After 18 games, Boston had a 14-2-2 record and 30 points; good enough for the puck chasers from Beantown to occupy first place in the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference. In the overall league standings, they also sat in third place. That would give any squad the tag of "elite," but a closer look at the season shows they have not performed as an elite team during stretches since the lockout.
After defeating the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 28, the Bruins increased their season totals in one goal games to 6-0-2. In two-goal games, the record was 5-1-1. Therefore, 12 of 14 total victories have come with two goal margins or less. Not exactly the sign of a dominating team.
There is no question Boston is a club that concentrates on defense first. Last season, Brad Marchand told me, "We concentrate on good defense. We believe good offense comes from good defense."
Marchand is correct and it worked when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011, however, last season's playoffs were a different story when Boston lost four one goal tilts against Washington. This is not to say that this year's edition of the Bruins should focus less on team defense and try to become the next version of Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers. While that is a fun brand of hockey to watch, the Bruins are not built for it. In fact, there are no teams in today's NHL that can play that style of hockey.
How does a team overcome its lack of offensive firepower? Experience and leadership.
Boston, although young, is a veteran laden team. All but five players (Aaron Johnson, Chris Bourque, Lane MacDermid, Dougie Hamilton and Anton Khudobin) have Stanley Cup rings. That leaves 18 players with jewelry. That's quite a bit of experience.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask commented on the club's past experience as a key factor to winning the close games, "We're not a team that feeds on trading scoring chances. We know that when we score a goal, we have to stick to our game plan and play tight defense and take advantage of our (offensive) chances. We have a lot of guys still with us from when we won the Cup and we know what to do."
Gregory Campbell added, "I think it's the leadership of the team. They are really calm, really poised in all situations out there."
Alternate Captain Chris Kelly is one of those leaders and he spoke of another factor that is contributing to Boston's success.
"It's also confidence and a sense of confidence from our young guys to our older guys, from our offensive guys to our defensive guys," he said. "We've played in so many close hockey games that we never get too high nor too low. There are certain times, you think you're down and out and you turn it around."
Leadership, experience and confidence have been the formula that has seen Boston sprint out to its best start in over 30 seasons.
Some feel a new ingredient needs to be added in the form of a goal scoring winger and some names have been rumored as targets of management. Two of those players were former Bruin Michael Ryder, before he was traded from Dallas to Montreal, and Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson. Obviously, Ryder is off the market and Alfredsson has stated that he does not think he will be coming to Boston any time soon. Calgary's Jarome Iginla, Philadelphia's Danny Briere and Florida's Stephen Weiss are three other players that are being spoken of as possible future Bruins.
Iginla, in his 16th NHL season, has amassed 521 career goals and 1,088 points. This season, he has scored just five goals. Briere, also in his 16th NHL season, has scored 285 goals and 655 points during the course of his career. He has found the back of the net five times this season, as well. Finally, Weiss has 145 goals and 394 points in 652 career games during an eleven year span. Weiss has scored once in 2013. Impressive career numbers, although none of those players are enjoying offensive success this season. All three have been first line players and with Boston's first two lines in tact, it is highly doubtful any of the three aforementioned players would be happy with third line duty.
This Boston club, as it is now constructed, could (check that, should) win the Northeast Division, which would give them home ice advantage through most, if not all, of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since the team is off to its best start since the 1976-77 season, another adage comes to mind: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The Bruins are a confident bunch that stems from the experience the team has accumulated over the last two seasons. The leadership knows what it takes to keep this group focused one game at a time and because of that Boston will enjoy continued success one goal at a time.