The Bruins, at this point in the season, seem to have all the necessary elements.
They have talent. Their offense is powered by two of the league’s top four scorers, their top-ranked power play is a game-changer, and their defensive corps can skate and move the puck. The Bruins have allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, while scoring the second-most.
They have depth. Not only have they survived without Patrice Bergeron, they have rattled off an eight-game win streak — their first in seven seasons — with their No. 1 center sitting out for all but two of those games.
They have the commitment, conditioning, and competitiveness to overcome most circumstances.
“They’re comfortable in a 0-0 game, comfortable in tie games, comfortable having to kill a third-period penalty,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That tells me we’re confident. I think a lot of teams, honestly, they’re not confident in those situations. We’ve won a lot of those games.”
Indeed, the Bruins have the best record in the league in several disadvantageous situations: 7-1-2 when they trail first in a game, 5-1-1 when tied after the second period, and 4-2-2 when trailing after two periods.
One of the secrets to their power stands between the pipes.
Let’s pause for a moment and ask this question: In this era where teams are more often using goalies in tandem, who has a better set than the Bruins?
It’s time to appreciate Boston’s goaltending, since consistently excellent play from Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak is one of the major reasons they were atop the league (20-3-5) as of Wednesday, leaving just three of their 28 games without a point in the standings.
“It makes it a lot easier, definitely, every night when you know regardless of who’s in net, you’re going to have an opportunity to win,” Brad Marchand said. “But that’s part of why we’re a good team. We have a ton of depth in the room, at forward, on defense and in nets. It gives them a lot of rest as well, which I’m sure they enjoy. They kind of switch games back and forth. It’ll definitely help us down the stretch.”
In this eight-game winning streak, the Bruins’ skaters have relied on Rask (five wins) and Halak (three) to keep them in it while they find their offensive game. Third-period wins are in style lately, as evidenced against Ottawa, Montreal, and Carolina. No team has scored more in the third period (39 goals), and only two teams have allowed fewer (20).
If not for their goalies, the Bruins’ defensemen wouldn’t be as bold with the puck around their net, and the forwards might wait a beat or two before leaving the zone. They wouldn’t be able to take as many chances if they thought every breakaway was liable to wind up on the board.
“It’s amazing to have, especially as a defenseman. They can save your tail,” Brandon Carlo said. “The confidence they have exerts its way outward. It starts with them in the net, and works its way throughout the group.”
Among goalies with 500 or more minutes, Halak ranks second in all-situations save percentage (.934) and Rask is third (.933). Using goals saved above average, which takes into consideration shot distance, Rask is third, and Halak is seventh. Save percentage on high-danger shots (i.e., from the slot)? Rask leads the league. Halak is 12th. High-danger goals saved above average: Rask is second, Halak is 15th.
No team has more shutouts than the Bruins, with four. Each of their goalies has two.
The Bruins are getting what they paid for. General manager Don Sweeney has earmarked $9.75 million of cap space on his goalies, the most expensive goalie duo in club history. Only Montreal ($11.38 million), Chicago ($11m), and Florida ($10.85m) have more of their cap committed to the position. Big money goalies do not always provide returns on investment.
The Blackhawks, in town on Thursday, have their funds split nearly equally between veterans Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. The latter has delivered more (.929 save percentage; Crawford is at .909). Montreal’s Carey Price, making a goalie-record $15 million in salary, has a .899 save percentage. Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, owed $11.5 million this year, is even worse (.884). The league average is .909.
Rask is locked up for another year, at a $7 million cap hit. If Halak keeps playing this well, he will be in demand next summer. No free agent-to-be has better numbers than Halak, who is earning $2.25 million in salary. His former Islanders teammate, 33-year-old Thomas Greiss, has comparable stats (2.18, .931) but makes more in salary ($3.75 million). The Bruins have a decision to make: Give Halak another year or two, go outside the organization for perhaps a younger option, or bet that one of their prospects is ready to take the backup reins behind Rask. The best bet right now: Providence’s Max Lagace, 26, leads the AHL in shutouts (4), is second in wins (10-2-2), and is seventh in save percentage (.922).
Entering the season, goaltender depth was one of the franchise’s more worrisome areas. Good signs there, too.