The Penguins are set to follow an overtime thriller against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon tonight in Boston against the Bruins. The record in the banner isn’t a lie, the Bruins are 10-1-2 heading into this game and looking like a team that is pissed they came in second place last year. The Penguins made history when they repeated as Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in the salary cap era, and that ability to repeat is something that is often harped on during the first few months of the following season. Something that is often overlooked, however, is that it is excruciatingly difficult to repeat as conference champions in this league, let alone when the cup. The Bruins are trying to do just that, but history is not on their side. The list of teams that have repeated as conference champions in the Salary Cap era is shorter than Gary Bettman’s peep, Detroit (2009), Pittsburgh (2009), Pittsburgh (2017). Only three teams, and technically two seasons, had a repeat conference champion in the 14 years of the salary cap. Historically speaking, the Bruins have a 14.2% chance of repeating as Eastern Conference Champions this season which means there is an 85.8% chance that this hot start is not going to matter. Regardless of how things shape up in June, there is no denying that the Bruins are using the motivation behind the cup loss and playing like maniacs right now.
I often reference the Corsica hockey line rankings provided on cap friendly, and the Bruins might be the canon of these stats. The B’s are paced by their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak; the trio has scored 27 goals and 37 assists for a total of 64 points in 13 games, resulting in a cool point per game average of 4.92. It is no surprise that this first line is the #1 first line in the league. What is surprising is the Bruins also have the 9th best 3rd line and the 5th best 4th line in the League. In fact, their 19th ranked 2nd line is the only group on the roster that is not in the top 10.
And it doesn’t stop at offense, the Bruins defense is equally as impressive statistically. Zdeno Chara is apparently still alive and playing as a top-pairing defender with partner Charlie McAvoy, a duo that ranks as the 5th best top pairing in the NHL. They are followed by the #1 overall ranked second pairing of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo while the third pairing of Matt Grzelyck and Steve Kampfer (who?) comes in as the 5th best 3rd pairing.
TL;DR The Bruins have a pretty good team
All of that was the preface this next part that might be a bit of a surprise to some…
The Penguins have a pretty good team, too.
It was announced yesterday that Patric Hornqvist is going to be out longer term with a lower body injury, which opens a spot for Dominik Kahun to rejoin the opening roster. The addition of Malkin back to the lineup has resulted in the Penguins having a roster that ranks toe-to-toe with the mighty Bruins. In fact, unlike Boston, all four of the Penguins forward lines rank within the top 10 of the league:
Guentzel – Crosby – Simon 7th best 1st line
Galchenyuk – Malkin – Rust 10th best 2nd line
McCann – Bjugstad – Kahun 5th best 3rd line
Aston-Reese – Blueger – Tanev 7th best 4th line
The forward matchups tonight will be the game within the game because statistically these two teams are stacked. Of course, the Bruins have an edge in defense. While the Letang-Dumoulin pairing his the 3rd best top pair in the league, Pettersson and Schultz come in as the 12th best second pairing while Johnson and Marino rank 19th. Of note, John Marino already ranks as the 35th best Right Defender, which is impressive that he is on the cusp of breaking into the top 31 despite only having 14 games under his belt.
Josh Yohe recently wrote that some fans are always going to bash Jack Johnson because of previous play, which may be true, but my thoughts are this. In terms of left defenders, Jack Johnson ranks 110th, and by my math, in a league with 31 teams and three left defenders per team, there are 93 total left defenders. This implies that Johnson statistically ranks lower than 17 left defenders that aren’t even playing the position.
In their matchup against the high powered duo of McDavid and Draisaitl, Dumoulin and Letang absolutely dominated. By the end of the game, the Oilers first line had a Corsi for of just 3 and a Corsi against of 22, for a CF% of 12. TWELVE PERCENT. The “Letang sucks” crowd was quiet during that game, and maybe it is because in combination with Brian Dumoulin he absolutely smothered the top-scoring duo in the league. Tonight they will be tasked with doing it again against the bruins first line, and to be honest I love their odds. They are playing shut down hockey this year, and I know this because there aren’t many idiots complaining about Kris Letang yet.
The Bruins record is impressive, but it doesn’t tell the whole tale. Who knows where the Pens would be if they didn’t have the injuries in October. If the Penguins play like they did Saturday afternoon they will be a 50 win team this year. Tonight is a battle of heavyweights, going toe-to-toe on the NHL Network. Strap up, buckle down, and fuck Boston.