The first half of the Bruins’ season has not only exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic fans, it has been trending toward the historic.
Out of a possible 92 points, the B’s have hauled in 78. With 36 games left , they would need to capture 54 of a possible 72 points to match the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens’ record output of 132 points (though that Habs team that haunted many a Bruin fan did it in an 80-game season). And who’s to say they won’t do it?
That, of course, is not the end goal of this team. They have reached the Stanley Cup-or-bust echelon. And many B’s fans understandably cringe whenever lofty regular season marks are discussed. Too many January lions have gotten de-fanged when warmer weather arrives.
But, going into Monday’s games, they had a 14-point lead over Toronto for the Atlantic Division, a 12-point cushion over Carolina for the Eastern Conference lead and whopping 15-point gap over Dallas for the Presidents Trophy and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Some motivation may be needed in the second half.
Now should a David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron be playing in the second half of a back-to-back in early April just to go for the record? Of course not. But it would not hurt this team to have some goalposts and milestones off in the distance to maintain its lofty standards.
So far, though, the internal motivation has worked well for them. If they are not head and shoulders above the rest of the NHL in pure talent, the B’s burning desire to win every single game is in a class by itself. Add the veteran leadership that has kept the rudder steady and what you have is a team that’s as unique as any team we’ve seen here, in any sport. And that’s saying something.
“I think the calmness with which we compete on this team, there’s not much that really rattles this group, which is a compliment to every guy. And just the way we handle ourselves every night, every day in practice, there’s just such a hunger to get better in here,” said Nick Foligno after the B’s 4-0 drubbing of San Jose on Sunday. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve seen. Every single guy wants to get better. They don’t want to be the guy that lets the team down, from not doing the little bit extra or committing themselves completely to what we’re doing here. That part? There’s not a lot of trying to pull a guy into the fight anymore. Even when I got here last year, there was such a commitment. And I think it’s been magnified that much more with what’s going on here. We feel like we’re doing something special. I know you guys have heard that and we talked about that a lot, but we really feel that. There’s a lot of storylines, there’s a lot of things going on here. This is a really fun group and we care deeply about each other and we want to make this special year.”
We will very soon get a better idea if they are to catch the ’76-77 Habs (and to be clear, that hasn’t really become a talking point yet in the room just yet, at least not publicly.) The B’s start a tough five-game road trip on Tuesday, fittingly, in Montreal, then will play in Tampa Bay, Sunrise, Carolina and finally Toronto before the All-Star break. And between now and the end of February, the B’s play just three home games, where they are 22-1-3, and 11 games on the road. They’re a not-too-shabby 15-4-1 away from Causeway Street, but life on the road presents different challenges.
Bring it on, said Foligno.
“We’re going to get every team’s best and we’re expecting every team’s best,” said Foligno. “And that’s a compliment. It’s not something to be worried about. It’s a compliment to what we’re doing here and the type of team we are. If you’re a good team, you’re going to get every team’s best. We like that challenge and what it does to our group and how it engages us right away. And I think you’re seeing that in our guys. We’re a hyper-competitive team. We want to win every single time we step on the ice and we like the challenge.”
Hitting the road provides an opportunity for the team to jell even more, if that’s possible.
“We get to become road warriors,” said Foligno. “It’s a great opportunity to hunker down and go into other team’s buildings, them knowing who we are and us having an opportunity to show ’em our best. That’s the motivation – to try to get to our best every single game. It’s worked for us so far.”
McLaughlin gets call
The B’s brought up center/wing Marc McLaughlin, who had a strong training camp but started his year slowly in Providence. He has come on recently. He’s got 7-10-17 totals in 39 games, but 3-4-7 in his last five in the AHL. How and if the B’s plan to use him is to be determined, but one would think Joona Koppanen earned another look off his performance in the B’s 4-0 win over San Jose. He picked up his first NHL assist, dished out four hits and won seven-of-nine draws in 13:35 of ice time.
“Koppanen I thought was very, very visible as far as having a big impact on our win,” said coach Jim Montgomery after the game.
It seems crazy with how noticeable he’s been with his skating lately, not to mention the fact that he’s now on the first power play unit, but Taylor Hall hits the road a with 16-game goal-less streak. He has just five assists in that time, playing primarily with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic.
“I thought that line was really good,” said Montgomery on Sunday. “They made a lot of plays, hung on to a lot of pucks. They didn’t finish on plays, but they had a lot of opportunities and I thought (Hall) in particular was really driving it. When they’re making plays and attacking the blue paint, good things are going to happen. It’s just matter of time.”