I was browsing through some stats the other day purely for
gambling blogging purposes and I got to thinking about roster turnover in the NHL and how it affects production and results. How even little changes can make a player or an entire franchise better. Now, three games does not paint the total picture of an entire season but it can certainly give you a snapshot of how a season went. After looking at the Bruins personnel and starts from this and last year it’s a reminder of how quickly things can change even when you feel, as a fan, management hasn’t done much. Just take a look at a few key details of the first three games from last season compared to now:
2015-2016: 0-3 start. No Zdeno Chara or Dennis Seidenberg due to injury. Chris Kelly and Brett Connolly slot in with the top-9 forwards. Zac Rinaldo and Jonas Kemppainen fill out the 4th line. Zach Trotman, Matt Irwin, Joe Morrow, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid make up the defenive group. Bruins were outscored 16-7.
2016-2017: 2-1 start. No Patrice Bergeron due to injury. David Backes arrives along with Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik slotting in the top-9 forwards. Dominic Moore, Riley Nash, Noel Acciari, and Tim Schaller fill out the 4th line (and scored). Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug, John-Michael Liles, Colin Miller, Rob O’Gara make up the defensive group. Bruins outscore their opponents 11-8.
Quite the difference people. Not to mention, the Bruins started this year on a roadie compared to last year where they were comfortably at home yet still throttled to the tune of 16 goals. That’s double the amount of goals they’ve given up this year. It really is a staggering difference.
Having Zdeno Chara healthy is a key component. He may no longer be the dominant Norris winning #1 d-man we love but his presence alongside an emerging Brandon Carlo has been great. Rob O’Gara and JML are both significant upgrades to the Matt Irwin and Zach Trotman “era”. Also, outside of the very first shot of the season Tuukka Rask has been back to his old self to the point you could even argue he stole the game in Winnipeg on Monday night. And having defensively reliable guys like Dominic Moore and Riley Nash on the 4th line actually contributing offensively as well, instead of Rinaldo and Kemppainen doing who knows what, is fantastic.
To be fair to last years squad the B’s did go on a nice run after the 0-3 start. In fact they went 6-0-1 to finish off the month of October. There is still time for this Bruins bunch to screw this thing up. But what makes the start of this season most compelling is they’re doing it without Patrice Bergeron (it feels like they’re without David Krejci too) and David Backes is exactly as advertised.
When the 2015-2016 Bruins got punched in the mouth they often ran and hid. Last Thursday they hung around and hit back. Monday night they hung around and hit back. David Backes is hitting everything he sees. I’ll be the first to admit the “Big Bad Bruins” mantra drives me insane because the game has changed so much. It’s just so annoying to hear people constantly reference that Stone Age era. However the injection of life and fight that #42 gives this team is so refreshing. Especially when it has always felt like Bergeron is the only one consistently capable of doing that. And that’s not “Big Bad Bruin” hockey. That’s just great leadership. I loved Loui Eriksson’s game but gritty, inspiring skill wasn’t his thing. I loved Milan Lucic but even he would pick and chose when he wanted to engage even on nights when that’s the only thing he needed to do. Backes does it every single night and it’s not only impressive as hell but it’s infectious. That’s the kind of shit you need in the final 5 games of the regular season when you have to lock down a playoff spot.
There’s so much road ahead on the season that I’m not even going to bother looking beyond Thursdays tilt with the New Jersey Devils. But out of the gate we can see there’s a better mix of talent and attitude in the lineup right now than there was twelve months ago. Just imagine if they could get that mystery defensemen we all crave.