For the past few fruitless seasons, one of the more common but also valid complaints about the Bruins was that they were a hockey team without an identity. They couldn’t figure out who they wanted to be: shuffling through a flawed mix of young players and veterans while also being slow to adapt to the changing league around them that was suddenly based more on speed and skill rather than size and physicality. Through 18 games of the 2016-17 campaign though, Boston (11-7-0) looks to have gradually found its place in today’s NHL.
Led by goaltender Tuukka Rask (11-2-0, 1.46 goals against average, .946 save percentage, three shutouts), who was named the first star of the week in the NHL last week, the B’s are at least temporarily back to being one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league. The Bruins are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and are tied with Tampa Bay (12-6-1) for the best road record in the NHL (7-4-0). A lot of this is due to their ability to keep the puck out of their own net.
Head coach Claude Julien is Boston’s all-time wins leader for a reason, as his teams are often known for their defensive prowess.
“Defensively, they are taking a lot of pride in defending well,” he noted after Saturday’s unexpectedly easy 4-1 victory over Winnipeg (9-10-2) at TD Garden.
Those particular two points against the Jets were quite notable since the Bruins held them to only 12 shots on goal for the entire contest. To put that into perspective: that was the fewest shots on goal they had allowed since Nov. 24, 2001 and the fewest allowed on home ice since Minnesota recorded 10 on Jan. 12, 1981. Obviously in an 82-game marathon of a regular season, outliers like that will pop up from time to time but those statistics prove how historically relevant that effort by Rask & Co. turned out to be.
Going into Tuesday’s meeting with St. Louis (10-6-3), Boston is currently tied with Washington for the fourth fewest goals allowed (40) in the NHL. Besides Rask’s superb start, what makes this all the more remarkable for the Bruins is that their defensive corps was thought to be their biggest weakness heading into the season. Rookie Brandon Carlo (who leads all rookies in plus/minus with plus-11) looks very promising while his partner and captain Zdeno Chara (plus-12, tied for sixth best in NHL) has seemingly been energized playing with someone that is less than half his age. As left wing Brad Marchand said, “we have a bigger job to do than scoring goals. With new faces and a different system, this is not easy to do but guys are dedicated and disciplined.”
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Rich Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate