Friday, January 9, 2009

Halfway There

In my book, there's one word to sum up the Bruins season as we cross the halfway point: Balance.

The great teams in sport are always built on balance. In football, you have to excel in all three phases of the game to win consistently. The Colts, for example have had a great offense for years, but it wasn't until the defensive core of Freeney, Sanders and the like propped up a once meager defense that they won their Super Bowl and reached the high echelon of great teams. In Baseball, the Yankees have shown us for years that just paying for the best hitters doesn't get it done. You need pitching depth, you need defense, you need speed. Coming local, the 2008 Celtics were another perfect example. Take a hungry, veteran core, infused with young talent, all willing to work towards a balanced focus of defense, energy and sharing the load and you end up with 3 superstars all putting up near career lows. Did that equal failure? No, it resulted in a 17th Championship.
Can you win without balance? Sure. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens always remind me of that. But they weren't a great team. They were a good team. Balance leads to greatness because you can overcome the downtimes in different facets of your game.

And so we come to the 2008-09 Boston Bruins. Through 41 games, they're checking in at 30-7-4. I'll take it. Here's some splits. Home record: 15 wins, 3 losses, 1 OT loss. Road record: 15 wins, 4 losses, 3 OT losses. If you want a silver lining in that (isn't it one already?), its that we've played 3 more games on the road through the first half so we've got 22 home games remaining to 19 away.
On the scoreboard? 143 GF is good for second in the league and 93 goals against is an NHL best. We can score with the big boys of Philly and Detroit and we can grind it out with the likes of New Jersey and Vancouver. Even the special teams are amongst the tops in the league (powerplay is 3rd overall).
Why these results? Take a look around the roster...and be prepared to look down I-95 to Providence, because there's been significant contribution coming there too. Our goaltending reminds me of the Scotty Bowman coached Canadiens of the 1970's. Why have one great netminder when you can have two very good ones who spell one another and can be a rock on any given night? I'm much happier knowing our two guys are going to be rested and ready having each played no more than 50 games than having one great guy who has to stand in for 70. In his classic memoir, "The Game" Ken Dryden spoke at length about the strength the Canadiens garnered from having a duo of above average netminders constantly pushing one another in himself and Michel Larocque. Thomas and Fernandez do exactly that and therein lies the secret to their both landing atop most statistical columns for keepers so far.

Defense. Well, it sure helps not having Hal Gill and Andrew Alberts moving along like a couple of fuckin Pinto's back there. The combination of speed, strong skating and strength/size is paramount for a good defensive corps. Detroit has mastered this (having Lidstrom helps) for years in the combination of plug ins on their backline. Chiarelli knew this from the Ottawa days of rotating guys like Chara, Richardson, Phillips, Meszaros, Redden, etc through. Look no further than a guy like Hunwick who can step up and support the offense, and suddenly the balance of your core forces the opposition to spread itself, worrying more about the potential for a D man to be an offensive threat and it immediately translates into less aggressive play from them, as long as those same D men can recover from step-ups, etc, which this group can. They pick their spots and the forwards know when its coming.

In fact, the forward play just as much of a part in this as the D. All year, Jack has been ranting about the "competition" Kessel and Savard have going to play two way hockey. It's no wonder that the top 4 guys in the league in plus minus are wearing the spoked B (3 of whom are forwards). This newfound balance in the game of key offensive weapons allows for flexibility. Julien knows he can spread the offensive talent around if these types of players aren't going to be defensive liabilities. What does that get you? Depth. Scoring depth to be precise. It's exactly why you see such production coming from the second (especially...they're the scariest second line in hockey outside of Pittsburgh and flying well under the radar nationally) and third lines this year. That depth is probably word 1A for the season so far. The Bruins have balanced their roster so well that despite key injuries to the likes of Ference, Bergy, Sturm and Ward...we're hardly missing a beat and suddenly we know why the club liked St Pierre so much (and Sobotka and Nokolainen, etc).

It's the quickest Bruins team to 30 wins since 1930. They've got 64 points. As the 8 seed last season, the B's netted 94 points. Currently? They're on pace for 128. Don't hold your breath for that. But if they split the difference, it will be 111 points...Only Detroit's 115

Balance. Bruins. They want it as bad as you. I suppose there's an ironic balance in that, too.

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