Breathe. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, it is only Dec. 1.
Yes, the Boston Bruins are in first place in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Bruins are ranked within the top three teams in the league in almost every power ranking known to man. Yes, this is the best start on Causeway Street since 1983. And yes, our Boston Bruins are arguably the most interesting team in Boston (a city with a surplus of championship quality sports teams).
Relevant once again, will the Bruins and their fans finally be able to bask in the glory of it all? Not for another 58 games, at least, when the regular season comes to a close. And even then, if this pace continues, there will be little time for basking before round one of the playoffs starts.
So let's take a step back. Forget the 11-1-1 month of November, and look to the 0-0-0 month of December.
With only one divisional matchup on the schedule until three days into 2009, the fate of the Northeast Division is out of coach Claude Julien and Co.'s control. But that does not make the games from here to New Year's Eve any less interesting.
The Numbers Game
Eight of the 13 games this month are against teams that I will classify as "non-threatening" as the B's take on Atlanta (three times), Tampa Bay (twice), Toronto, Florida, and St. Louis. If the season ended today, none of these teams would make the playoffs.
Teams like New Jersey and Carolina are both clinging to seventh place in the East and have the potential to squeak out wins if the Bruins take them lightly.
And of course, Washington and Pittsburgh are always threats.
The Three Keys for the B's
1. Stay Confident, but Not Cocky
After the Bruins tossed aside the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings, Captain Zdeno Chara had this to offer:
"We can beat anybody in this league and we can play against anybody. But obviously we've got to keep going and we've got to push forward. We can't be satisfied with the results we have."
This is absolutely the right attitude to have and the kind of attitude that should be expected.
The Bruins have concrete reasons to feel confident in their ability to win hockey games. They are currently the hottest team in the league and are playing the best hockey Boston has seen since the Reagan administration.
But that is no reason to take your opponent lightly. If the Bruins fall into this fatal form of hibernation, December could be colder than expected for the now red hot B's.
2. Keep It Simple
There is an expression as old and worn out as Harry Sinden that says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Bruins have had success thus far by sticking to Julien's defensive system, all the while not straying from the offensive fore-check.
If Chuck Kobasew, Phil Kessel, and David Krecji can continue their hot streaks, Boston will find itself with more offensive guns than were ever expected.
Beyond the K's on the roster, foundation players Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard must continue their dominance if the Bruins can continue their own.
3. Stay Healthy
The blueline took a hit when Andrew Ference went down. Luckily, Peter Chiarelli had an ace in the hole with Matt Hunwick.
Marco Sturm's presence has been missed, but thankfully not in the form of offensive productivity.
The Manny Fernandez deal of '06 is looking better and better, especially with Tim Thomas listed as questionable with an "illness." Fernandez (who was given the unfortunate nickname of "Iron Man-ny" by the Bruins official website) has been acting as a Thomas impersonator in his last few starts, flashing a .918 save percentage and winning his last six straight.
The only downside to Fernandez's play is that he is still a bit terrifying to watch (shades of the '06-'07 Thomas), with his hot/cold switch constantly in flux. (Remember the four goals in the first period he let up against the Sabres last week? Yeah, so do I.)
Exhale. It is okay to feel confident, even jubilant. After all, the Boston Bruins are the team to beat in the East. And if the Black and Gold stay true to themselves and fixed in their winning ways, Julien's New Year's resolution could just be four words, "more of the same."
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