They’re an Original Six club that tortures hockey’s most popular team every spring, came within a win of a championship last June and presently sits atop the league-wide NHL standings.
Yet, if you’re not careful, you can still overlook the Boston Bruins.
Despite a Sunday afternoon setback to the lowly Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, the Bruins — who carried a six-game winning streak into that tilt following a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday — occupy the NHL’s penthouse. Boston has the top team save percentage in the NHL; gives up fewer goals-per-game than any squad in the league; has the second-best power play and the fourth-best penalty kill. David Pastrnak has a real chance at the Rocket Richard Trophy and an outside shot at the Art Ross.
Most of the recent Atlantic Division talk has centred on the mobilizing Tampa Bay Lighting, who are 18-2-1 in their past 21 outings dating back to Dec. 23. However, Boston has gone 13-4-3 in that same span, which has allowed it to maintain a five-point advantage on the hard-charging Bolts (who do, mind you, hold two games in hand).
Any team that features Pastrnak inherently has some amount of high-end flash. But, with the possible exception of the St. Louis Blues club that bested Boston in seven games last year, I’m not sure another NHL outfit even comes close to the Bruins in terms of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
The highest-drafted players on Boston — Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk — went 14th overall. The other Eastern Conference teams in Boston’s stratosphere are littered with top-of-the-board selections, as Pittsburgh, Washington and Tampa Bay all have at least one first-overall pick in the lineup and multiple top-four drafted players. The Toronto Maple Leafs club that keeps losing to the Bruins in the playoffs has two top selections.
Further befuddling the brain is the fact that so many of Boston’s top picks from the past generation or two play somewhere else. I haven’t checked the GM’s handbook recently, but I’m pretty sure the path to perennial contention isn’t often traversed by trading top-five draft talents like Joe Thornton, Blake Wheeler (drafted by Arizona, signed by Boston), Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin. (Don’t tell me I’m the only one hoping Boston — which is on the lookout for a little secondary offence — re-patriates Thornton for a Cup run 14 years after trading him.)
What can get you there is making potentially the greatest free-agent signing of all-time in Zdeno Chara, fleecing a division rival for a goalie like Tuukka Rask (they really do have the Leafs’ number) and crushing draft home runs late in the first round and beyond. That fearsome first line is built with a 25th-overall pick in Pastrnak, plus second-rounder Patrice Bergeron and third-rounder Brad Marchand. Throw in signing an undrafted gem like Torey Krug and you’re off to the races.
Unfortunately for downtrodden teams, I’m not sure that blueprint can be emulated. At the same time, it will take everything those superstar squads have to beat it.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• We can’t talk about the Bruins’ weekend without mentioning Jeremy Lauzon getting a two-game suspension for this headshot to Arizona’s Derek Stepan.
• I was ready to throw in the towel on the Winnipeg Jets a short time ago, but they’ve — literally — fought their way back into a positive position. The Jets posted back-to-back home wins, downing the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and a Chicago Blackhawks team they’re fighting for a wild-card spot with on Sunday.
Nathan Beaulieu dropped the mitts in both affairs, embodying the spirit Winnipeg has shown of late. Among the positives for the Jets is the fact that they won these games on home ice, where they were just 12-12-3 on the season entering the weekend; backup Laurent Brossoit beat the Sens for his first win since Dec. 10 and the support staff continues to kick in some offence as Andrew Copp scored the winner against the Blackhawks.
After losing seven of eight to close out January, Winnipeg — which hasn’t allowed more than two goals in its past five outings — has picked up nine of 10 possible points in February while playing top-level competition like Boston and St. Louis (twice), as well as teams it’s trying to stay ahead in the standings like Chicago and Nashville.
• Speaking of scraps, remember when Matthew Tkachuk wanted nothing to do with fighting? He’s pulled a 180 on that stance, building on his Battle of Alberta beef with Zack Kassian by dropping the gloves with J.T. Miller on Saturday night 35 seconds into Calgary’s 6-2 thrashing of the Canucks. Meanwhile, earlier that day in Winnipeg, Brady Tkachuk was chucking knuckles with Jets captain Blake Wheeler. That’s four bouts combined for the frisky Tkachuk boys in about two weeks.
• When you’re having a season like the New Jersey Devils are, you take your small victories where you can. Consecutive shutouts for MacKenzie Blackwood, who made 37 saves to blank the Kings on Saturday, certainly qualifies as a win. It will be interesting to see how the 23-year-old performs down the stretch as rebuilding New Jersey tries to determine what it does and doesn’t have in its organization.
Red and White Power Rankings
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (29-19-8) – Terrible third periods versus Anaheim on Friday and the Habs on Saturday prevented the Leafs — now featuring Jack Campbell in goal — from taking all four points available to them on the weekend.
2. Winnipeg Jets (28-23-5) – Patrik Laine had himself a weekend, netting a hat trick versus the Sens, adding another goal versus Chicago 24 hours later and collecting five points overall.
3. Vancouver Canucks (30-21-5) – The Canucks have been outscored 14-4 in losing three straight, including the drubbing Calgary laid on them in Vancouver on Saturday.
4. Edmonton Oilers (29-20-6) – Digging out of a 2-0 hole to beat Nashville on Saturday night was huge for the Oilers and hopefully we can take coach Dave Tippett at his word when he says Connor McDavid’s bruised knee is nothing to worry about.
5. Montreal Canadiens (27-23-7) – With captain Shea Weber on the shelf, another defenceman — Montreal native Marco Scandella — experienced a moment he’ll never forget, tying a game versus the Leafs late in the third with a big slapper. The fact that his team got the overtime win is the cherry on top.
6. Calgary Flames (28-22-6) – The Flames’ win over Vancouver — on the heels of coach Geoff Ward ripping them a new one — was their first regulation-time victory in nine tries and just what they needed to kick off a crucial four-game west coast roadie.
7. Ottawa Senators (18-26-11) – It’s five L’s in a row following the setback in Winnipeg. Ottawa has not scored more than two goals in any of its past four outings.
In Your Ear
Co-host Rory Boylen and I broke down the Leafs’ acquisition of Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford on the latest episode of Tape to Tape. And, given the season, you can expect more swap talk when this week’s episode drops on Friday morning.
The Week Ahead
• Alex Ovechkin gets his next crack at the 700-goal club on Monday night, when the Capitals host the Islanders. ‘The Great 8’ is sitting on 698.
• Can we call Columbus the best surprise of the season yet? The Blue Jackets visit Tampa Monday night in a battle of red-hot teams.
• Jacob Trouba returns to Winnipeg on Tuesday for the first time since he was dealt to the Rangers last June. Trouba has 23 points on the season compared to the 37 put up by Neal Pionk, the blue-liner who went the other way in that swap.