The Reasons for the Bruins' Historic Start, Ranked

Sara CivianDecember 7, 2022

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 5: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his goal with teammate Charlie McAvoy #73 against the Vegas Golden Knights during the second period at the TD Garden on December 5, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

Have you heard the news? The Boston Bruins are pretty good this year.

They went 14-0-0 at TD Garden before Monday's shootout loss to Vegas, setting a new NHL record for the longest home streak to start a season. They persevered through key injuries, goaltender Linus Ullmark is making an early case for Vezina contention, and it looks like new head coach Jim Montgomery is panning out.

At 20-3-1, it's time to take a closer look at what's behind the magic for the No. 1 team in the Atlantic. Plenty of little and big things have come together for Boston, so let's rank some of the most evident in order of significance.

9. Closing Time

Surely we all remember those iconic Semisonic lyrics: "Closing time, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay on the TD Garden ice for the goalie hug."

The Bruins have had some wild comeback efforts and otherwise strong scoring performances in third periods.

Prashanth Iyer @iyer_prashanth

Inspired by a post from <a href="https://twitter.com/mrcaseb?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@mrcaseb</a>, a look at average goal differential over the course of a game for NHL teams this season. <br><br>The Devils take over at the start of the second, the Bruins put teams away in the 3rd, andddd Anaheim gets behind early and stays behind <a href="https://t.co/UNN1OsaBiT">pic.twitter.com/UNN1OsaBiT</a>

Is that a good thing, a bad thing or just a thing?

We'll see.

I'd argue the ability to turn it on and decide to win in the third could be good for confidence come playoffs, but at the same time, you don't want to get too confident and think you can have a horrible first period when the other team is giving it 110 percent.

Their first home loss—a shootout against Vegas on Monday—is the best example you'll get of this. The Bruins went down 0-3 against the other best team in the league, climbed back to tie it up and force overtime and lost in the shootout with their backup goalie.

Maybe the pain of losing to former head coach Bruce Cassidy in that fashion will teach them a lesson, but honestly, they had to lose at home at some point this season, and they still got a point against the best team in the West.

It's hard to find this pattern too troubling—for now.

8. Rising up to Top Teams

I'll hand it to the naysayers; at least they were creative. Instead of going for the typical "Is X team peaking early?" trope when it came to these Bruins, they opted for strength of schedule complaints.

The parity in the NHL is so evident right now that Boston's start would've been impressive regardless of who they played, and, yes, the schedule early on featured teams projected on the weaker side.

But the season was so young, and, in retrospect, some of those projections have already changed. The Bruins beat the Stars, Penguins Red Wings, Lightning (twice), Hurricanes and Avalanche, and most recently came back to take the Golden Knights to a shootout. I'm not writing any of those opponents off.

7. David Krejčí

People have underestimated David Krejčí's impact his entire career, and the reception to his return to the Bruins on a one-year contract this season was no different.

To be fair, Krejčí is 36 and left the NHL to play for HC Olomouc in the Czech Republic last season. But he said that wasn't a matter of slowing down or writing off the NHL forever; he understandably wanted to be closer to home during the uncertainty of a pandemic.

Krejčí's re-signing with the Bruins also flew under the radar amidst the will-he-won't-he saga with captain Patrice Bergeron's contract.

Per usual, the noise had no negative impact on Krejčí's play. He's Boston's fourth-highest scorer with eight goals and 19 points in 21 games. Even more importantly, he's a stabilizing, elder presence on the "Czech mix" line with superstar David Pastrnak and Bruins newcomer Pavel Zacha.

There's been so much fuss about "the perfection line" in recent years (as there should be), but these days in the NHL, depth scoring is just as necessary. Krejčí deserves all of the flowers and respect while he's still an active player, and the way he held down the fort during the Bruins' injury issues at the beginning of the season is a pretty accurate microcosm of his entire career with the franchise.

6. Jim Montgomery and Winning for Each Other

He hasn't been a particularly loud presence in the media, and you get the feeling he wants to let his players—and what they've done on the ice—do the talking. They have praised their first-year coach Jim Montgomery for many things early in his tenure, but they all have the theme of building confidence and freedom. They seem to really love Montgomery, and that matters.

