By Matthew Cunha
Sixteen games into the 2016-17 NHL season and the Boston Bruins sit at 10-6 and hold the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are riding a three game win streak and are 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Bruins are separated by third place in the conference by only two points and are in a comfortable spot for this point in the season. I am little shocked by these developments.
By no means is a 10-6 record breaking down walls, but it is sufficient. If these Bruins keep this pace, they will finish with 102 and 103 points. Last year’s team finished with 93 points and the 2014-15 edition finished with 96 points. In both years, 102 points would have been good for fourth in the Eastern conference and not a single Bruins fans would complain about a fourth place finish.
The youth movement for the Bruins is something that needed to happen, but seeing it pay dividends so fast is not something that anyone expected. My goals for the Bruins this year were to see development in young players, and make the playoffs. As far as playoffs, it is looking hopeful in the young season but talk to me again in May. The youth development however, is already starting to bloom. 20 year-old Czech forward David Pastrnak leads the team with 10 goals. Last year, the young forward had a foot injury that kept him off the ice for a large portion of the season, but this year, aligned with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Pastrnak is showing us the star potential and goal scoring abilities he has. His 10 goals are tied for second in the NHL.
The Bruins youth movement also includes a much needed facelift for the defense. Top defenseman Brandon Carlo has shattered everyone’s expectations and who would be the defensive core was one of the biggest worries entering the season. Carlo has not fixed the defense, but he has certainly improved it. The 19-year-old second round draft pick has given the Bruins a legitimate top pair on their back end with captain Zdeno Chara, who looks reenergized playing alongside Carlo every night. The two have a combined +23 rating (Chara with a +12 and Carlo a +11.) The rating essentially means that when Chara and/or Carlo on the ice, the Bruins have scored 11.5 more goals than their opponent. Carlo’s number is tied for eighth in the league, Chara is tied for seventh. The return of a true top defensive pair for the Bruins has undoubtedly fueled the team’s success.
The biggest glimmer of hope for the Bruins is their goalie. If 10-1 Tuukka Rask continues to steal games, they will undoubtedly return to the playoffs. Rask is ranked tied for first in wins, tied for third in save percentage, and is first in goals against with just 1.54 a game. Those Vezina-like numbers would carry any team to the playoffs.
Hope is high for the Bruins 16 games into the season, but the past two years of heartbreaking endings have given us no reason to trust them. If they are sitting in the same spot come 82 games, that’s when I will truly applaud them.
Matthew Cunha is a producer on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.