Celebrating the Bruins’ routine, predictable dominance
It didn’t take long for the hockey community to understand something special was brewing in Boston this season. The Bruins started throttling opponents in the opening weeks of October, and haven’t looked back.
We have seen teams exert their dominance for lengthy stretches of the regular season, and in a select few cases, the entirety of the regular season – the latter generally requires a team to get some good fortune as it relates to player health. As we prepare to turn the calendar to April, it dawns on me the Bruins are sitting in the latter category. This is one of the best teams in recent history, assuming their performance holds over the last 13 games of the year.
Just how dominant has Boston been? For starters, there is unequivocally no comparison for them in the statistical modern era, which started in 2007-08.
Consider the NHL’s best team by rate-goal differential year-over-year relative to what we are witnessing from the Bruins this season – even some of the most impressive teams we have watched in recent history are struggling to compare:
In terms of expected goal differentials, the Bruins are near the top of the pecking order, trailing only territorially oppressive teams in Vegas (2020), Florida (2021), and Detroit (2007). By real goals, there is no comparison – the Bruins are nearly a third of a goal per game better than the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning, a distant runner-up.
(As an aside, if you needed more evidence how random the NHL postseason can be, you have to go all the way down to the 2011-12 Chicago Blackhawks to find a team from the above table that won the Stanley Cup.)
Perhaps the most compelling part of Boston’s surge through the standings this year has been just how routine and predictable their dominance has been. David Pastrnak has been a nightly scoring machine, amassing 48 goals and 45 assists. If not for Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, he would be in prime position to win the Rocket Richard Trophy. Veterans Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci continue to produce offensively and suck the life out of games defensively when protecting leads.
The recently acquired Hampus Lindholm has fit like a glove on the Boston blueline, unburdening Charlie McAvoy’s role to a significant degree. And again, the goaltending – as it always seems to be behind Boston’s stifling defence – has been fantastic. Jim Montgomery’s team is first in the league in team save percentage (92.8 per cent), with Linus Ullmark (+31 goals saved above expected) playing on par with New York’s Ilya Sorokin, Nashville’s Juuse Saros, and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck. Enough said.
If you flow out the team’s rate-goal scoring on 10-game intervals over the course of the year, you see how infrequently this team has come under duress. That’s doubly impressive when you consider they are playing in easily the tougher conference this year, and within that conference, the tougher of the two divisions:
And here, I suspect is the scariest part if you are a future Bruins opponent. The depth on this team is sublime, which hasn’t always been the case in past seasons. Of the 19 skaters who have logged at least 300 minutes with the Bruins this year (this would, of course, exclude recent acquisitions like forward Tyler Bertuzzi), zero have been outscored over the course of the season.
That is extraordinary top-to-bottom performance, and quite frankly it is the first and only chapter of required reading when considering Montgomery’s Jack Adams Trophy candidacy. This is a coach who is getting the best out of his top-end players, the best out of his depth players, the best out of his goaltenders, all wrapped up in a wire-to-wire bid for the easiest Presidents’ Trophy win in some time.
Will Boston win the Stanley Cup? I need not point to the endless graveyard of elite regular-season clubs who were pushed aside in the seven-game series format. But Boston is comfortably the odds-on favourite; perhaps even more so with their closest competitor now undermanned.
Give the Bruins their flowers. It’s time!
Data via Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, NHL.com, Hockey Reference