The Boston Bruins can draw a virtual knot for first place in the Eastern Conference with a road win over the top dog Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon. In order to pull that off, though, they must present a living, breathing, skating reminder that their offense is the second-most prolific in the NHL behind none other than these Flyers.
Philadelphia boasts the league’s best average with 3.67 goals per game, while Boston is second on that list with a nightly median of 3.3 strikes.
At the other end, the Bruins are tied with the St. Louis Blues for the league’s most tight-fisted defense, allowing precisely two goals per game. The Flyers are more in the middle of that pack, authorizing 2.8 goals each outing.
Nonetheless, the ideal winning formula for this matchup is to be the superior aggressor from the opening draw onward. Boston can wait to test its backline and backstop and first devote its attention and energy to sculpting a multi-goal advantage.
That would not only mean limiting Philadelphia’s possession time, but also pulling the upper echelon of the depth chart into the equation, where it has not been of late.
Indeed, beneath the superficially similar trends of abundant productivity on the contesting benches, there lies a slightly more noticeable diversity on the Flyers’ front.
Even without the services of top gun Claude Giroux in their last two games, the Flyers have mustered 5-1 and 4-3 triumphs in Washington and Montreal. In their last five outings, eight forwards other than Giroux have combined for 17 goals. That would include an aggregate 13 from five of their top six.
Scott Hartnell, usually Giroux’s left-winger, is now the leading producer among healthy Philadelphia skaters and just had a six-game goal-scoring streak snapped on Thursday. Wayne Simmonds, the right winger on a separate line, is still fostering a four-game goal streak and has six points in the last five outings.
In the same five-game span, the Bruins have cultivated 12 strikes from their forwards. Included in that input are a cumulative four goals via Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand.
Conversely, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin have been conspicuously absent from the goal column ever since Seguin pitched in some insurance in Pittsburgh last Monday, then missed the next night’s game for well-documented reasons.
Seguin has since been arid with the exception of one assist against Columbus last Saturday. The same goes for Lucic, who has sandwiched a playmaker hat trick against the Blue Jackets with two pairs of pointless performances. Horton had his goal and Krejci two assists that same night, but have otherwise lagged behind in their contributions.
This Saturday happens to be the Bruins’ first visit to the Keystone State and their first tangle with a higher-ranked team since Seguin’s last goal. No time like the present for him and a few other leaned-on scorers to perk up.
Granted, the supplementary input of Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley and Shawn Thornton has been indispensible. But when it comes to countering Danny Briere, Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Simmonds, Boston will simply need its first- and second-liners to live up to the label.
The last thing the Bruins want is to instill confidence to a middleweight Flyers’ defensive corps by laying out the notion that most of their minute-munching forwards are only there in body.
Instead, they need Bergeron, Krejci and their respective wingers to issue a dare to Briere, Sean Couturier and their linemates. They must simultaneously restore kinetic confidence to the likes of Seguin and penetrate Philadelphia’s comparatively flimsy defense, thereby forcing the Flyers to test the Vezina-caliber Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask in order to recompense a deficit.
Even in that event, the host team will be nearly impossible to frost until the 60-minute horn. Although the Bruins are a pristine 15-0-0 when leading after two periods, Philadelphia has the league’s second-best winning percentage when surrendering the first goal at 6-4-0.
With that being said, a Bruins’ lead of any size could be psychologically easier to safeguard based on when it is attained, in what fashion and who garners the tangible credit. All the more so if the top six and bottom six alike are attacking with fruitful, rightfully earned conviction.
If Boston can get Seguin and the Krejci line back to preferred form, it can more assertively reclaim a share for the top seed in the conference with the halfway mark of the regular season drawing closer.