January schedule looking favorable for Bruins
The Bruins stand a perfect 3-0-0 in 2019, with nine games left in January and only two of those somewhere other than Causeway Street.
As the schedule goes, it doesn’t get much more cushy, particularly with such short commutes to Toronto (Saturday) and Philadelphia (Jan. 16) as the only roadies. All told, that’s well under 2,000 air miles, except for those like David Pastrnak, who’ll make the trip to San Jose for the Jan. 26 All-Star Game.
“The timing is great also,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s the midway point, and we’re able to spend more time at home . . . It’s going to help the body to rest and whatnot. And then we have the bye week at the end of month [leading to the All-Star Game], so all that put together it’s a month that we have to take care of business, obviously, and be sharp.”
The 2-1 trimming of the Sabres Saturday night, with David Backes driving home the winner early in the second period, left the Bruins standing Sunday morning with the second-best home record (15-5-0) in the NHL. Only the Lightning (17-4-0) have been better on home ice this season.
Charlie McAvoy, who has a foot injury, has an outside shot of playing Thursday vs. the Capitals or Saturday in Toronto. He missed 19 games due to injury last season and Tuesday night will miss his 26th game this season.
In a season and a half, McAvoy will have missed 45 of 125 games, or 36 percent. It could hurt him this summer when it’s time to bargain a new contract.
“I think like everybody, you see what’s there potentially,” said team president Cam Neely. “But you’d like to see a bigger body of work. It’s two years now, unfortunately, some injuries have derailed him. It sucks for him, and it sucks for us. You can see what he is capable of, but I’d like to see more of it. I know he’d like to be out there more, too.
“It’s one of those things, in fairness to him and us, we’d like to see more to know exactly what we do have. You can project to a certain degree, but we have to make sure we are doing right by the organization, too.”
The rise of the shortie
Lamenting his club’s largesse in allowing shorthanded goals (total: 9, a league worst), Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy theorized that shorties have increased league-wide in recent years because clubs are more inclined to dispatch four forwards on their power plays.
More shooters, the theory goes, leaves teams on the attack with fewer able defenders. The big rebound or botched play in the slot can, and often does, lead to breakaways against a single, often flatfooted defender.
“When you have four forwards that are offensive guys that want to crash the net, I think you exert so much time defending and winning the puck battle, it’s hard to get going the other way,” Cassidy said.
It’s inevitable with the four-forward attack, Cassidy said, to have the uptick in shorties.
“Guys want to score when they’re out there,” he said. “They’re not thinking defense. And with only one guy up high [near the blue line], I have to believe a blocked shot, a long rebound, some of those turn into two on ones. That’s just my guess. [Our total] is too high, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I do believe there are more chances.”
A communiqué with the Elias Sports Bureau on Saturday found that there has been a marked increase in shorthanded goals in recent years.
No telling if that is due entirely to the trend among coaches to go with the 1-3-1 (or four-forward) attack, but the numbers have jumped.
In 2014-15, 168 shorties were scored, and over the next two seasons the average number jumped to 187, an increase of 11.3 percent.
Last year, a total 211 shorties were scored, an increase of 25.6 percent over 2014-15, albeit with an increase of overall games from 1,230 to 1,271 to accommodate the expansion Vegas franchise. On an adjusted basis, the increase would be only to 204, or 21.4 percent.
Entering play this weekend, through 635 games, a total 121 shorthanders had been recorded, which would project to a season total 242 — what would be a 14.7 percent jump in just one season and 44 percent in four seasons.
Looked at another way, and perhaps more telling, is that in 2014-15, those 168 shorthanders also represented one SHG for every 44.8 power-play goals scored. Last year, the 211 shorties represented one SHG for every 36.7 power-play strikes.
We’ll end this here before someone wakes up the sabremetrics guys and kills whatever joy is left in the game.
“When Torey [Krug] comes down, and we have a forward up top, that kind of leaves it open for them to attack on us,” said Bergeron, noting that Krug, often the lone defenseman on the Boston power play, sometimes toggles down low, leaving a forward to cover the back line. “I think it’s one thing we have to be better, rectify, but it’s also going back to playing the right way, taking care of the puck, and things will take care of themselves.
“We’re in a cycle right now that we have to stop. That being said, if we bear down, we’ll be fine.”
The Bruins rolled up 41 shots on Linus Ullmark Saturday night, the seventh time this season they’ve reached the 40-shot plateau. Through 42 games, their opponents have reached the plateau four times. The Bruins are 3-4-0 in the seven games they landed 40 or more . . . Cassidy probably will come back Tuesday night with the same second line: Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Backes. Krejci didn’t land a shot, but his two wingers combined for nine, and Backes connected off a two on one for what proved the game-winner . . . The Bruins are 15-8-3 with Bergeron in the lineup. They only slipped to 9-6-1 (.594) during his month-plus on the sidelines with a rib-collarbone injury . . . Now 24-14-4 and with 52 points, the Bruins are tracking again for a third straight 100-point season.