It’s hard to believe that only two years ago the Boston Bruins were a sub-.500 hockey club, sitting at the bottom of the Northeast divisional standings. Only one year ago, the Bruins were amidst a losing streak that would last until the last day of 2007.
Today, to say that things have changed would be an understatement.
The Bruins are currently atop of the Eastern Conference, and poised to continue their dominance. The objective of last season was simple: to make Boston a tougher team to play against.
Seven games against the top seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round of last season’s playoffs successfully crossed that goal off of the Bruins’ to-do list.
This season, the bar was set higher.
Boston flew out of the gate strong, surpassing expectations and clawing their way to the top of the standings. Looking forward, the entire hockey world is wondering if the Killer B’s are threatening to make a run at the cup, or if they will fizzle out as the season progresses.
As We Go Up, We Go Down
Unlike the dozens of teams that have hinted towards success before falling short of their potential, this Bruins team’s depth rivals any team in the NHL.
When defenseman Andrew Ference went down with a fractured tibia, an organization that may have gone into “panic mode” in years past could confidently call upon Providence’s Matt Hunwick to fill out the battered blue-line.
And Hunwick is not the only player in the minor’s poised to make a major impact. Vladimir Sobotka, Jeremy Reich, Peter Schaefer, and Tuuka Rask all saw substantial ice time in Boston last season. All three could be called upon if needed.
Worth the wait
Acting as a strong foundation for the Bruins defense is the stellar goaltending combination of Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez—a duo of thirty-somethings that have proven all the cynics wrong on their way to sparking the resurgence on Causeway Street. Not since the days of Lemelin and Moog have Boston’s nets been so bulletproof. As NESN commentator Jack Edwards put it, “there is no backup, just goalie one and goalie 1A”.
Boston’s leading goal scorer, Phil Kessel, is also surprising a few people as he is “finally” meeting the expectations set for him when he started playing in the NHL two years ago.
The pressure that was put on Kessel may not have been fair for the forward, who is just old enough to watch a hockey game in a bar. The 21-year-old is two goals from matching his career high of 20 goals, and on par to break last year’s team-scoring leader (Marco Sturm) 27-goal mark before Martin Luther King Day.
December’s schedule is rather light for the black and gold, and Claude Julien and company hope that the Washington speed bump will be the only setback until the New Year. Key match-ups for December include a trip to New Jersey (where the Bruins hope to open an early Christmas gift) on the 23rd, and the showdown in Pittsburgh on the 30th.
Looking into 2009, Boston has to look to secure their spot in the top of the Eastern Conference. Even though the Bruins have a relatively comfortable lead over Montreal in the division, the B’s must continue to beat their divisional rivals for the remainder of the season. The next time the two teams meet is January 13 at the Garden.
Nearly 30 games into the season, Boston is out to its most promising start since Milan Lucic’s first birthday. The hub of hockey is buzzing as the sky is seemingly the limit for this Bruins team.