41 games down, 41 to go.
After Thursday’s 6-4 victory over the West-leading Calgary Flames, the Bruins are exactly halfway through their 2018-19 regular season.
Thursday’s victory was the Bruins third in a row, giving them 50 points at the halfway mark. The win puts the Bruins on pace for 100 points, which would mark the second consecutive season the Bruins hit the triple digit mark in points.
“Well I feel good about it, to be honest with you,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said following the win over Calgary. “I mean right now we’re halfway through the year, and, as you said, game 41 and we’re at 50 points. So, if we replicate the first half we’re at 100 points.”
The first half of the season was a weird one for the Bruins as the rash of injuries was the main story line in the first 41 contests. The Bruins have still yet to play a single game with a fully healthy lineup, having a whopping 150 man-games lost.
As of Friday, the Bruins are still without two of their own: Charlie McAvoy and Joakim Nordstrom.
“We’d like to think we’ll get better, simply because a lot of the guys that were out that are key contributors are now healthy and the only one left is Charlie. Charlie’s progressing well. We talked about that this morning. We hope to see him back on skates early next week. And from there I don’t know what day he’ll be in the lineup, but it won’t be too far along,” added Cassidy.
“So, we’re hoping, now that could change, but Nordy’s [Nordstrom] injury’s a tough one, but it’s a two, three weeks and that’s going to happen to every team.”
The Bruins currently hold the third spot in the Atlantic division, but with a handful of teams breathing down their necks, the Bruins will look to separate themselves a bit in what will a busy three weeks leading up to their mandated bye week.
With eight games in the next 16 days, including six at home, the busy schedule and a relative healthy Bruins squad should tell us a lot about this team. But if their play in the last three games is any indication, and if they stay healthy, the second half should provide the Bruins with more than a 50-point half.
“I’d like to think we can improve in our second half. Hopefully some of the younger guys are a little more comfortable and give us a little more of the offense they gave us last year and go from there,” said Cassidy.
Cassidy admitted he feels pretty good about what his team was able to do through the first 41 games of the season.
“I feel pretty good, but we’re always going to push to get better and strive for that complete 60-minute game,” said Cassidy.
First half injuries aside, there was plenty good and bad during the first half.
Despite Patrice Bergeron missing a chunk of time due to injury, the trio of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak remain one of the game’s best. Pastrnak, Marchand and Bergeron lead the Bruins with 52, 44 and 35 points respectively.
Like his head coach, Marchand is happy with where the team is at, but on the same hand knows they can be better.
“Yeah, I think we have to be happy with where we’re at, but can’t be satisfied. We can definitely be a little bit better here, you know, especially when you look at the standings there’s a number of teams battling for each and every spot every night, and teams are going to flip flop for the rest of the year,” said Marchand. “It’s only going to get harder from here, so we have to make sure we’re ready to battle even harder the rest of the year.”
As for Pastrnak, the 22-year old is on pace for 50 goals with 25 through 41 games. If Pastrnak is able to hit the 50-goal mark, he will be the first Bruin since Cam Neely in the 1993-94 season to do so. Pastrnak enters play Friday fourth in the league with 25 goals, and seventh in points with 52.
Jake DeBrusk continues to grow his game. Early on this season, the Bruins lost DeBrusk for nine games due to injury. Despite some setbacks, and a revolving door of wingers next to he and David Krejci, the second-year forward has 13 goals. Spread that pace out across an 82-game set, and DeBrusk would be on pace for 33 goals.
DeBrusk has been streaky in the first half, as most of his goals have come in bunches. His 13 goals have come in just nine games, with four two-goal games under his belt. Thursday’s win over the Flames was another one of those two-goal games for DeBrusk.
Moving onto the second half, DeBrusk hopes that he and his teammates can continue to build on the foundation set in the first half.
“I think it’s just a matter of building our games and I think that now we’re healthy and got pieces back – big pieces back – and just a matter of finding our games and using them together and I think that you see there’s some games where the chemistry is a little bit off or things aren’t necessarily working, but we have players in here that always step up,” said DeBrusk.
The Bruins have been able to survive their insane amount of injuries because of the play of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, both of whom have been excellent. Halak got off to a great start while Rask was battling things a bit. Rask has stepped up his game since returning from his brief leave of absense
, while Halak has come back down to earth a bit.
The Bruins are fourth in the league, allowing 2.66 goals per game. Halak currently sits seventh in the league with a 2.36 goals-against average and fourth with a .926 save percentage.
The Bruins power play has been both good and bad. Converting on 27.8% of their power plays, the Bruins have the league’s fourth best power play. As good as they’ve been on the power play offensively, defensively, they’ve had their issues.
When Michael Frolik opened the scoring Thursday night with his shorthanded tally, it marked the league-leading ninth shorthanded goal allowed by the Bruins this season. Six of the nine have come since December 1st.
“It gets frustrating, you’re collecting minuses all the time,” said Torey Krug who has been on the ice for seven of the shorthanded goals allowed this season. That’s part of the risk that we have with four forwards and a defenseman. “As the year goes on we’re going to have to start locking it down a little bit because those are big goals in timely situations.”
Krug is not the only Bruin to run into tough luck on the power play, as Ryan Donato has been on the ice for the last four shorthanded goals against and Krejci on the ice for the last five. I can’t fail to mention Pastrnak’s massive blunder that led to Frolik’s shorthanded goal.
Secondary scoring and lack of offensive depth remain as the Bruins biggest issues. Outside of their top two lines, secondary scoring has been scarce as Cassidy has rotated a handful of forwards through his bottom two lines, looking for any sort of life from the group.
It’s clear the Bruins need to make a move, or two. A second line winger and a third line center are by the far the Bruins biggest needs. Filling both or either gap will not only give the Bruins a stronger top-six, but it will allow Cassidy to cement bodies into certain roles in the bottom-six, and hopefully stop the mix and match that has occurred nearly daily.
The Bruins should be in the playoffs for the third straight year, but it’s hard to see them going far, especially with a loaded Tampa Bay Lightning in the way. You also can’t forget the much improved Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
As good as they’ve been to date, I am still worried about the Bruins defense. What they’ve done this season is very similar to what they did in the regular season last year. But once they got to the playoffs, their defensive issues were widely exposed in their series with the Lightning.
I don’t expect Sweeney to address his blue line, especially with bigger needs on the docket, and eight NHL-ready (when healthy) defensemen on board.
The next 41 games are going to be even more interesting than the first 41. And now that the Bruins are as close to full health as they’ve been, I think we will soon find out who the 2018-19 Boston Bruins truly are.