With a 27-7-2 home record entering Monday’s action, the Boston Bruins have little left to prove at TD Garden.
With 10 of their final 14 games on the road, they have a bevy of to-do tasks and potential gains ahead of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
This week will mark their first of three multigame journeys in the final month of the regular season. They dart down to New Jersey for a Tuesday tilt before venturing west for a Friday-Saturday swing through Colorado and Phoenix.
Next week features more of a breather with the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks each coming to the Garden. The subsequent weekend will commence a slew of four games in four opposing cities within six nights.
If one factors out the footrace with Pittsburgh for the highest seed in the Eastern Conference, these trips carry priorities beyond winning. The Bruins would need to pull a 2011 Red Sox to squander home ice for at least the first two rounds.
As the adage goes, there will be plenty of time for that later. Until then, this team can take advantage of the travel and bring its final configuration together on the fly.
Road trips trump homestands when it comes to jelling modified sports teams. With defenseman Andrej Meszaros still acclimating after his March 5 import, that is the opportunity these next three weeks represent for this club.
Recall the 2011 trades Boston made, the timing of those deals and the short-term and long-term results. When the Bruins acquired Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley late one February week, they were just starting a six-game excursion.
Granted, the current installment of the Bruins has already fostered a momentous tear. They put an eight-game winning streak on the line against Minnesota on Monday. Three of those wins have come with Meszaros in action, including two on the road.
That notwithstanding, more tests and team bonding are recommended.
Virtually every team hosting Boston between now and April 13 is in limbo as a playoff contender or, in Colorado’s case, hungry for a higher seed. If all goes according to the Bruins’ plans, those scenarios will simulate prospective Game 4s and/or 6s early in the tournament, when the host team is desperate to salvage its season.
The more the newcomer Meszaros and several professionally unripe defensemen can practice confronting that, the better.
Furthermore, there remains a chance that the long-injured Adam McQuaid could be back in action for the four-game journey through Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit and Toronto. The last major development in McQuaid’s road to recovery was the team’s decision to shut him down for what they announced as two to three weeks.
That news surfaced concomitant with the trade deadline on March 5. Assuming that itinerary holds up, McQuaid’s latest possible date to restore normalcy is March 26, the eve of the home tilt with the Blackhawks.
Translation: March 29 to April 3 projects to be the right time to jell the blue-line brigade’s best-case arrangement. That is, to get the four veterans―Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Meszaros and McQuaid―accustomed to working with any given pair of youngsters.
By the middle of the second week of April, there will likely be less to decide as the postseason picture takes shape. In addition, there is less urgency to set any sort of pre-playoff tone with the Wild and Winnipeg Jets, who will host the Bruins on April 8 and 10, respectively.
But that trip, too, bears an opportunity worth pouncing on, particularly if McQuaid is back to dependability.
Boston’s brass should consider leaving Chara at home for that two-city, two-country, three-night voyage through another time zone. They may want to do the same for goaltender Tuukka Rask, just as they did when they traveled to Buffalo in the wake of the Olympics.
While the result of that Feb. 26 game was subpar, a 5-4 overtime falter, these Bruins have proved on other occasions that they are bigger than one or two key cogs. The jutting example was a Chad Johnson-backstopped 3-2 win over Los Angeles on Jan. 20, the day after McQuaid suffered his injury.
Chara and Rask will inevitably be the paramount playoff minute-munchers in Boston’s bonus campaign. They were throughout the four-round trek last spring, and they piled an overseas Olympic odyssey on top of that last month.
The third and final multigame road trip between now and the postseason should be a time to prepare for the near future and groom specimens of the distant future.
That means giving all four youthful blueliners an audition for playoff action and rising goaltender Niklas Svedberg at least one more glimpse of meaningful NHL labor. That and the experience of a regular-season road trip, which he figures to experience on a full-time basis next season if the Bruins do not re-sign Johnson.
Before that, though, the rest of March should revolve around molding Meszaros into the system and the emotional equation. The March-to-April transition should have Boston’s playoff depth chart on its last developmental lap and fervently tackling pseudo-playoff competition.
Up front, both trips should yield an enhanced conviction in every forward line, whose rotating reliability has helped to pedal the recent winning cycle.
The best venues for both of those chores are uncharted venues, especially in a successive string.
Provided they manage the outpouring of sweat from their most valuable and vulnerable players, the Bruins can concoct crucial chemistry on these voyages. Without that, they will risk squandering the advantage when they return to playing the majority of their schedule at home in mid-April.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com and are through games of Sunday, March 16
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