The third month of the season for the Boston Bruins is officially in the books. Through three months, the Bruins seem to be getting stronger and stronger on the defensive end, which was a major weakness for this team early on. The Bruins December record was 7-4-3, gaining another 17 points, giving the Bruins 44 points for the season. The B’s are currently in third place in the Atlantic Division, trailing only the surprising first place Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens.
To this point, the Atlantic Division is just a cluster of teams looking to sort each other out. The Bruins have been in a mix of six teams separated by just six points. In terms of the conference, Boston is currently fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The month of December saw the Bruins continue their dominance from late November. From November 19th to December 20th, the Bruins went 11-1-3, tallying 25 points. The Bruins ended November on a five game winning streak.
The month of December started off with a three game road trip out west against the young but improving Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. The Bruins dropped the first two games in an overtime or shootout, but bounced back against the Canucks with Tuukka Rask posting a 4-0 shutout, his third of the year.
Following a loss to the Nashville Predators, there was a crucial matchup between the B’s and the Canadiens, with the Bruins coming out on top over the Habs.
A week later, the Bruins had a home and home series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which the Bruins dominated. In the first game, Tuukka Rask posted another shutout while Jimmy Hayes chipped in a goal and an assist. In the second meeting, in Pittsburgh, Massachusetts native and UMass alumni Frank Vatrano recorded his first NHL hat-trick. Patrice Bergeron added two goals and Ryan Spooner had four assists in the 6-2 win. Following a 2-1 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils, the Bruins went on a three game losing streak, their first three game losing streak since early November.
During the losing streak, the Bruins were first blanked by the St. Louis Blues 2-0. Then, they blew a 3-1 lead and lost to the Buffalo Sabres 6-3. In that loss, Chelmsford, Mass native Jack Eichel had two goals and two assists in his return to Massachusetts, following a stellar freshman year at Boston University. The Bruins then fell to the Ottawa Senators in another hard fought matchup. The B’s bounced back to get their revenge against Ottawa winning in a 7-3 thriller. In that game, Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes recorded his first NHL hat trick, scoring his final goal with just .2 left in the third period. Matt Beleskey and Patrice Bergeron each chipped in two goals. During this game, forward Brad Marchand hit Senators player Mark Borowiecki low, and was given a three game suspension following the win. The game was out of hand 6-3 with around one minute left when a brawl broke out between the two rivals. And with those final punches, the month of December was over for the Boston Bruins.
The month of December was hands down the best month defensive month for Boston. The penalty killers came to December in ranked 27th in the NHL, being successful just 75% of the time. In the 14 games in December, the penalty killers decided to go a casual 70/73, operating at 95%. Now, they kill 81% of penalties, which is good for ninth in the league. The turnaround in the penalty has been the major key (shoutout DJ Khaled) in the Bruins success in the month of December. Getting Dennis Seidenberg back has proved to be a huge addition to the defense, which now allows just 2.7 goals per game, not great, but getting there.
The power play continues to be the best in the league, which it has been all season long. The power play has a 29.4% success rate but has shown signs of slowing down recently. During the month of December, the power play went 8/34, just 23%. The Bruins scored half of their power play goals for the month against win over the Ottawa Senators, going 4/7. Heading into the new year, the Bruins could continue to see the power play fall due to the loss of David Krejci, who was placed on injured reserve a couple of days ago. Krejci leads the Bruins in assists with 22.
Going into 2016, the duo of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand has proved to be elite. Bergeron leads the Bruins in points, with 35 (14 g, 21 a). Marchand leads the team in goals with 15. They’ve been line mates for a couple of years now, and this year they are really reaping the benefits.
The play of Tuukka Rask in net has also been incredible. He’s gotten his goals allowed per game all the way down to 2.41 per game, after ending November with a 2.94 GAA. His save percentage is also up to 91% and has added four shutouts.
Looking ahead into January, the Bruins lead off the new year with a highly anticipated Winter Classic matchup against the Montreal Canadiens in Gillette Stadium. The Bruins then play the Washington Capitals, who lead the league in points with 58. Following that matchup, the B’s have a lengthy five game road trip, all against Eastern Conference foes, which is a great opportunity to move up in the standings. A quick stop at the Garden against the Toronto Maple Leafs is followed by the last matchup of the year against the Canadiens. The Bruins then play four very beatable teams in the Vancouver Canucks, last place Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and end the season against the underperforming Anaheim Ducks. The Bruins, like in December, have a favorable schedule, and in the packed Atlantic division, can overtake the division lead and get some separation from the other teams battling it out for playoff spots.
The Bruins have shown the potential to be one of the best teams in the league. In a crowded Eastern Conference, the Bruins could become a Stanley Cup contender. The team has become more balanced, with the defense and goaltending picking up the slack immensely over the last month and a half. The Bruins have the talent and experience to become an elite team.
Picture via Pinterest
Stats via EPSN