I'd also venture a guess that the Bruins' success at home has at least something to do with the positions Montgomery can put his players in with home-ice advantage. Maybe it's a galaxy-brain take, but perhaps we'll do a deep dive into Boston's systems to figure it out later.

5. Somewhat Unexpected Depth

The health of the Bruins' core was in rough shape heading into the season, with Brad Marchand (hip), Charlie McAvoy (left shoulder), and Matt Grzelcyk (right shoulder) all out with no specific timelines in sight. Many doubted—especially after last season's first-round exit—that the next men up could handle replacing these three in terms of production and minute-eating.

Many were wrong.

The aforementioned Krejčí was obviously huge before Marchand's surprise early-ish return on Oct. 27. So was Jake DeBrusk, who has been the best version of himself since his first-line promotion and has eight goals and 17 points in 23 games this season.

Taylor Hall has had a revival of the clutch factor that once single-handedly dragged the Devils into the playoffs. Pavel Zacha has proved a great acquisition. Heck, even Nick Foligno looks like he's in his prime again.

One skater's ability to step up has been the most important, though…

4. Hampus Lindholm

Lindholm was always great on the Ducks, and please excuse the East Coast bias, but even then, I didn't realize just how much I'd enjoy watching him play defense night in and night out.

He's fit so well into the Bruins' system, and it's one of those things where you wish Charlie McAvoy were fully healthy the whole season. Nonetheless, his absence has given Lindholm an opportunity to shine and created some good problems regarding the defensive pairs.

Even with McAvoy back, Lindholm is leading Bruins skaters in average time on ice, logging 24:18 per game. He's been a key part of Boston's massively effective penalty kill as well as the power play. He's on pace for a career year statistically with four goals, 19 points and a plus-22 in 24 games.

According to naturalstattrick.com, the Bruins have a 68.8 percent of the goal share at 5-on-5 with Lindholm on the ice.

They wouldn't be where they are right now without him as the No. 1 defenseman through a significant stretch.

3. The Return of Patrice Bergeron

Perhaps the return of captain Patrice Bergeron has been most important off the ice. As effective as the perennial Selke contender still is in his first-line center role, I've been thinking a lot about the way he handled the Bruins' signing of Mitchell Miller. As a juvenile, Mitchell racially abused and bullied Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, a Black classmate with developmental disabilities.

The way he spoke out against it paved the way for his teammates to do the same, and Bruins management acknowledged the players' opposition was part of the reason they took back Miller's offer.

This situation could have ended poorly in several ways, but Bergeron instead made sure fans were clear of his and his teammates' stances on the matter and refused to let it hang over the players' heads. This leadership ensured Miller would not become a Bruin, and it ensured the room was on the same page and there would be no lingering internal animosity.

There's no doubt in my mind this could've sent another team with a different captain off the rails. The Bruins have Bergeron.

2. David Pastrňák

When you think of the 2022-23 Boston Bruins, there's a good chance David Pastrňák comes to mind first. Through 24 games played, he's leading the team with 17 goals and 35 points, the latter of which is good for fifth overall in the NHL.

Not to mention, he scores the type of goals and makes the type of plays you dreamed of doing yourself as a kid when you thought you'd make it to the NHL.

According to naturalstattrick.com, Pastrňák has 27 high-danger chances at 5-on-5, which is pretty impressive considering seven of his 17 goals have come during a man-advantage. Interestingly enough, he's also drawn 10 penalties.

Pastrňák has kept the Bruins afloat on the scoresheet while key players were missing. He's simply electric, he's Boston's power play ace and he's doing it all in the face of a contract year.

1. Linus Ullmark

Linus Ullmark has been a consistently above-average goaltender since he entered the NHL in 2015, especially considering he spent most of those years bouncing around a struggling Sabres system.

Even so, I doubt many people had him slated as a 2022-23 Vezina contender, but here we are. The Bruins' 20-3-1 start full of records simply wouldn't have been possible without Ullmark's (14-1-0) elevated performance.

His goals-against average of 1.93 (hello!), save percentage of .936 and 14 wins are all tops in the NHL. According to moneypuck.com, his goals saved above expected is a solid 10.6.

You also think about how badly the Bruins needed a stabilizing figure in net to build confidence at the beginning of a season without key players. Ullmark more than provided that reassurance.

This has to be the best start to a season for a Bruins goaltender since Tim Thomas in 2010-11. No pressure.