Going into this season, I was startled to hear from many pundits, fans and other assorted hockey people who seemingly dismissed the Boston Bruins’ chances to win the Northeast Division instead of the flavor-of-the-month Buffalo Sabres. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you mentioned that the Bruins were a mild surprise to win the 2010 Stanley Cup, I’d agree with you.
That being said, it seemed a bit stunning that people disregarded a defending championship team that came into the 2011-12 season with only marginal roster changes. (Joe Corvo is likely an upgrade over Tomas Kaberle while Michael Ryder wasn’t exactly the straw that stirred the drink in Boston.) Sure, new Buffalo owner Terry Pegula threw a lot of money around, but those moves weren’t the equivalent of the Chicago Blackhawks adding Marian Hossa.
Through the first month-or-so of the season, I must admit that I was getting a little nervous for going out on a medium-sized limb. Buffalo started out well, which wasn’t shocking, but the Bruins were sleepwalking through the opening stages of 2011-12, which was.
That slow start and their current surge is ample evidence of the dangers of putting too much weight into a small sample size of games. The Bruins are pulling off some downright astonishing wins lately, and their back-to-back romps on Wednesday and Thursday might constitute their best work yet. The New Jersey Devils took a 1-0 lead early in Wednesday’s nationally televised game against the Bruins only to watch Boston score the next six goals. One would think that the Bruins would run out of steam to some extent playing 24 hours later – especially after making a brief trip from New Jersey to Beantown – but it instead seemed like the Devils were a mere warm-up for the Calgary Flames.
As you may know, Boston destroyed poor Leland Irving and hapless old Calgary 9-0 (although Miikka Kiprusoff’s night off was interrupted so he could absorb three of those Bruins goals, too). The beauty for fantasy owners was that the offense was spread fairly evenly, with Patrice Bergeron (two goals and one assist) and Tyler Seguin (one goal and two assists) arguably leading the way.
Obviously, the Bruins cannot keep this frantic pace up all season long. Injuries and fatigue should slow them down – at least to some extent.
Still, the Bruins’ depth is part of what makes them such a galling team to go up against. It’s not just about stopping Seguin and Bergeron; you also have to go up against a hot-and-cold line that happened to be the best trio of the 2011 playoffs in Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. If that weren’t enough, depth forwards such as Chris Kelly and especially Rich Peverley have shown the aptitude to create offense every now and then. Finally, Brad Marchand seems to be showing that his playoff run might have been an example of his game blossoming, rather than a run in which he played over his head. (Marchand was sidelined with flu-like symptoms, which obviously didn’t slow the B’s down one bit.)
As far as fantasy goes, it’s unlikely that you’ll have much of a chance to bank on the Bruins’ most reliable scorers. If anyone slows down for reasons beyond injuries, it will be the fringe guys such as Peverley.
If anything, the biggest fantasy impact might be felt on the Flames’ side. Could it be that this thrashing will prompt a “screw it, let’s rebuild” trade or three? In most cases, I’d imagine change being a good thing, especially beyond Calgary’s top guys.
In somewhat surprising news, Shea Weber returned to the Nashville Predators’ lineup after missing just four games with a concussion. He didn’t manage to produce a point and actually registered a -2 rating in that comeback, but the most important thing is that he played almost 26 minutes. That shows that Barry Trotz wasn’t leary about “easing” him into the lineup, which means he has a great chance to pick up right where he left off. He also has the motivation of earning a big contract with just one season of restricted free agency in 2012-13 left, by the way.
Thursday’s batch of games produced some nice performances that weren’t rewarded with wins, which makes sense since the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships finished the same way (Russia’s Andrei Makarov stopped 57 shots, but the only one that beat him also won Sweden’s first WJC gold since 1981.)
Anyway, moving onto guys who are already in the NHL … Scott Clemmensen (38 for 41), Curtis Sanford (37 for 39) and Mike Smith (27 for 28) all put together nice performances that still resulted in blemishes on their season records. In other netminder news, three goalies generated fairly easy shutouts as Jonathan Quick (22 saves), Jonas Gustavsson (24) and Tuukka Rask (25) notched those all-important goose eggs for fantasy owners. Interestingly enough, Johan Gustafsson only needed 17 saves to get that Swedish shutout, which would be 10x cooler if his last name had a v where the f is. (His ancestors were total narrative-killers.)
Drew Doughty scored the Kings’ only goal and his first since Nov. 10 … Rick Nash said he would waive his no-trade clause, but there’s no word on whether he actually kneeled while begging to get out of Columbus … Ryan Getzlaf to Toronto is the first fun trade rumor to sprout from Bob Murray’s comments. The only basis they probably have in reality is that Brian Burke played a big part in Getzlaf’s development while he was in Anaheim, but I’d say that it’s far-fetched. At least I hope so, because it would be really dumb if the Ducks gave up on their flawed but super-talented captain.
Dion Phaneuf took a puck to face last night, so stay tuned for more on that at Rotoworld … An injury looks to sideline Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for about a month. Bummer, but hey, we’ll get to see if Jordan Eberle is legit … It sounds like Nicklas Backstrom and Jaromir Jagr are two players who could surprisingly find their way back into action on Saturday … Kimmo Timonen left last night’s game with an upper-body injury. Ruh roh … Krys Barch will sit out one game for the awkward thing he said about P.K. Subban. (Click here for the full injury list.)