The Boston Bruins are the surprise team of the season so far. Everyone knew Claude Julien’s squad could play defense, but nobody foresaw the team’s offensive explosion. Which is a function of the other is up for debate, but the Bruins lead the NHL in goals-against per game and goals-scored per game.
Boston boasts a number of skaters having all-star and breakout seasons – too many to name here – and the best goaltending duo in the league. This season I’ve already called Tim Thomas the Vezina-favorite and the NHL’s best-priced player and raised defenseman Matt Hunwick as a Calder candidate.
Now I’m not here to rain on the Bruins’ parade, but one thing can’t be ignored: Boston is 10-1-0 against the Southeast Division.
Long known as the ‘Southleast’ Division, only Washington can claim top-tier status among its members. Opponents have taken 61 percent of the available points against Southeast teams this season. Carolina is currently a playoff team, albeit with what amounts to a .500 record. But Tampa Bay and Atlanta sit 28th and 29th overall, while Florida is tied for 19th.
Nearly one-third of Boston’s points have come against that firing line. Only a Dec. 10 loss to Washington mars the B’s Southeast record. Granted, the Bruins are 22-4-4 overall against the entire Eastern Conference (only the Caps at 20-5-3 are even close to that mark), but they only play nine more games against the Southeast – five of which are against Washington or Carolina.
So moving forward, Boston won’t be able to load up against the Lightning, Thrashers and Panthers and will have to face generally stiffer competition from around the league.
I’m not saying the Bruins will falter in the second half, I’m just saying don’t expect them to keep up their surprisingly torrid pace.
I have to eat (a little) crow. A few weeks back I lamented the exclusion of Taylor Hall on Canada’s world junior team, mentioning Angelo Esposito as a player who could have been left off instead.
Well, Esposito played better than I – and I dare say many – expected and the last thing Canada needed was another goal scorer, a la Hall.
Not only did 'Espo' skate regularly with John Tavares and Chris DiDomenico, he scored two big goals – a short-hander against Russia in the semis and the game-winner in Monday’s gold medal game. The Thrasher prospect also took a regular penalty-killing shift, something Hall wouldn’t have been suited to.
So mea culpa Angelo. I hope you can use your WJC showing as a catapult to better things this year and as a pro.
John Grigg is a copy editor with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog and the Top 10.
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