Wednesday, February 20, 2013

First Quarter Report

After 13 games we are now past the quarter point of the season. It would seem like a good time to take stock of how the Bruins have fared so far.

First off, let's look at the standings. There is an unusually large difference in the number of games that have been played, so it is difficult to interpret the standings directly, particularly for the Bruins who have played the fewest number of games. A good way to look at the standings is to project the total number of points at the end of the 48-game season based on the current number of points and the number of games that have been played for each team. Here are those final standing projections for the top teams league wide:

87 Chicago
80 Ahaheim
74 Boston
69 Montreal
66 Pittsburgh
66 New Jersey

So the Bruins are in 1st place in the east, and 3rd place overall. But the really interesting thing about this analysis is what happens when you use these same numbers to predict the results of a normal 82-game season. Chicago ends up with 148 points, Anaheim with 137, and Boston with 126. For comparison, the highest regular season point totals for the last three seasons are: 117, 121, and 116. This is an interesting observation. It appears that a few teams (primarily those listed above) have dominated the play to a large extent. Most teams got off to a slower start, and some, such as Columbus and Washington, have been nothing short of abysmal.

Basically, Bruins fans should be very happy with the standings. In 13 games there have been 9 wins, 2 losses, and 2 overtime losses. They said they needed to get off to a good start and they delivered--with the best 10-game start in franchise history.

So far the most interesting games have been the losses. Both losses came against Buffalo--a team that was still reeling after last season's loss to the Bruins when Milan Lucic bowled over Ryan Miller and nobody stood up for him. This has given the Sabres a thirst to beat the Bruins and in their first meeting the game began with a rare beatdown of Sean Thornton by the 6'6", 270 pound John Scott. This game ended the Bruins season-opening winning streak with a final score of 4-7. It was closer than the score suggests, but the surprisingly poor play of the Bruins defensively was cause to worry. The next time they met the Bruins were triumphant 3-1, seemingly putting to rest the "Buffalo problem." But the Sabres came back to defeat the Bruins in their next meeting, dealing the Bs their only regulation defeats so far. The Bruins will play Buffalo twice more and these have become must watch games. A playoff series against the Sabres would be excellent, but with just 13 points in 17 games they may not make the playoffs.

Both OT losses were in shootouts against the Rangers. Some of the most memorable moments against the Rangers came from watching Rick Nash make everyone else look like minor leaguers in comparison. If the Rangers top line of Nash, Gaboric and Richards were to start meshing they could score a ton of goals. But for Bruins fans the biggest moment came when the Bs came back to tie up the second game, scoring 2 goals in the final 2 minutes. The Rangers went on to win in the shootout, but that comeback told us a lot about the caliber if this Bruins team. They aren't used to losing, and little seems to affect them. They showed they can come from behind if they need to--something very important come playoff time.

Now to speak to the things I said I'd be looking for at the start of the season. Both Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic have been playing like monsters. Marchand in particular reminds me of that "little ball of hate" that we came to love so much two seasons ago (I'll never forget the amusement on the President's face when he read those words at the White House--Timmy should have been there just for that!).

The news on the goaltender interference front is not so rosy. There have been at least three bizarre calls where a player was clearly checked into the goaltender by a defender, leading to penalties. Sure, if a goal is scored under these circumstances, maybe it should be waved off, but to penalize a player for being pushed into the goaltender is ridiculous. Not only that, but it could well put the tenders in peril because it seems their teammates have no qualms about doing it.

The Bruins power play has looked better, and has made the difference in a game or two, but it is still not up to the level of play of the team 5-on-5. They can be better, and I expect them to continue to improve.

Regarding Tuukka Rask, I have no complaints. He's let in a bad one here and there, but he's also made some key saves. Khudobin has been a solid backup. So far so good. Clearly, one person Rask had to win over was Zdeno Chara. In the first game Chara took a penalty when he hauled a guy down from behind rather than let him get a shot off. This happened again a game later. There is no way he'd have done that with Timmy back there. It wasn't until his attempt to stop a shot rather than block the pass resulted in a goal that he seemed to start trusting Tuukka (stopping the pass is in his job description).

Things have been going well enough that the media hasn't felt the need to dump on anybody (so far).

Nathan Horton has been playing at the level he played when the Bruins won the cup. We couldn't ask for more from him.

One of the biggest stories this season has been 19-year old Dougie Hamilton. He's not leading the league in any category, so he's not a superstar yet, but his ability to just slide into the lineup as if he'd been playing in the NHL for 20 years is astounding. This kid is going to be the best defensemen in the NHL some day, mark my words.

As for the new kids, Chris Borque has been solid and his play seems to improve with each game. The play of Lane MacDermid has been acceptable. The veteran Jay Pandolfo only recently signed, but appears to have brought the veteran depth that the Bruins wanted.

All-in all it's been a great start to the season!

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