Sunday, November 9, 2008

Anatomy of a First-Place Team

With last night's win over Buffalo, the Bruins are (at least temporarily) the banner team in the Northeast Division -- a tough feat, considering the division includes 3 of the Eastern Conference's top 4 teams. While it's still far too early to talk about being in first place in April, the division lead is a testament to the team's resilience in the face of a tough early schedule... and a sign that they are a force to be reckoned with as they play a favorable schedule in November.

What's behind the sudden success (6 wins in 7 games) of a team that many pundits predicted would miss the playoffs? It boils down to a few key factors tilting in Boston's favor:

Hot Goaltending - This is the #1 factor in the Bruins' current streak. In the past 7 games, Tim Thomas has allowed only 5 goals on 168 shots, and Manny Fernandez has won both of his starts by stopping 60 of 65. More importantly, both goaltenders have played their best at key moments, allowing only 4 third-period goals during the streak.

Breakout Games - Milan Lucic had scored only one goal entering the Oct 25th matchup against the Thrashers, when he broke out with a hat trick. Blake Wheeler doubled his scoring total with a hat trick against Toronto on Nov 6th. Marco Sturm scored twice against Dallas after scoring only once in 11 previous games. Last night, Chuck Kobasew tallied a goal and an assist after missing a month with injury. Though Savard is the only player consistently producing at a point-per-game level, it seems that each night brings a new breakout game from a different player.

Depth Players - One of the best-kept secrets in the Eastern Conference is the outstanding play of Boston's 4th line. Shawn Thornton, Stephane Yelle, and a revolving right wing (at times filled by Sobotka, Nokelainen, and Kobasew) consistently dominate their ice time with hard-nosed cycling in the corners. They only pot the occasional goal, but more importantly they sap the ability of opponents' top players to take advantage of their matchups -- an especially important advantage on the road.

Blueline Scoring - In the first 8 games of the season, Boston defensemen accounted for only 1 goal. Since then, they have scored 5. This hardly makes them a threatening bunch of goal scorers, but it's enough to create some extra room for Boston's forwards. Still, one goal from Zdeno Chara (a fluky, bouncing shot that surprised Toskala) is not enough -- look for defensemen scoring to increase as the season goes on.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

a competitive team in Boston is the best thing the NHL could ask for. take it to the next level Bruins!