The NHL season is still young. But things are moving quickly for the Bruins, who are a third of the way through their schedule and by the end of the month will be halfway to the end.
The Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday — their seventh straight win — marked the first date of a 15-game month of December, which continues with a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at TD Garden, and concludes with a visit to the New Jersey Devils on New Year’s Eve.
So far, the Bruins (19-3-5, 43 points) have not only outpaced everyone in the league — they’re tied with the Capitals, with a game in hand — they have gotten off to one of the best beginnings in team history.
Only twice have the Bruins had equal or better starts through 27 games. In 1929-30, the Bruins went 23-4-0 (46 points) on the way to finishing 38-5-1 (77 points). In 1973-74, the Bruins were 20-4-3 (43 points) on the way to a finish of 52-17-9 (113 points). Both seasons ended in disappointment — losses to the Canadiens in a two-game Stanley Cup final in 1930 and a six-gamer to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974.
The Bruins have displayed resiliency and resourcefulness, but it might be unrealistic to expect them to continue at this rate, especially facing a game nearly every other day in December. But there is a difference between fantasy hockey and the reality of four more months of the regular-season grind.
Despite their fast start to the season, the Bruins have often been slow off the mark at game time. They trailed Montreal, 1-0 heading into the third period Sunday night before breaking it open with a tyhree-goal period.
“I know our team is always going to eventually find their game,” coach Bruce Cassidy said recently. “We’re trying to get to that 60-minute game like everyone else in the National Hockey League.”
Prolific output from Brad Marchand (18-25—43) and David Pastrnak (25-17—42), the league’s Nos. 3 and 4 scorers, plus spectacular play by goalie Tuukka Rask, has helped the Bruins accelerate past opponents.
And a deep roster has allowed the team to compensate for several absences.
Patrice Bergeron (core and upper body) has been out for six of the last eight games. David Krejci has missed six games, Jake Debrusk five. Par Lindholm and Joakim Nordstrom have missed time. Karson Kuhlman (leg) and Brett Ritchie (elbow/illness) remain out. David Backes returned after nearly a month of inaction to to score the go-ahead goal in Sunday’s win over the Canadiens.
At the blue line, Torey Krug has missed five contests, and Kevan Miller and John Moore have yet to come off the disabled list.
Cassidy has adjusted, effectively jerry-rigging lines. The Bruins’ power play has been efficient, with or without Bergeron, Krejci or Krug, and the penalty kill effective. Rask’s.933 save percentage is tied for second in the league, and Jaroslav Halak has a .930 save percentage.
The Bruins are the league’s only team unbeaten at home (11-0-4), and eight of their next 13 games will be contested at TD Garden.
“We know how to win,” Cassidy said. “Our guys have proven that. We’re still trying to get to our game for the full 60 minutes, but I don’t think we’re ever out of games. Goaltending has a lot to do with that. Our experience in big moments with our leadership group has a lot to do with that. I think we play the right way, typically, even sometimes when we aren’t playing our best. We’re still trying to stay in the game, play the right way so it doesn’t get out of hand. So I think all of those three things go into it. Very competitive group.”