When Don Sweeney took over as GM in 2015, he set a plan. It was a frustrating couple years, and many fans weren’t happy, but there was a plan.
And the plan in paying off in wonders as 2017 comes to an end.
A 7-2 win over one of the East’s best teams in the Columbus Blue Jackets was a huge statement for this young Bruins team, showing their recent hot streak is more than just a hot streak. It’s for real.
Charlie McAvoy is 19 years old. Seriously. He’s a teenager. He put up a Gordie Howe Hat Trick Monday night against Columbus, tallying a powerplay goal, a fight against fellow rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, and finished it off with an assist on Danton Heinen’s 3rd period marker. He’s averaging 23:16 TOI per game, and has 18 points in 31 games and is more than likely the frontrunner for the Calder Trophy. Just a beast, and again, he’s 19 years old.
But McAvoy’s not the only Bruins rookie standout, and McAvoy was even out scored by two other rookies against Columbus. Danton Heinen, who didn’t even make the team out of camp, has been the Bruins best rookie up front. He’s put up monster possession numbers and has shown his value as a top six forward on this team, though he’s played mostly on the 3rd line with Riley Nash and David Backes. 8 goals and 21 points would have exceeded expectations for Heinen over the whole season, but he’s done that in just 27 games, including a three point night on Monday. He’s now third among rookies in points per game and is on pace for 60 points this season. It’s only a matter of time before the league takes notice, because this kid is a monster. Jake DeBrusk made headlines on opening night after his first NHL goal made long time NHL enforcer and Jake’s father Louie DeBrusk cry, but he’s been much more than an opening night wonder. With three points on Monday including two beautiful assists on McAvoy and Backes goals, DeBrusk is up to 8 goals and 21 points on the season, and has been flying since a mid-November healthy scratch against Toronto. His speed and physicality has given the Bruins a unique dynamic that they haven’t had for a few years, and his numbers are only going to rise as he gets older. DeBrusk was given the first chance to play on David Krejci’s wing in training camp, and the 21 year old has taken that chance and run with it. Anders Bjork, Sean Kuraly, and Matt Grzelcyk have been the other rookies to make a regular impact on this team, as Bruce Cassidy continues to lean on his rookies.
On November 15th, the Bruins lost their 4th game in a row in Anaheim and were without six players due to injury, but the next night, they they beat the Kings. Then they won their next game, and then next one, and have put up a 10-3-1 record since that loss in Anaheim, and have gotten healthy once again in the process, and there’s no reason to think that it’s going to change soon.
14 game is a small sample size, sure. Since Claude Julien was fired and Bruce Cassidy was hired in early February, the Bruins have gone 33-18-6, good for 72 points in 57 games, which over an 82 game season is a 102 point pace, and for 20-25 of those games, they’ve been crushed with injuries. That’s a large enough sample size to be able to say “hmm, this might continue”.
The kids have been great, but it’s the veterans than have really lead this team. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak have continued their reign as best line in the NHL. Pastrnak is currently riding a 12 game point streak, and Marchand a 9 game point streak, while Bergeron is, well, Patrice Bergeron. Being able to match that line up against any top line in league is crucial, and will be even more come playoff time. They crushed Tampa’s top line of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Vlad Namestnikov on November 29th, and have continued to obliterate top lines around the league all season.
For a while amidst the Bruins early season struggles, goaltending was an issue. Tuukka Rask was banged up and playing at a sub .900 sv% when Bruce Cassidy decided to give Anton Khudobin a few games in a row. Khudobin was statistically the best goalie in the NHL through November, when Bruce Cassidy decided to give the reins back to Tuukka Rask. Since then, Rask is 5-1-1 with a .938 sv%, which is 3rd best among starters in that time. Rask’s mediocreness over past few seasons has been well documented, but if the Bruins can get him playing at an elite level once again, they can beat anybody come playoff time.
Finally, the Bruins defense is good again. We’ve talked about McAvoy who is pretty much a number one defenseman at 19 years old. Zdeno Chara has lost a step, but is still a top pairing defenseman. There are few better defenseman that are better at creating offense in the league than Torey Krug. Kevan Miller has been a steady presence, and an uneventful night from Miller is a good night. Brandon Carlo has has his ups and downs, but he’s just 20 and has played over 100 NHL games, and his upside is high. While Adam McQuaid has missed the last 25 games with a broken leg, Matt Grzelcyk has stepped in and done wonders, playing on the powerplay and posting a CF% above 60%. It’s going to be real tough to take Grzelcyk out of the lineup when McQuaid returns, and there are decisions to be made.
Are the Bruins favorites out of the East? No, not even close, but there isn’t a team that I look at and say the Bruins can’t beat in a playoff series. They’re in a very solid playoff position in the Atlantic, and should probably be looking up at second place Toronto rather than down and the tirefire that is the Montreal Canadiens.
This Bruins team is for real, and if your not on now, then you’ll never be.
Get ready, cause we’ve got a fun five (hopefully more) months ahead of us.