Bruins on Boylston: Revisiting preseason queries and posing three current questions

The+Boston+Bruins+face+off+against+the+Tampa+Bay+Lightning+at+TD+Garden.+

Photo: Leo Kagan

The Boston Bruins face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.

By Leo Kagan, Sports Editor

Plenty of NHL teams faced questions entering the 2022-23 season. Would the Colorado Avalanche play their way to a second consecutive Stanley Cup? Would the Calgary Flames play at the same high level after a whirlwind offseason? Was it possible for the Arizona Coyotes to play any worse than they did last year?

One team, however, seemed more question-laden than the rest: the Boston Bruins. 

After losing in the first round of the playoffs, the B’s fired their head coach, swapped their second-line center for a relatively unproven Pavel Zacha, re-signed center David Krejci from the Czech Extraliga, and announced defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and left wing Brad Marchand would all miss the first six-to-eight weeks of the season recovering from surgeries. 

Despite all the mystery around the Bruins, whether or not they’d be able to return to form proved an easy question to answer after the team jumped out to a sizzling 21-3-1 start. Other questions, however, were more challenging (or remain in need of further investigation). 

In honor of the B’s recently sailing past the 25% mark on the season, I’ll return to the five questions I posed about the B’s before the start of the preseason and update my answers to the best of my ability. I’ll also pose three more current queries to bring us up to speed. 

  1. How will the Bruins fare starting the year without three key players?

This one’s an easy answer: very well. 

McAvoy was the last of the three injured players to return from offseason surgery, hitting the ice for the first time against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 10. At that point, the Bruins were 11-2-0. 

With McAvoy and Grzelcyk out to start the season, defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Connor Clifton stepped up to fill their shoes, and did so admirably. Lindholm played like a true no. 1 defender, eating big minutes in all situations and scoring at a high rate. Offensively, the Bruins’ depth provided support in Marchand’s absence, and the team hummed to the tune of a 4.15 goals per game average. 

The result was a strong start to the season that only improved when the team’s stars returned; since McAvoy rejoined the roster, the Bruins have gone 10-1-1. The team prefers their stars stay healthy, but if any one of them misses more time, the B’s will survive. 

  1. Will the returning David Krejci be as impactful as the last time he wore a Bruins jersey?

Krejci has played better, if anything. With 20 points in 22 games, Krejci is on pace to score 71 over a full season, approaching his career high of 73. His 8 goals puts him on pace to score 30, which would shatter his career-high 23. 

According to hockeyreference.com, with Krejci on the ice, the Bruins have controlled 60.5% of chances, and the Czech center has produced 3.2 points per 60 minutes—the highest mark of his career. 

Krejci spent a full year in Extraliga, a tough Czech league, but it looks like he never spent a day away from the best league in the world: the NHL. 

  1. Can any of the Bruins’ young players take big steps forward this year?

This one is a little tougher to answer. For the most part, however, no. 

Center Jack Studnicka was supposed to finally seize a full-time position in the lineup. However, after a middling preseason and a poor showing in his only regular season games, he was shipped to Vancouver in exchange for a minor league goaltender and a defensive prospect. 

Center Marc McLaughlin was sent down to develop in Providence, where he’s posted an underwhelming 7 points through 22 games. Right wing Fabian Lysll, the Bruins’ best prospect, has 14 points in 17 AHL games, but is probably too young to break through to the NHL. 

The Bruins don’t have many young players to work with, but Studnicka’s failure to crack the B’s lineup is disappointing. The youngsters will need more time to determine whether they can become regular NHL contributors. 

  1. Will Pavel Zacha be more productive than he was in New Jersey?

The short answer so far is yes. 

Zacha’s posted 16 points in 25 games as a Bruin, putting him on pace for 52 over a full season—which would smash through his career-best 36. Moreover, he’s narrowly outscored Erik Haula, for whom he was swapped in a one-for-one deal over the summer, tallying four more points than Haula’s 12 for the New Jersey Devils. 

Zacha’s benefited from riding shotgun on a line with Krejci and Bruins leading scorer David Pastrnak, but production is production, and right now Zacha’s supplying plenty of it. 

  1. How will new head coach Jim Montgomery impact the squad?

Montgomery may not have jumpstarted any of the Bruins’ struggling youngsters like I predicted, but players speak favorably of their new coach’s more positive presence, and the team’s sterling record speaks for itself. 

On the ice, it’s evident players feel free to make creative choices, and aren’t afraid to occasionally sacrifice defensive coverage for a golden scoring opportunity. Montgomery’s more fluid, goalscoring-focused style has unleashed the B’s offensively. 

Bonus questions!

  1. How many more records can the Bruins break this season?

The Bruins already broke the record for most consecutive wins at home to start the season, ripping off 14 in a row. Can they break any more? 

The record for most goals by an NHL team in a season in the salary cap era is 337, a feat achieved last season by the Florida Panthers. The Bruins have collected 99 goals so far, putting them on pace for 324 over a full 82-game stretch. It’s not quite 337, but it’s close enough to put the record on fans’ radars. 

The Bruins are also on track to break the NHL’s wins record in a season. With 21 wins in 25 games, they’re on pace for 68, a full six wins better than the record set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1996 and then matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019. 

To break the record, the B’s must maintain their torrid pace for another five months. It’s unlikely to happen, but still possible. Not everybody believed the Red Wings or Lightning could break the record, either. 

  1. Will any Bruins win a major award at season’s end?

The Bruins have not been absent at the NHL’s award ceremonies the last several years, but there’s a real chance of multiple players receiving top honors at this season’s end. 

Center Patrice Bergeron is a five-time Selke Trophy winner as the league’s best defensive forward, winning the trophy as recently as last season. This year, he looks in line to win it again, providing excellent value on both sides of the puck—when Bergeron is on the ice, the Bruins have outscored opponents 44-to-12. 

Pastrnak, who split the Maurice Richard Trophy with Alex Ovechkin as the league’s leading goalscorer in 2019, currently trails league leader Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers by just six goals. Pastrnak is also sixth in the league in points, though he’s not likely to catch up to McDavid, who’s 13 points ahead of him. 

Linus Ullmark leads all NHL goaltenders in wins (15), goals against average (1.82), and save percentage (.939). He also ranks fifth league-wide in goals saved above expected (11.8). If he keeps it up, he’s a lock for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie. 

  1. Can the Bruins win a Stanley Cup?

If you’d asked at the beginning of the season, I would have said no. The Bruins barely changed rosters and swapped out a veteran coach who recently brought the team to the Stanley Cup Finals for one with just a few years of NHL coaching experience. 

Yet the Bruins are the best team in the league. Whether they can hold this position for the next six months is another question. To win a Cup, a lot needs to go right—star players must perform at their peaks, depth players must contribute regularly, injuries must be few and far between. 

If it all does go right, the Bruins have a chance.