Top Storylines for the Boston Bruins' Upcoming California Road Trip
After officially crossing the midway point of their 82-game slate this past weekend, the Bruins will devote the next five nights to visiting all three of the league’s California venues. In so doing, they will have a chance to size themselves up against three of their fellow bigwigs.
The Atlantic Division leaders, who have logged 58 points to date, will face each of the top three clubs in the Pacific Division. Of the three, only the Los Angeles Kings have fewer points, but they only have two fewer and have only played one more game.
These matchups will do more than just spawn visions of potential June rematches for at least a few dozen observers. They could also play a role in key February and March events for Bruins players and/or front office personnel.
Click along for more on the four major storylines to follow throughout the black and gold’s Golden State excursion.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com and are through games of Monday, January 6.
The Bruins have bulked up with the help of home-ice advantage through the first half of 2013-14, going 18-4-2 at TD Garden. Now they must answer the challenge of playing 23 of their remaining 40 games in opposing mansions and improve upon an iffy road record of 10-8-0.
What better way to test their present stature in that department than by visiting the only NHL team with an unbeaten home record?
That is what they will do to commence this road trip with Tuesday night’s engagement at Anaheim’s Honda Center, where the Ducks are 17-0-2 so far. Meanwhile, the Kings and Sharks are each among the NHL's 10 best home teams at 14-5-2 and 15-1-3, respectively.
For what it’s worth, of Boston’s first 10 away wins, only four have come against teams currently boasting winning records in their own arenas. Those are Carolina, Nashville, Tampa Bay and Toronto. And out of that group, only the Lightning and Maple Leafs are among the league’s top half in terms of cumulative points cultivated at home.
Blizzard for the Blue Line
It will not take long for a defensive brigade trying to recompense the injury-induced loss of Dennis Seidenberg to confront a towering measuring pole.
In only the second full week since receiving the news that Seidenberg will miss the rest of the season, the Bruins will face two of the five most prolific strike forces through the first half. The Ducks and Sharks are third and fifth, respectively, on the league leaderboard with 3.27 and 3.14 goals per game.
Anaheim has mustered at least three tallies in nine of its past 10 outings and 11 of its past 13. This is in spite of the fact that leading point-getter Ryan Getzlaf, he of 20 goals and 28 assists, did not make a quantifiable contribution in five of the past 10 games.
Likewise, runaway No. 2 producer Corey Perry has been stifled in four of the past 10 games. That might begin to hint at the kind of depth the Ducks are drawing up and how Tuesday will be an especially laborious night for more than just Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, Boston’s top two healthy minute-munching skaters.
Meanwhile, San Jose has charged up at least three regulation goals in six of its past eight games and buried two apiece in the other two, eventually claiming a 3-2 shootout decision in both cases.
These two matchups could go a long way toward general manager Peter Chiarelli’s decision as to how much and what form of reinforcement he may wish to pursue before the trading deadline.
This is subject to change in their remaining games before Thursday’s matchup, but the Bruins and Kings are now in a virtual tie for the NHL’s stingiest defense with 89 goals against apiece. As mentioned, L.A. has one more game on the record, therefore holds the tiebreaker.
What does this mean? If anything, it means that Boston’s team defense will have another top-shelf challenge in between the two Cyclopean offenses elsewhere in the state.
Thursday’s variety will entail little room for error as the Kings will hardly be inclined to let much slip by in their own zone. They may have recently endured a five-game losing streak with a few meltdowns therein, but they are turning back in the right direction after Saturday’s 3-1 win over Vancouver.
Furthermore, the Kings rarely let more than two pucks tune their mesh on their home rink these days. That has happened but once in their past 13 home games dating back to Nov. 7.
Increasing An Impression
As of Monday, Tuukka Rask is one of only five goaltenders to have cracked the 20-win plateau, having stamped 21. Two of his likely opponents, Jonas Hiller of Anaheim and Antti Niemi of San Jose, are sandwiching him in that club with 20 and 22 victories, respectively.
All three are also among the top 25 qualified leaders in terms of goals-against average and save percentage, though Rask is several strides ahead in both categories.
Niemi, in particular, will surely be keen on proving that those latter two stats are not quite indicative of how far apart he and his Finnish countryman are. After all, there is a convincing chance that, by this Tuesday, both netminders will have received word that they will be representing Finland next month in the Olympics.
If both do make it, there will still be a starting job to pursue and only one more opportunity for the candidates in question to directly outduel the other on a shared sheet of ice. That opportunity will be this Saturday, and the sheet will be within the SAP Center at San Jose.
Or even if one should make the cut while the other misses, the latter goalie would figure to harbor fresh motivation in the aftermath of the decisions.
Translation: Saturday’s presumptive Niemi-Rask is going to pack an obligatory helping of intrigue no matter what Finland’s higher-ups decide this week.