Despite not getting the desired result in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Washington at the TD Garden, the Bruins brought forth the effort they didn’t in Friday’s Winter Classic embarrassment at Gillette Stadium, a 5-1 setback to the Montreal Canadiens.
Unfortunately for Boston, effort isn’t accounted for in the standings. The NHL is a league of how many, as opposed to how. Losing five of their last six games and down to the eighth (and final) spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Bruins need results.
Fortunately for Boston, the results will come if the effort accompanies the team on the five-game road trip that begins Friday in Newark, a date with the New Jersey Devils.
Of the five teams (New Jersey, Ottawa, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Buffalo) the B’s face on the eight-day journey, none are the juggernaut of offense, defense, goaltending, and depth the Capitals bring to the table. If front-liners Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and Zdeno Chara shut down the likes of Mike Hoffman, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Mats Zuccarello the way they did Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie on Tuesday, the Bruins will finish the trip closer to the maximum of 10 points that can be garnered on the trip than the two they’ve picked up over the last five games.
The Capitals are a dangerous team. Barry Trotz has implemented the defensive system that was among the league’s best over his 15 seasons in Nashville. Only now he has the horses up front to open it up offensively after years of ponies while coaching the Predators. Ovechkin detractors should enjoy their claims of how the big Russian hasn’t won anything. They may only have a few months left to do so.
Fourteen players on the Washington Capitals have 10 points or more. Only the New York Rangers – who the Bruins face on Monday, the third game of the roadtrip – have more such players in the Eastern Conference, with 15. But the Blueshirts are 6-11-2 since jumping out to a 16-3-2 start to the season. They take just 28.3 shots per game, which is tied for fifth-lowest in the NHL. They’re one of 13 teams to allow more than 30 shots per game.
New Jersey, who the B’s face Friday, have received nearly half its 91 goals from three players: Kyle Palmieri (17 goals), Mike Cammalleri (14), and Adam Henrique (13). Boston third-liners won’t have to worry about opponents on the level of Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, and Tom Wilson, a trio that has feasted on its lesser counterparts for 23 goals, 59 points, and a combined plus-15 rating. Philadelphia and Buffalo demonstrate similar top-heaviness.
Ottawa, whom the B’s face Saturday, go four lines deep. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is better than most third-line pivots in the game.Ten forwards have played 25 games at an average of 10 minutes of ice-time per night while 36-year-old Chris Neil, who has been among the league’s elite bottom-sixers since entering the league in 2001, has played in all 40 games for the Sens while averaging 8:51 of ice-time. Ottawa’s back end is anchored by two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who is making a strong case for a third.
The Senators jumped out to a 12-5-5 start. They’re 7-10-1 since, with a good chance of making it 7-11-1 on Thursday night when they host the Florida Panthers, winners of 10 in a row and look as if they’ll never lose again.
Sense a trend with the Senators and Rangers recent struggles? Don’t overthink this.
New York and Ottawa – a pair of teams who were atop the conference standings prior to their respective falls from grace – aren’t the only slumping clubs hosting the Bruins between now and next Friday.
The Devils, who hold the top wildcard spot in the east as of Thursday, waltzed through the pearly gates of the playoff picture with an eight-game stretch in late November and early December, picking up points in seven (4-1-3). New Jersey went into its Nov. 27 game against Montreal, a 3-2 shootout loss, sitting in 10th in the Eastern Conference. On Dec. 12, the morning after the 3-2 overtime win over Detroit, the Devils were in seventh.
New Jersey has treaded water since, going 5-6-1, a three-game winning streak sandwiched in the middle. Nine of the 20 goals the Devils have scored over the stretch came during the three-game streak, which has been followed by a pair of losses.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia is a model of mediocrity. Shocker. The Flyers jettisoned Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier to Los Angeles on Wednesday, a sign of the white flag being waved on the season. Out of the playoff picture while led by rookie head coach Dave Hakstol, winning doesn’t appear to be in the plans in Philly this year.
Ditto Buffalo, where the Sabres look like they’ve found their core of forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, but still have a ways to go before they contend. Twelve of Eichel’s 26 points have come in the last eight games, four of those points coming when Buffalo beat the Bruins, 6-3, on Dec. 26.
But the Sabres haven’t won since that game – which the Bruins led, 3-1, before Buffalo scored five unanswered goals when the B’s clocked out 10 minutes early – dropping five in a row while being outscored, 18-7. And it’s where the Bruins wrap up the trip next Friday night, the conclusion of a five-game set where Boston has a legitimate shot at two points at every stop.
The Bruins roadtrip could prove pivotal to the fate of the 2015-16 campaign. And this team has a great opportunity go get back on track.