Around the Atlantic: Despite injuries, the Boston Bruins still look like a playoff team

<strong>Will the Boston Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs again?</strong>

Before the start of the season, I was the guy saying that Boston Bruins could be at the top of the Atlantic Division. They’re a competitive team with a couple of high-end players, a bunch of young players, and some very experienced ones as well. After missing playoffs two times in a row in 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, they’ve managed to become a decent playoff team.

Currently they are sitting in the first wild-card position, trailing only two points behind the Montreal Canadiens with two games in hand. In the last 10 games before the All-Star break, they posted a 6-3-1 record.

Injuries were the main problem for Bruins this season. At some point, players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Torey Krug and now Tuukka Rask and Joakim Nordstrom have been injured.

Surprisingly, losing Tuukka Rask after an awkward collision with Filip Chytil hurt them less than I thought it would. Jaroslav Halak is having a bounce back season with .919 percentage and seems very confident in the net.

Mostly because of steady goaltending, Bruins have one of the lowest amount of goal against in the league, even after losing two of their top defencemen for several games in November and December.

Their top trio of Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak is arguably the best scoring line in the whole league, but David Krejci did a stellar job during Bergeron’s absence. The 32-year-old center played seven games on the first line with Marchand and Pastrnak and had four goals and ten points during that stretch. This season could be one of the most productive seasons for Czech player. Krejci already has 40 points in 49 games and he is currently on pace for 66 or 67 points, which would be the third best season in his career.

David Pastrnak, another Czech forward, has had a brilliant season as well. He is on pace for 45 goals with 27 goals at this moment and no, not every one of his goals were scored against the Leafs.

The Bruins’ depth scoring is probably another problem. The Bergeron line could simply win games for the Bruins, but once their opponent finds a way to disarm them, Boston is in trouble. This is exactly what happened in the playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning last year. Putting the Brayden Point line against the Bergeron line cost the Bruins a win in this matchup.

Boston have two good centers in Bergeron and Krejci, but behind them Bruce Cassidy is trying various combinations. The owner of the longest surname in NHL history, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, has spent several games as a center on the third line. But he probably isn’t ready to be a regular 3rd line center for a team competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, although he is very skilled offensive player.

Another question who is going to play on the right-wing with Krejci. Pastrnak, Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, David Backes and Anders Bjork have all spent some shifts as a Krejci’s right wing this season. Pastrnak is probably best option, but he is more effective on the first line with Marchand and Bergeron. David Backes’ golden years are probably behind him and he’s mostly playing as a 3rd or 4th liner. Now it’s Jake DeBrusk who is playing on the right side of Krejci’s line. Slovak forward Peter Cehlarik has impressed many Bruins fans in his appearances before the All-Star Break.  He scored twice against Flyers and now has three points in three games.

Looking at the advanced statistics, we also notice that their offensive stats are pretty low. They currently have the 19th best PDO in the NHL, which has been driven down by the worst shot percentage in the whole league (fun fact: the Bruins are fourth in save percentage). Boston is also the 5th by team Corsi For, but their low shot percentage makes this advantage almost invisible. Looking for a scoring middle-six winger or a 3rd line center could be their main task at the NHL Trade Deadline, although their resources are pretty limited.

Speaking of prospects, we should mention Urho Vaakanainen and Jake Studnicka, both played at the World Junior Championship. Vaakanainen wona  gold medal with Team Finland and even played couple games with Bruins. Jack Studnicka has been traded from the Oshawa Generals to the Niagara IceDogs right after returning from the WJC and has eleven points in his first seven games with his new team.

The Boston Bruins probably are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year, but they are definitely a tough team to face in the playoffs. Assuming that all their best players are healthy, I’d expect them to finish as the 3rd team in the Atlantic Division. If so, they will likely meet Toronto in the first round for the second year in a row and this is probably not the best news for Leafs, who already lost 3 of 4 meetings to Bruins so far this season.