Now that the Olympic Break has started but the men’s hockey tournament (aka the only really awesome event in the Olympics) hasn’t started yet, I gotta find a way to talk and analyze hockey. So let’s dissect just how good the Bruins are, and what their Cup hopes are. For the purpose of this post, I’m really looking at how they’ll match up come playoff time. The final 25 games are important, but we all know the real reason why we’re NHL fans.
The narratives/intangibles/shit that annoying talking heads will say but might have some value:
The Bruins have “Been there before!,” “Been battle tested!,” and “Aren’t intimidated by anyone!” David Krejci has led the playoffs in point scoring twice in three years, and Patrice Bergeron could die and his corpse would still gut out 20 minutes in a Cup Finals game. The B’s should have a “Hot goaile in the playoffs!,” because Tuukka Rask is always hot. (Did that sound weird?)
Not too worried about the forwards from an intangibles perspective…
But the defensemen are a legitimate concern. Chara and Boychuk should both be studs in the playoffs, but they both will carry legitimate concerns as far as their stamina goes. Chara wore down in the final 3 games of the Cup Finals, which probably cost them the Cup — not that he’s to blame, he played his ass off throughout the playoffs. Boychuk will be seeing his first playoff action as a top 2 defenseman. And then it looks like they’ll have 3 second year players, none of whom played in all four series last year, and Adam McQuaid. When looking at it like this, it seems clear that the Bruins should trade for someone. But that’s gonna be hard to do (I’m gonna have another post on that soon), so we may have to make do with the best defenseman in the game, a solid but not great no. 2 man, and 4 question marks. If the Bruins lose a series because they gave up too many goals, expect to hear a ton of naratives about how the defensemen weren’t “ready for the big stage” or some shit like that.
Stats that matter:
Fun fact that might cause diehard Bruins fans to get a little sexually aroused. The Bruins are no. 1 in the Eastern Conference in Fenwick% (FF%, thanks to Extraskater for that info), and 4th overall behind the Kings, Blackhawks, and Sharks. The B’s sport a 53.7% in FF, and the Penguins are only at 51.5%. The Rangers and Devils are close to the B’s as far as East teams go, and the Devils are actually better than the Bruins in Corsifor% (54.2% to 54.1%). The Rangers, Devils, Penguins, and also Lightning, Habs, Leafs, and maybe Flyers could all knock the Bruins off in the playoffs, because that’s how hockey goes. But the Bruins should be definite favorites — not heavy favorite, but definite favorites — against anyone else in the East. They have the best goal differential in the East, and having the best goalie in the Playoffs will never hurt. While one can definitely say that the Pens have played the whole year with a ton of injuries, most of which will clear up by April, it’s also important to note that the B’s have been without Eriksson for such long periods of time, and, of course, the Bruins swept the Penguins in the playoffs last year, so they’ve gotta be favorites.
Then there’s the fact that the Bruins are f5th in the league in Goals Scored and 2nd in Goals Against.
For some more fancystats, the B’s have an 8.2 shot percentage, which is better than average, but not so good that we have to worry that they’re lucky. It’s tied for 9th in the league with the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs. The Bruins should be better than average, since they’re just a good team offensively, but they shouldn’t be way too high, because that would suggest just good puck luck. They’re where they should be.
And they’re getting contributions from everyone. Eight guys have 30 points, and Chara has 26, and Loui has 20 in just 37 games. His offensive production should and hopefully improve, but it’s easy to see why he’s just a little better than .5 p/g. It’s a really small sample size, but Ryan Spooner also tacked 11 assists in 22 games.
But, even for individual players, possession stats are the most important stats of all, so let’s look at them. Of all non-Seidenberg guys who have played at least 15 games, only Kelly, Miller, Caron, Paille, Campbell, and Thornton are lower than 50% CF. Caron and Miller probably, and hopefully, won’t see any action in the playoffs, and Kelly and the Merlot Line aren’t even expected to be over 50% (mayyybe Kelly). All of these guys will be there in the playoffs for mainly defensive and PK purposes, and they’ll probably all have their offensive zone starts rate (OZS%) below 45%. Their Corsi won’t be that good anyways.
What all the possession stats in general tell you is that there really aren’t any weak links on the Bruins, at least for the forwards… except Shawn Thornton, but that’s why they need to figure out a way to get Spooner into the playoff lineup. I root for a bottom 6 (once Eriksson goes back to 2RW) of either Soderberg-Kelly-Smith Paille-Campbell-Spooner (or switch Paille and Spooner, since Spoons on his off wing could be a problem or Soderberg-Spooner-Smith for an all offensive line and Paille-Campbell-Kelly for a ridiculous defensive line. The latter would more intriguing, because it would create one mainly offensive but good defensively line (Krejci line) one mainly defensively but also really really good offensively (Bergeron line with Eriksson on it, which would seriously be the best defensive line in recent memory), a second mainly offensive line, and finally a second mainly defensive line (Ok, fine, an ONLY defensive line). But I’d probably go with the first choice so that Kelly’s defensive abilities could hide Soderberg’s and Smith’s lack of defensive expertise. But still, no real weak links.
Just like with the Celtics and Pats, the Bruins find themselves in the easier of their league’s two conferences. Did you notice how there are three teams ahead of the Bruins in FF% are in the West? And that doesn’t include the St. Louis Blues, who are a good team, but maybe not as good as their point totals indicate. The Bruins can definitely beat the Dupuisless Penguins, as we saw them beat the Pens with Dupuis last year. They also had Tomas Vokoun in net and not Marc-Amnesty Fleury. They can easily beat just about any other team in the conference. The B’s might not be favored against a few of the West’s elite, but they’re not heavy underdogs against anyone.
What does this all mean?
If this piece came off as me being really high on the Bruins, it’s because I am. They wouldn’t be considered the best team if the playoffs started today, but they have the best chance to win it all. How that paradox is possible is because Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, and St. Louis all have a greater chance of being knocked off before reaching the Finals, just because their conference is that much tougher. I’d take the Bruins against any team in the Finals, personally, because I think that they’ve improved from last year. Iggy is a slight step up from Horton, Eriksson is a slight step up for Seguin this year (just not at all for the future), and the third line, whoever it’ll have, is way better than last year. Even with Seidenberg’s injury, the young guys on defense will have a little more experience, and Boychuk is now better than ever. The defense isn’t better than last year, but the positive difference between the forwards this year and last is greater than the negative difference defensively from 2014 to 2013. I could completely understand someone picking the Hawks, Kings, Sharks, or even Blues over the Bruins in the Finals, and that’s a legit debate. But what I don’t think is debatable is that the Bruins have the best odds of any team to win the Cup, just because their road to the Cup Finals is easier in the East.
tl;dr version? The Bruins are a damn good team. Happy Olympics.