The Boston Bruins had an interesting offseason after missing the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. They let go of Peter Chiarelli–who was hired by the Edmonton Oilers–and promoted Don Sweeney from assistant general manager to the top position.
Sweeney wasted no time making moves, trading away Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic in order to acquire draft picks and players such as Colin Miller.
When the dust settled, the Bruins had lost Carl Soderberg, Hamilton, Reilly Smith, and Lucic, while they acquired Jimmy Hayes, Miller, several high draft picks and prospect Sean Kuraly. Matt Irwin would be signed as a free agent as well.
2015-2016 has unfolded as expected for the Bruins, as they currently sit in the second Wild Card spot but have several games in hand over teams below and above them in the standings.
The team still has elite forwards in Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, as well as an elite net minder in Tuukka Rask. Even though they down-graded their defense in the offseason, they are still a playoff-caliber team, and they’ve shown that over the first half of the season.
Here’s a look at what’s been good, what’s been bad, and what we can expect from the Bruins in the second half of the season.
The elite forwards have been, well, elite
The Bruins may not have the strongest defensive corps anymore–especially not with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg starting to decline due to age–but their forwards are still some of the best in the league.
Bergeron continues to be one of the league’s most dominant two-way centers. He starts his shifts in the defensive zone, plays against top competition and absorbs tough usage so that the rest of the team can have more offensive freedom. Despite all of this tough offensive usage, Bergeron still manages to destroy the opposition, especially at 5 on 5.
His expected Corsi For percentage (going off of delta Corsi calculations) is 48.2 percent. Bergeron’s actual Corsi For percentage is 53.3 percent. He’s been worth an extra 10.8 shot attempts per 60 minutes of ice time (dCorsi/60), the 13th highest total among forwards who have played at least 30 games. Bergeron’s ability to drive possession is matched by few in today’s NHL, and he’s been a huge part of the Bruins’ success this season.
One of the forwards who comes close to Bergeron-levels of puck possession play is Brad Marchand, who ranks 25th in dCorsi/60, and has been dominating the opposition alongside Bergeron for most of the season.
The 27-year-old isn’t just a passenger and does plenty of heavy lifting while playing on Bergeron’s wing. In terms of production, Marchand has been incredibly good at putting the puck in the back of the net. He’s on pace to hit the 30-goal-mark for the first time in his career, and ranks 18th in the entire league when it comes to goals for per 60 minutes of all situations ice time.
Then there’s David Krejci, the skilled playmaking center who is currently missing time due to injury. In the 35 games that the Czech native played, he racked up 33 points, and had a points per 60 (at 5 on 5) of 2.36, good for 14th in the league, and ahead of players such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Johnny Gaudreau and Daniel Sedin.
Krecji didn’t sacrifice two-way play either, and was sporting a 52.1 percent Corsi For percentage (3.0 percent relative Corsi For percentage) before his injury.
Last but not least is Loui Eriksson, who leads the Bruins in relative Corsi For percentage (8.0 percent) and overall Corsi For percentage (55.4 percent). Eriksson has been a top line possession player for the Bruins over the past couple of seasons, and he’s starting to rack up the points now with 34 in 41 games.
The Swede’s performance over the first half of the season has been exceptional, and it will be interesting to see what else he can do in the second half of the year.
Boston has the best power play in the league
The Washington Capitals have Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oste, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen. The list of power play weapons is seemingly endless, and yet, they don’t have the best power play in the league.
The Capitals and their extremely talented roster play second fiddle to the Bruins, who have converted on an absurd 28.1 percent of their chances up to this point in the season.
With Bergeron acting as a bumper in the middle, and Eriksson terrorizing the opposition in front of the net, Boston’s power play is almost unstoppable, as quick passing plays shred the opposition and cause trouble for the poor teams tasked with defending them.
The success of the power play has helped the Bruins climb up the standings, and is a big reason why the team is in a Wild Card spot.
The defense has been weak
With the trading of Hamilton, the Bruins were left with little high end talent on their defense. They have several quality pieces who could perform at a second pairing level, but no one to really work with with 38-year-old Zdeno Chara on the top pairing. Seidenberg isn’t bad, but he’s not a top pairing defenseman, especially at the age of 34.
The bottom two pairings have been a revolving door of players, and deadweights such as Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller have seen considerable time this season despite (arguably) better options such as Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman being available. Colin Miller has been good, as has Krug, but on the whole, the blue line has been nowhere near as good as the forwards.
Tuukka Rask hasn’t quite been himself
This problem is more or less specific to the Bruins, who have received exceptional play from Tuukka Rask over the past couple of seasons and been one of the league’s best teams because of it. Rask hasn’t been bad this season, and is posting a .916 save percentage in all situations, which is right around league average.
Rask is better than average though. Over the past four seasons, he’s posted a .923 save percentage in all situations, and those extra couple of percentage points can add up over the course of a season.
Rask has been good, but he hasn’t been elite. The Bruins are used to getting better play from him, and though depending on a goaltender to carry a team is never the best strategy, there’s no denying that the Bruins would benefit from an upswing in their net minder’s play.
What to expect from the second half of the season
The Bruins have a strong hold on the Wild Card positions right now, especially given the games that they have in hand over their opponents. They aren’t one of the best teams in the league, but they’re probably a playoff team, and one that could even sneak into one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division.
Right now, the Bruins are projected to finish fourth in the Atlantic, in the first Wild Card spot.
This seems like a good bet, as they’re a decent 5 on 5 team with an elite power play, and a goaltender capable of going on a hot run and carrying the team up the standings.
In the second half of the season, we can expect the Bruins to continue to play like they have been. They may not be the dominant team of the past, but they’re still good, and it will be interesting to see where they go in the playoffs.