WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins enter the month of December with an impressive 18-7-2 record (38 points) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
At the start of the season, the reigning conference champions set a goal to be in this spot after Thanksgiving.
“You’re happy with that, but you’re definitely not satisfied,” said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. “There’s still room to get better and to grow and we’re aware of that. But you definitely have to be happy with the position we’re in right now.”
There are some things the Bruins would like to improve as the schedule is now into December. Bergeron pointed to the defensive-zone coverage as one area to focus on, along with limiting the number of turnovers.
“We’re always a good team when we keep things simple,” said Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. “We’ve played our system the way it should be played and played great games. Then we’ve played outside of our system, going side-to-side and trying to dangle through people, which hasn’t worked for us. Our only problem is in our heads right now.”
This month will be more of a challenge for Boston, as eight of its 13 games will be away. The Bruins are 12-3-2 on home ice and 6-4-0 on the road.
After a four-day break between games, the Bruins will travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens on Thursday before returning home for one game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at TD Garden. Then it’s off to Toronto to play the Maple Leafs, before a three-game swing through western Canada for games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
“We’ve become a pretty good home team, which we’ve never really had a problem playing at home, but this year we’ve become a really good home team. We’ve thrived off of our crowd and played well in our building,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. “After a good November, you want to head into December and keep it going.”
With a third of the regular season complete, staying sharp and continuing to execute will be important for the Bruins as they attempt to keep the losses to a minimum. In the past few seasons, Boston encountered midseason skids, which Bruins coach Claude Julien has blamed on boredom.
“It’s been a little up and down,” Rask said of the team’s overall play this season. “We got off to a good start, got the wins and that’s always good. Then we kind of, I don’t want to say let up, but weren’t playing as good as we wanted to for seven or eight games and we still managed to get some points and stay with the pack. The last 10, 12 games we’ve been going in the right direction and getting a lot of wins.”
After losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals last June, the Bruins are hungrier than ever to return to the finals and prove they are the best team in the NHL. Even though they played as long as they did last spring, the Stanley Cup hangover the Bruins experienced during the 2011-2012 season hasn’t affected Boston so far this season.
“We obviously didn’t get the result we wanted last year, so that might be one of the reasons why,” Bergeron said. “We’ve been through it before and experience always helps in the long run. We’ve learned from the last experience and those types of situations, like right now with four days off, you need to take advantage of that and make sure you rest and be ready when it’s time to step on the ice for a game.”
During the 2011-2012 season, the Bruins posted a 21-3-1 record during November and December. The rest of that season was a virtual roller coaster and they eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Washington Capitals.
The Bruins have learned it takes mental toughness to avoid those typical ebbs and flows of a season. They have played a lot of hockey the last few years, and even though it doesn’t seem like they’re dealing with fatigue due to a short summer, they’re aware of it.
“We haven’t really talked about it, but I’m sure it’s affecting us at some level,” Rask said. “You can’t deny it that you don’t get mentally tired sometimes because you play a lot of hockey over the course of a couple of years. Then again, we’re all professionals and we can’t sit down and talk about how tired we are. We have to go out there and perform. I don’t think it’s affected us too badly, but a lot of guys have played a lot of hockey the past couple of years.”
Of course, there’s plenty more hockey to be played this season, and with the Bruins’ success in the first two months, they should be in for another long playoff run. But how they play this month will be important.