Tuukka Rask will have to be on top of his game if the Bruins are to be successful against some of the best teams in the NHL. (Photo credit: Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)
After winning two out of three games on their homestand, the Boston Bruins will travel west to battle some of the best the western conference has to offer. Boston will begin the trip in Anaheim to take on the Ducks and from their will travel to Los Angeles and San Jose where the Kings and Sharks will be awaiting their arrival. Each of those teams have at least fifty-four points on the season, which places them among the best in the NHL.
Having not played any Western Conference teams due to the lockout last season (besides the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup), it will be the first time the Bruins will play each team on the road since the 2011-’12 season. Let us take a closer look at each of the teams the Bruins will be facing and see what challenges await for Boston.
The Ducks (31-8-5, 67pts) are 9-1 in their last ten games and have the second most points in the NHL. With only eight losses this season, it is no surprise that they play very well in their own arena. So well in fact, they have only lost two games at home, both of which came in overtime. The Ducks are solid both offensively and defensively, ranking 9th in the NHL allowing only 2.43 goals against and scoring an average of 3.27 goals.
Anaheim’s offensive firepower is due in large part to their top line that features Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Both skaters have at least twenty goals so far this season and rank in the top-10 in the league in points scored. Only two other teams, the Penguins and the Blackhawks, have two players with twenty or more goals this season.
How to beat them: Although it is no easy task, the key to beating the Ducks is to keep that first line off the score sheet. Getzlaf and Perry lead the team in every major offensive statistical category and are a combined plus-34 this season.
Another key for the Bruins to be successful against the Ducks is special teams. Anaheim ranks in the bottom of the league in both power-play percentage (24th) and penalty-killing percentage (22nd). The Ducks shaky penalty kill combined with the Bruins newfound success on the power-play could be a huge factor in the game.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings (26-13-4 56pts) find themselves third in the Western Conferences’ Pacific Division which is quite remarkable considering they have been without arguably their best player, Jonathan Quick. The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner injured his groin in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 12 and made his return to the ice Saturday against the Canucks. Quick was impressive, allowing only one goal and scoring the win in his first game back. The return of the Kings star goalie means the Bruins will most likely face one of the NHL’s best netminders. Despite their offensive struggles, the Kings have still managed to win a lot of games this season because of their excellent defense. They rank first in the NHL in goals against a game allowing just over two goals a game. The team that ranks second in the league in goals against is the Boston Bruins, so don’t expect a high scoring game when these two meet.
How to beat them: If the Bruins can manage to get a couple pucks past Quick, Boston will have a great chance at beating a Kings team that struggles to score. Los Angeles is 22nd in the league averaging 2.49 goals a game.
They will also have to keep Anze Kopitar in check. Kopitar centers the Kings first line and leads the team with 35 points this year. He also leads the team in plus/minus at plus-22. With 22 assists Kopitar helps to get his other teammates going. One such teammate is Jeff Carter who leads the team with 15 goals. If Boston bears down on the first line of the Kings, LA might not be able to keep up with Boston on the scoreboard.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks (27-10-6 60pts) will be another tough test for the Bruins as San Jose is another Western Conference team that can play solid both defensively and offensively. They rank just outside the top-10 in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.47) and are 5th in the NHL averaging 3.14 goals a game.
Bruins fans should be quite familiar with the Sharks captain Joe Thornton who was with the Bruins from 1997 until he was traded early in the ’05 season. So far this year Thornton is tied for 3rd among skater in points (48). The Bruins will have a difficult time containing Thornton whose size and vision has resulted in forty-three assists this year.
How to beat them: For the Bruins to earn the victory against the Sharks they will need to play that excellent team defense they are known for. San Jose leads the league in shots per game averaging 36.1 shots, and it will be important for Tuukka Rask to make timely saves and have good rebound control on the high volume of shots he will undoubtedly face in this game.
Road trip prediction
The Bruins will go 3-0 on the road trip and will shutout each team 5-0.
Unbiased road trip prediction
The Bruins will be tested in all three of their games because each team is truly a Stanley Cup contender. Their toughest game will be their first on the trip against the Ducks for a number of reasons. For one, Anaheim is unbeaten in regulation at home this season with a 17-0-2 record. Conversely, the Bruins have struggled away from home this season with a record of 10-8. Also, although the Bruins did beat the Ducks in their first meeting on Halloween, Boston was outplayed for much of that game, and it took a late third period goal for them to send the game to overtime before they eventually won in a shootout. The Ducks superiority at home coupled with the Bruins mediocrity on the road will result in the Bruins getting off to a rough start on the trip with a loss 4-2.
Things won’t get much easier for the team when they travel to Los Angeles to take on the defensive-minded Kings. Although the Kings have their number one goaltender back in Quick, that won’t help their struggles on offense. Boston will be able to get a couple goals up on the board and the Kings simply do not have the ability to come back from deficits. The Bruins win 3-1.
After going 1-1 in their first two games, Boston will have to find a way to keep the high powered Sharks from taking a chunk of flesh from Rask. Like the Ducks, it won’t be the first time the teams will meet this year. On Oct. 24 the Bruins seemed to be unprepared for the speed and physicality the Sharks possess. They were outplayed for the majority of the game and it showed in the shot totals with San Jose outshooting Boston 39-17. Despite being outplayed, the Bruins were able to stay in the game thanks to the goaltending of Rask and a goal by David Krejci with less than a second remaining in the game they won 2-1. The Sharks have only one loss in regulation at home, but I think they will have two after the game against the Bruins. Boston won’t be caught off guard this time by San Jose and will bring their game from the opening puck drop to win 4-2.
There you have it; the Bruins will manage to come out of one of their toughest stretches of the year with two wins. Each team they will face is actually quite similar to the Bruins with their best play coming at home. While each team is pretty balanced, Boston is the most complete team and that is why they will go 2-1 on this tough three game road trip.