We’re nearing the midway mark of the season, which brings us to a point to make some solid assessments of team and player performance. The Boston Bruins have played 40 games so far with a record of 24-wins, seven-loses and nine-OT-loses for 57 points, and a safe lead on first place in the Atlantic Division.
After 40-games last season, the Bruins won 22-games with 48-points in the standings. So recent stumbles aside, the Bruins
have put together a very nice first half. Here’s a look at some numbers that help explain how the Bruins got here.
Improved Penalty Kill and Five-on-Five Offense
A the team level, the Bruins have made measurable improvements on the penalty kill over last season when they were well below average allowing goals at a 7.45 goals per 60 min rate. This season they’ve shaved more than 2 goals per 60 mins off that rate, currently allowing only 5.41 goals per 60 mins on the penalty kill. The penalty killers have reduced shot attempts against, but the biggest boost has been a marked improvement in the penalty kill save percentage from a below-league-average .860 to a near-the-top-of-the-league .894 save percentage.
The other area of notable improvement is the Bruins’ five-on-five offense. Last season they scored at a 2.35 goals per 60 min rate, on a very low 7.34 shooting percentage. This season they rank 10th in The NHL scoring at a 2.71 goals per 60 min rate, with a very strong 9.3 shooting percentage. However, you can look at that shooting percentage as a negative; that it’s too high and is bound to regress closer to the league average. And it already has. In the last 10 games, the Bruins have seen a steep dive in shooting percentage to 7.21%, closer to the 7.34 shooting percentage they finished with last season.
Now let’s take a look at player-level statistics.
Tuukka Rask Producing Vezina-Winning Numbers
The Bruins defense is suppressing shot attempts and scoring chances better than any other NHL team, and Tuukka Rask – heading to The NHL’s All-Star Game – is stopping those chances better than most goalies in the league. That is a recipe for success as illustrated by the graphic below. Among goalies with 20 or more starts, only the New York Islander’s Semyon Varlamov matches Rask’s five-on-five Goals Against performance (but it should be noted that Varlamov’s five-on-five workload is more difficult)
Defense Wins Hockey Games
The Bruins defensemen as a group is posting some solid numbers. Earlier in the season, even with the success in the standings, the team defensive had some work to do to improve their five-on-five performance. At the time I singled-out Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug as the defensemen needing to improve their five-on-five play. Fast forward to today, and they both have improved their underlying defensive numbers drastically. Krug is now among the league’s best possession defensemen with a 55.28% shot attempts share, and his expected goals against is well above The NHL average.
In limited deployment, Matt Grzelcyk is posting some impressive possession numbers and the team’s best expected goals against rate at 1.85 goals per 60 min for defensemen.
Pastrnak Leading Lethal Offense
The Perfection Line is having a whale of a season. The graph below does a good job illustrating how much better they are performing relative to the rest of their NHL forward peers. There is no NHL player that can match Pastrnak’s scoring rate and output at both five-on-five and on the power play. The line is incredibly valuable when you consider their versatility and dominance on the power play, five-on-five and penalty kill where Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are among the NHL’s best penalty killers.
Power Kill Specialists
Power Kill refers to a penalty kill that is so good the killing team spends an abnormal amount of time in the other team’s zone, often collecting scoring chances and short handed goals while they do so. I don’t think the Bruins, as a team, are quite there yet, but Bergeron and Marchand are definitely Power Kill specialists. They are two of only a handful of forwards who boast incredibly stingy chances against metrics (measured by expected power play goals against) while also threatening the opposition with the possibility of scoring a shorted handed goal (measured by expected short handed goals for).
Adding Depth Through Trade
I like to leave this analysis to the experts, but going by the numbers alone, I would be somewhat leery of the lopsided contribution provided by the Perfection Line. A depth move might be a prudent idea for the Bruins; an idea that is supported by recent trade rumors. Whatever adjustment the Bruins need to make, the good news is that the team is in an excellent position in the standings half way through the season, and can concentrate on momentum, health and shoring up the roster from a position of strength.