To date, the Boston Bruins have missed out on only 23 of a possible 80 points in the standings. The Carolina Hurricanes are responsible for withholding four of those lost points, or about 17.4 percent of them.
If all goes according to plan Saturday night, though, the Bruins will issue a frank reminder that the hapless Hurricanes were fortunate to catch them twice in the midst of their post-championship hangover.
This time around, the outlook on the Boston-Carolina card couldn’t be more contrary to what it was in mid-October. One team has steadily reformed while the other has recoiled. In addition, the Canes are now catching the Bruins at a time when they are coming off a less-than-satisfactory winning cause and likely thirsting to dish out a more assertive effort.
Writhing with a 2-4-0 transcript in the wake of a 4-1 falter Oct. 18 at TD Garden, the Bruins have since ascended to second place in the Eastern Conference. The victors from that evening in question, namely the Hurricanes, improved to 3-2-1 on the year, but are now lodged in second-to-last place in the conference.
Boston handled the early-coming nadir of its 2011-12 campaign with rewarding passivity. With no personnel moves beyond Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill rotating between The Show and the farm, the Bruins have formulated both the most prolific strike force and stingiest defense in the NHL.
Carolina has fired head coach Paul Maurice for the second time in their off-and-on partnership, claimed winger Andreas Nodl off waivers and swapped defenseman Tomas Kaberle to Montreal in exchange for Jaroslav Spacek.
Replacing Maurice with Kirk Muller and the addition of Nodl and Spacek has amounted to a 7-10-3 run since Nov. 28. The improvement in that time frame is little more than a modest increase in winning percentage (.400 to .411).
In his 20 games at the helm, Muller has also seen a slight upgrade in offensive output, namely from about 2.4 to 2.9 goals per game. But the Carolina defense has, at best, stayed in limbo between the two coaches, consistently hovering between 3.2 and 3.3 goals-against per night.
As if those facts are not enough to expect Boston to regain some ground in the season series, tack on an expressed wish to better the effort from Thursday night’s 2-1 win over a similarly floundering Montreal franchise.
The Canadiens, who made the aforementioned Kaberle-Spacek swap with Carolina, are also in the midst of a season that has seen them tumble since taking a pair from the Bruins in October. In both cases, the slide has been partially owed to a plague of key injuries, but from an opposing standpoint, that makes excuses all the more scarce.
Like the Hurricanes, the Habs are among the few who after 40-plus games still have yet to break the 40-point plateau. And they have put a stamp on their 2011-12 turbulence with a midseason coaching change.
All things considered, the Bruins’ last outing should have been somewhat closer to, say, last week’s 6-1 lashing of the New Jersey Devils. Instead, it was more along the lines of a traditionally tight-knit Boston-Montreal bout.
By head coach Claude Julien’s own admission, given how they measured up with Montreal, the Bruins had a tad more than their share of turnovers, off-target shots and close shaves at their own end.
They will promptly have a do-over, and thus a chance for a more flavorful victory, when they drop into the RBC Center Saturday night. In some respects, the opportunity will be considerably more radiant against the Hurricanes than it was against the Canadiens.
In contrast to Montreal’s penalty kill, which is the second-most efficient in the NHL, the Hurricanes are three slots removed from the bottom of the league leaderboard with only 77.4 percent success. Carolina likewise ranks No. 27 in the way of five-on-five play, where Boston is regal two years running.
Saturday will be the first of seven games crammed into an 11-day span leading up to the All-Star break. And, on paper anyway, the competition will all but increase in formidability with each game. A troika of Southeast Division road dates will be followed by a visit to the sneaky Devils, then two titanic tangles with the Rangers and Flyers next weekend.
With so little time to retool and refocus, both strategically and psychologically, the Bruins need to commence this road trip by readopting good habits without hesitation. Who better to start that with than a club that serendipitously got the better of them twice at their most troubled point of the season?