Biggest positives, concerns, surprises from Bruins' 2021-22 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
We're in the midst of another long break in the Boston Bruins' 2021-22 schedule. It's the third time the B's have had four-plus days off in a row and the season is barely a month old.
So, why don't we do a recap of how things have gone for the Bruins (8-5-0) through 13 games.
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Here's a look at the positives, concerns and surprises from the season so far.
The First Line
The best line in hockey remains the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak trio. They represent the team's top three scorers.
Marchand, in particular, has been quite impressive. He's well on his way to a sixth consecutive season scoring at a point-per-game rate or higher. Marchand currently has a seven-game point streak and he's tallied at least one point in 11 of the 13 games he's played.
Since the start of the 2019-20 season, the only players to rack up more points than Marchand (175) are Oilers teammates Connor McDavid (231) and Leon Draisaitl (227).
Bergeron has risen his game a few levels after a poor start. He scored zero goals in his first seven games and put only 11 shots on net during 5-on-5 action over that span. The last six games have seen Bergeron post 10 points (six goals, four assists).
Sure, you'd like to see a little more goal scoring from Pastrnak at this point in the year. But his lack of goals isn't from a lack of aggressiveness. His 58 shots on net are 18 more than any other player on the team. Pastrnak's scoring will come in due time.
McAvoy is already among the top Norris Trophy candidates thanks to a great start to the season fueled by a rise in his scoring production. His career high in points for a single season is 32. He's already at 12 (three goals, nine assists) through 13 games, and he's two points away from matching his power-play scoring total from last season (eight points).
Add in elite defense and excellent puck possession stats and you have one of the league's top three defensemen. The Bruins signed McAvoy to an eight-year, $76 million contract extension before the season (which kicks in next year) and he's already outperforming it.
After a slow start for both Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, it appears that the rookie netminder is taking control of the starting job.
Swayman is 4-0-0 with a .930 save percentage in November, with his last win coming Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens. He's been unbeatable at TD Garden with an 8-0-0 career record dating back to last season, making him the fourth goalie in league history to win his first eight regular season home games.
One impressive stat for Swayman is his .852 save percentage on high-danger scoring attempts at even strength. He doesn't panic and trusts his fundamentals to make saves in tough situations.
The ideal scenario for the Bruins is Swayman continuing this trend and becoming the undisputed No. 1 goalie on the roster going into the New Year.
There was a ton of attention paid to the No. 2 center role, and rightly so, following David Krejci's offseason departure. It's an important job and there wasn't an amazing in-house option to replace Krejci. Someone had to step up, and Coyle has been the guy.
Coyle has tallied eight points (five goals, three assists) in 13 games, including two goals Sunday.
He scored just six goals in 51 games last season as injury hampered his effectiveness. Coyle looks much more explosive after offseason knee surgery and his offensive production has been among the biggest bright spots for the B's so far.
When he's not scoring, Coyle has been solid defensively, too. This play to break up a Connor McDavid pass that likely would've resulted in a goal last Thursday is one example.
If Coyle can keep up this level of scoring -- or close to it -- on a consistent basis throughout the season, the Bruins will be able to focus their attention at the trade deadline on upgrading the blue line. Adding another top-four defenseman remains the No. 1 need for this roster.
Young players not breaking through
It was always going to be difficult for the younger players and prospects to crack this veteran-laden lineup, especially after the Bruins signed Tomas Nosek, Nick Foligno and Erik Haula in free agency to beef up their depth at forward.
Still, you'd like to see a little more production from players such as Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril, Connor Clifton, etc.
Studnicka was a candidate to be the No. 2 center but he hasn't played well in his limited opportunities there. He's played in only four games and has tallied zero goals and one assist. Frederic has played 10 games with zero goals and one assist. He needs to provide more offensively to justify a spot in the lineup.
Zboril, one of the failed 2015 first-round picks, has made only three appearances. He did play in both games over the weekend and looked good, so maybe he can build on that. Clifton has played in 11 games with only one point. The Bruins have given up 10 goals at 5-on-5 with Clifton on the ice.
The Bruins don't need these young players to be world beaters, but it would be nice if at least one of them broke through and gave the team some much-needed scoring depth.
Secondary scoring still a significant issue
The Bruins have an elite first line, as outlined above, but that's not good enough to be a top Stanley Cup contender, especially in the playoffs.
Just three forwards outside the top line have scored more than a single goal this season. They are Coyle (five), Taylor Hall (four) and Jake DeBrusk (three). That's nowhere near good enough for the B's.
Craig Smith has been battling an upper body injury that kept him out of last weekend's games against the Devils and Canadiens. He's still been one of the team's most disappointing players with zero points and just 18 shots in eight games.
Nosek and Haula were brought in during free agency to provide much-needed offense in the bottom-six. They each have scored one goal and neither has more than three points total. DeBrusk has scored only one goal in his last nine games, bringing back the inconsistency concerns that plagued him a season ago.
Too many times this season the Bruins have lost games because they've been too reliant on the top line to carry nearly the entire scoring burden. The third and fourth lines, in particular, have to provide more offense or the B's will be headed for another underwhelming first or second round exit in the spring.
The Bruins have been a pretty good team on the road in recent seasons. This year? Not so much.
The Bruins are giving up 3.5 goals per game, along with a 73.7 percent success rate on the penalty kill over their first six road matchups. Boston has played three road games against playoff teams from last season -- Hurricanes, Panthers and Leafs -- and lost all of them by a combined score of 12-3. The Bruins' only road wins are against the Buffalo Sabres and Devils.
Given the strength of the Atlantic Division, it's pretty likely the Bruins will open the first-round of the playoffs -- assuming they make it -- on the road. It's also quite possible they don't have home ice advantage in the first two rounds. These scenarios make improving on the road a key objective for the Bruins over the rest of the regular season.
Giving up goals at higher rate than normal
The Bruins are allowing 2.85 goals per game, which is their highest for a season since 2015-16 when it was 2.78 per game.
The Bruins are driving play at a pretty high rate during 5-on-5 action, ranking fourth in shot attempt percentage (53.76), second in shots on net percentage (56.93) and ninth in scoring chance percentage (52.14), per Natural Stat Trick. They allow the second-fewest shot attempts and third-fewest shots on net per 60 minutes.
So even though the goals against numbers look a bit alarming, there's not a huge reason for concern. There have been a couple bad breakdowns defensively in some of the games, but overall, the Bruins are not giving up much during even strength.
The penalty kill can definitely be better, and there's been signs of improvement of late. After giving up power-play goals in four consecutive games, the Bruins are a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill over the last three games.
The goaltending has been completely overhauled after a decade of Tuukka Rask giving the Bruins mostly elite play at that position. It will take some time for Linus Ullmark to settle into a new system after playing for a horrible Sabres team the previous six seasons. Ullmark has been decent but hasn't met expectations. His .676 high-danger save percentage ranks among the league's worst.
The Bruins won't give up 2.85 goals the entire season. There's way too much talent up front, on the blue line and in net for that to happen. That said, there's still plenty of room for improvement in this area.