to Michel “Bunny” Larocque.
Montreal was led by Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, and Larry Robinson. Sorry, there’s really no blue line-on-blue line comparison to make here, because those three august Habs — each enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame — are among the best in NHL history.
What we can say, however, is that Charlie McAvoy, 25, and Hampus Lindholm, 28, are two backline studs who offer Montgomery lots of options on both sides of the puck. If we are betting on one of them one day making it to the Hall, the smart dough today is on McAvoy, from whom we still wait to see bona fide big-man offensive pop on a consistent basis.
Granted, we are an extremely spoiled bunch after all those years of watching Bobby Orr, Brad Park, and Ray Bourque.
Imagine if we’d ever seen all three on the ice at the same time? Orr was only 30 that January night in ‘79 when his No. 4 went to the Garden rafters. Bourque made his debut only nine months later.
Scotty Bowman led those Habs to the Stanley Cup for his third time, and followed with Nos. 4 and 5 in ‘78 and ‘79. His team erased Don Cherry’s Bruins along the way in each of those three years, including a 4-0 sweep in ‘77.
Montgomery, who grew up in Montreal, was born in 1969 and was just short of his eighth birthday for yet another Habs Cup parade in the spring of ‘77.
Again, no comparing the current Bruins coach with the guy who coached in 13 Cup Finals and won nine of them. Very different personalities, with Bowman far more stoic in his coaching days.
However, there is undeniably some Bowman in Montgomery, especially the latter’s penchant for changing up his line combinations when he feels the need for a spark. He openly acknowledges “learning that from Scotty.”
What sounds so simple — to alter lines in-game when the offense goes flat — so often gets ignored by NHL bench bosses unwilling to stray from their pregame boilerplate.
What we can say for certain at the 40-game mark is that Montgomery is working with less and getting more out of his ‘22-23 Bruins than Bowman had on hand in ‘76-77.
Now he just has to keep it up, and maybe some of the rest of us will stop doubting it.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.