5 Bruins observations following a 4-0 road trip

Bruins

“You’re starting to see us become a heavy, grinding team, which I think is what we’re going to have to be.”

Matthew Poitras #51 of the Boston Bruins fist bumps teammates after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period at the United Center on October 24, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.
Matt Poitras is now up to three goals in his first six games with the Bruins. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Matthew Poitras #51 of the Boston Bruins fist bumps teammates after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period at the United Center on October 24, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.

COMMENTARY

Are the reports of the Bruins’ demise greatly exaggerated?

For all of the fears of Boston’s status as a perennial contender eroding following the departures of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and others, a reworked Bruins roster apparently didn’t receive the memo.

Following Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Blackhawks, the Bruins are now 6-0-0 to open the 2023-24 season — matching the best start in the Original Six franchise’s century-long history (6-0-0 in 1937).

Here are five observations about the state of the Bruins amid an impressive start and a perfect four-game road trip.

Ullmark, Swayman have anchored Boston’s 6-0-0 start 

If the 2023-24 Bruins were going to overcome an offseason that saw 80 goals and 210 points exit via free agency, trade, or retirement, Boston needed its team defense and the 1-2 punch of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman in net to lead the way.

It was a daunting undertaking for Ullmark and Swayman, even after they established themselves as the league’s top tandem between the pipes last season.

So far, they’ve managed to be even better.

The chief determinant in Boston’s flawless record so far in 2023-24 falls on Ullmark and Swayman’s ability to negate volley after volley of Grade-A chances and high-danger shots.

Through six games, the Bruins’ goalies have stopped 166 of the 173 shots that have come their way, good for a .960 save percentage.

Boston’s stout blue-line grouping will play a key role in forging the Bruins’ identity as a D-zone juggernaut. But some early lapses and missed reads have allowed opponents to generate some quality looks at critical junctures of games — with Boston currently 24th in the league in high-danger scoring chances allowed at 5v5 play per 60 minutes (12.06).

But those miscues that usually end with pucks finding twine haven’t burned the Bruins, not with Ullmark and Swayman playing at this level.

According to Natural Stat Trick, Ullmark and Swayman have already posted a combined 9.40 goals saved above average this season. Without them turning aside chance after chance, the Bruins could be staring at a much different record than 6-0-0. 

“Loved the results,” Jim Montgomery said after Tuesday’s win in Chicago. “Love our goaltending. Starting to see our team identity build because I think the L.A. game and this game tonight, you’re starting to see us become a heavy, grinding team, which I think is what we’re going to have to be.”

Both Ullmark and Swayman rank among the league’s best in terms of save percentage and other goalie metrics.

Matt Poitras belongs 

The Bruins still have three more games to determine whether or not Matt Poitras will stick around in the NHL ranks full-time.

He might have already made their decision for him after lighting the lamp three times over the last two games.

“He’s made the most of his opportunity,” Cam Neely told The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont of Poitras’ game. “He’s making a hard decision pretty easy.”

Through six games with Boston, Poitras has already posted four points (including one more goal than phenom and media conduit Connor Bedard), while averaging 14:28 of ice time per game.

Brad Marchand compared him to Mitch Marner before he even logged a regular-season game, but Poitras’ willingness to bring the puck into high-danger areas and put defenses on their heels draws some parallels to a star centerman in Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point.

Among a pool of 654 NHLers this season, Poitras ranks 42nd overall (and first on the Bruins) with 5.86 high-danger scoring chances generated per 60 minutes of 5v5 play.

Seven of Poitras’ 11 shots on goal this season have come in Grade-A ice.

The rookie earned a look with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on Tuesday, but he might be best suited on a line with Jake DeBrusk and Morgan Geekie. The Bruins are outscoring teams, 3-0, in that trio’s 16:43 of 5v5 ice time this season.

A bruising mindset 

During our bold predictions piece tossed out before the start of the 2023-24 season, we predicted that a Bruins team that stocked up on plenty of heft this offseason would lead the NHL in penalty minutes this year. 

Remarkably, the Bruins actually rank just 20th in the league with 66 minutes spent in the sin bin through six games.

But be it Marchand pestering opponents after the whistle, Trent Frederic dropping the gloves with the Kings’ Andreas Englund on Saturday, or the physical deterrent manifesting the form of bruisers like Milan Lucic, Johnny Beecher, and Jakub Lauko — it’s clear that Boston is adhering to a revamped mindset of wearing out any team that’s matched up against them on the ice.

Doling out punishment shift after shift — when coupled with Boston’s lockdown defense — should make life miserable for the opposition.

“I think we started getting more physical, we got emotion into our game,” Montgomery said after Boston’s win over the Kings on Saturday. “Give Freddy a great job with the fight because I think our bench really got going on that. I think we just wore out the back of the net, we held on to pucks. I think we really saw the type of team we believe we can be.”

Good and bad on special teams

Of course, the Bruins can afford to pester teams and make repeated trips to the penalty box if their PK unit can continue to stand tall.

Boston currently ranks second in the NHL with a kill rate of 96.0 percent, negating 24 of 25 opposing power-play opportunities.

The Bruins have only spent 52% of their PK reps in their own zone — a testament to many shorthanded shifts pushed into the opponent’s side of the ice.

The usual suspects on the shorthanded unit in Brandon Carlo and Derek Forbort have been as advertised. But Montgomery has turned to forwards like Charlie Coyle (2:47 shorthanded TOI per game), Pavel Zacha (2:38), Jake DeBrusk (2:19), and Johnny Beecher (2:13) to inject some puck-possession prowess and speed on that PK personnel.

As impressive as Boston’s PK has been, its power play remains a work in progress with a success rate of 13.6 percent (3-for-22). Players on the second power-play unit like Poitras or even Kevin Shattenkirk could earn a promotion if production continues to stagnate.

On the flip side, just 58.2% of Boston’s power-play reps have been in the offensive zone. Far from ideal.

Tougher schedule awaits 

The Bruins deserve plenty of credit for their perfect record through six games, especially given all of the turnover on the roster.

But it should be important to note that the Bruins have posted wins over five teams that posted a combined record of 160-197-53 last season.

Boston will host the cellar-dwelling Ducks again on Thursday night, but the road gets much tougher after that. After that matchup against Anaheim, the Bruins will take on:

10/28 – Detroit Red Wings
10/30 – Florida Panthers
11/2 – Toronto Maple Leafs
11/4 – @ Detroit Red Wings
11/6 – @ Dallas Stars

The Bruins have certainly exceeded expectations out of the gate. But let’s see how this team fares against a few teams that Boston could meet again come the postseason.


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