They were at it again. The Boston Bruins continued their winning ways this past Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over Northeast divisional foe Buffalo. Tim Thomas won his seventh consecutive game in goal for the Bruins which is a new franchise record for most wins at the start of the season by a goaltender. Rookie Brad Marchand scored his first NHL goal which was also the first of two shorthanded goals by the B’s on the evening. The club did not play its best game but it was good enough to win while Thomas made the big saves when needed.
Next up on the schedule is tonight’s game in Washington, DC against the Capitals. Alexander Ovechkin is THE name on the Caps’ roster and well he should be. He is arguably the best player on the planet. Ovechkin is the sixth leading scorer in the NHL with 7 goals and 8 assists in 12 games but he has been overshadowed by rookie goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, who was named the National Hockey League’s Rookie of the Month for October. The Czech Republic native ranks first in the NHL in wins with eight. He has lost just three. His 2.31 goals against average is the 12th best among the league’s goalies and his .920 save percentage places Neuvirth in 13th place. The 6’1” netminder has very quick feet and a great glove hand. Watch for the black and gold to create traffic and screens with the goal of limiting Neuvirth’s vision of the puck when it is shot at him. They will also need to fight through the Capitals’ strong corps of defensemen to get to rebounds.
The Bruins have won both games they have played against Washington. Tonight’s game may come down to the battle of the penalty killing units. The Capitals are fifth in the league while the Bruins are in the top spot with the most efficient penalty killers in the NHL. The B’s have killed 91.4% of opponents’ power plays. Patrice Bergeron has been as good a penalty killer as there is in the league but the biggest and best surprise on the PK has been rookie Jordan Caron. Caron’s positioning and strong skating skills allow him to be aggressive to loose pucks and clear them out of the defensive zone. The play of another Bruins rookie, Brad Marchand as a fourth liner and a penalty killer has been an eye opener, as well. Marchand relies on his speed to shut down opponents’ power plays and is very strong on the forecheck in five on five situations. Like fellow rookies, Caron and Tyler Seguin, Marchand has shown visible improvement in a limited role. He appears to be feeling more comfortable with each shift and should be a valuable defensive forward for years to come.
The B’s will finish the week with a Saturday night tilt at home versus the St. Louis Blues. The Blues are in second place in the Western conference. They are led by goaltender, Jaroslav Halak. Bruins fans should remember Halak from last season as the man who took over for Carey Price in the Montreal crease and took the Habs to the Eastern conference final of the 2009-2010 Stanley Cup playoffs before bowing out to the Philadelphia Flyers. During the off season, Montreal traded Halak to St. Louis and he has not disappointed by putting up numbers that closely rival those of Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. Halak and Thomas are tied for the league lead with three shut outs each. They are also tied for second place with seven wins. Halak is sixth with a .940 save percentage while Thomas continues to lead the league in that category. Finally, Halak is ranked fourth in goals against average at 1.53 compared to Thomas’ league best 0.72. What does this all mean? It means Saturday’s game could be a playoff type atmosphere on the ice from the nets out. The Blues have a very mobile, aggressive, defense led by American olympian Jack Johnson and youngsters Alex Pietrangelo and T.J. Oshie, who is St. Louis’ leading scorer. Up front, they are paced by another former Montreal Canadien Matt D’Agostini and 22 year old David Perron, who is a superstar in the making. Former Bruin Brad Boyes is off to a slow start but he always has added incentive when he faces the Bruins.
The Boston Bruins are in for two difficult tests when they take on the Capitals and the Blues. They will need to continue playing with the speed and desire to win every puck battle in all areas of the ice in order to be successful and post two W’s. Tim Thomas and his teammates have proven they are ready for each and every challenge and because of that they have been on a nine game roll. There is no reason why it should not continue for games ten and eleven.