The easy answer to the question in the title is “If they’re won 12 in a row, obviously, it’s been really good.” That’s fair, but hockey fans in 2014 are aware that there’s more to a game than the final score. Shot differential, especially at 5 on 5 and when the game is either tied in the 3rd or within a goal in the first 2 periods, is usually the best way to measure a team for future performance, similar to how run differential in baseball is a better predictor than wins. So, let’s take a look at Fenwick For Close Percentage (FF%), which measures the percentage of shots other than blocked shots taken in a game that were directed at the opponents’ net.
Over the 12 game win streak, they’ve been above 50% 8 times and over 56% 7 times. That’s a pretty good ratio overall, especially the 56% part. That being said, it obviously means that 4 games were below 50%, and those 4 were all well below 50%, actually. The highest of the 4 was 44.8% against the Canadiens, although it might be worth it to cut the B’s some slack there, since those numbers will obviously be due to an absolutely horrendous 1st period in that game. The worst was actually the game against the Avalanche 2 nights ago, which was an abysmal 39.0%. I guess we can consider ourselves lucky that Chad Johnson stood on his head. How unexpected does it seem that we can say that?
In fact, if you look a the percentage of B’s games that they’re under 50% in FF, then the B’s aren’t playing that much better during this win streak than they do overall. I counted 21 games in which the Bruins were under 50% out of the 71 they’ve played this year, and that’s 29.5% of their games. With 4 of their past 12 being lower than 50%, that’s obviously 33.3%.
There’s more where that came from. Eight of the 21 games in which they were out-Fenwicked happened in the first 16 games. That means that the B’s have only been out-fenwicked 13 times in the past 55 games, which is an amazingly low 23.6 of their games.
Now, there’s two ways to look at that. The first is to say look at the overall number and realize just how good of a team the Bruins are, especially after their 16 game start. That’s clearly the most important way to look at it, since the previous 55 games is a much better sample in any sport, especially hockey, than the past 12.
The second way to look at this, though, is to say that the B’s win streak is not quite as dominant as we believe. The only 2 times that the Bruins have out-fenwicked a team who is also in the top 10 in FF% (The B’s are 4th) have been against the Devils (5th) and Lightning (10th). Sure, the B’s have beaten some good teams during the streak, and I’m the driver of the “Bruins are the clear Eastern Conference favorites” bandwagon. But this streak hasn’t been that much different from the rest of the season.
…With one exception: Goaltending. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that goaltending can undo a lot of what we’ve said about shot differential, and the Bruins’ netminders are playing out of their minds recently. During the streak, Tuukka has played 7 games and has had a SV% of lower than .929 just once. ONCE. Chad Johnson has played 5 games, and has had a SV% of at least .909 every single time, which is more than what anyone can expect for a backup, let alone a guy making $600,000.
If and when Tuukka falters in any of the next 3 games — as he should play against the Habs, Blackhawks, and then either the Caps or Flyers Friday/Saturday, the B’s will likely lose the streak, because they’ll be facing teams that will play them well. And it won’t come as that much of a shock, because they haven’t been playing at the behemoth level that everyone has been saying. Don’t get me wrong, the B’s are the safest pick to win the Cup, they’re playing at an elite level… but not exactly an unbeatable one.