There are a million reasons why the Bruins didn’t make the postseason in 2015-16 but for the purpose of this piece, I’ll submit that their struggles on home ice (17-18-6) ultimately cost them a playoff spot. In case you forgot, they ended up tied with Detroit in points (93) for third-place in the Atlantic Division but the Red Wings made the playoffs over the B’s because Detroit had one more regulation and overtime win than them (39-38). Looking at the numbers a little more in depth, the Red Wings were a stellar 22-13-6 at Joe Louis Arena. We are nearly a third of the way through the 2016-17 regular season and thus far, Boston (15-10-1) has shown incremental improvement on home ice (7-5-0).
Like most sports, the home team is expected to win a majority of its contests in hockey which is what makes the B’s recent history so hard to explain. Under long-time head coach Claude Julien, the Bruins have always been a good road team but that expected balance got skewed last season when they went 25-13-3 (3rd best road record in the NHL). Boston has already played two more games on the road in this campaign and that bizarre trend has continued as they are 8-5-1 heading into Wednesday’s (8, NBC Sports) showdown at Washington (14-7-3). The Black and Gold kicked off a very busy week (4 games in 6 days) with a 4-3 overtime win against the Panthers (12-11-3) on Monday at the Garden. With two more very winnable home games against Colorado (9-13-1) on Thursday (7, NESN) and Toronto (10-9-5) on Saturday (7, NESN), it’s clear that they need to rack up points at home against these subpar clubs.
The Bruins are still one of the NHL’s best at preventing goals: they have allowed the second fewest in the East (58) and fourth fewest in the league so it is on the other end that has been the real issue (only 63 goals scored). For Julien, the rapid ascension of right wing David Pastrnak (15 goals, 6 assists, plus-15) to an All-Star level in only his third year has been nothing short of a revelation. “He’s coming into his own,” noted Julien on Monday after Pastrnak scored two goals including an unreal tally in overtime-one of the best goals of the year in the NHL. “His confidence is at an all-time high and he’s been our best forward this season since day one so it’s nice to see him growing.”
It is an extremely back-loaded schedule for the Bruins this spring with six of their final seven (and 8 of their last 10) games in the season taking place at TD Garden in March and April. That means there really will be no excuse to miss the playoffs for what would be the third year in a row. The B’s have won their last three games in a row and they are currently riding a season-high five-game point-steak (4-0-1).
Follow Metro Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate