The Boston Bruins have had a few days to recover from a undisciplined defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, but they’ll certainly have their hands full starting tomorrow night with a matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom the B’s swept in dominant fashion this past postseason. The Black and Gold will then make the quick trip back to Boston where they’ll host the Anaheim Ducks, who are also off to a hot start and currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference.
Long story short – Sidney Crosby is on another level right now. As much as nobody wants to hear it, Crosby is playing some of the best hockey of his career, currently leading the league with 20 points (8 G, 12 A). He’s been held pointless in only two of Pittsburgh’s 12 games, and he already has three games of three or more points. He’s still making Chris Kunitz look a lot better than he is (second on team with 12 pts), and Evgeni Malkin is doing his usual thing with 10 points, though he’s been mainly on the second line with recent acquisition Jussi Jokinen. One plus for the Bruins is that forward James Neal is still out with a nagging whiffle ball injury.
Defensively is where Pittsburgh has struggled in the past (most notably in the Eastern Conference Finals last year), and while they’ve improved this year giving up 29 goals so far (fourth lowest in the East), they’re still more offensive-minded and will be without a defensive stalwart in Rob Scuderi due to injury. Kris Letang is recently back in the lineup, so the B’s will have to contain him again as well.
Marc Andre Fleury should be in goal for the Pens, and because it’s the regular season and not the postseason, he’s been good with a 1.79 GAA and .928 save percentage.
Much is being made of this game because of last year’s playoffs as well as Jarome Iginla’s return, and it will of course be broadcast on NBCSN’s “Rivalry Night” (which, let’s face it, means next to nothing). For the Bruins not much should change in terms of their approach though, they were successful last season by taking away Crosby, Malkin and Letang’s time and space and by playing a simple north/south game, and that will exactly what they need to do again to get two points. The B’s will also need more than one line to contribute on the scoresheet however as if Lucic-Krejci-Iginla line continues to be the only threat, the Pens will have a much easier time defending.
Expect Tuukka Rask to in net once again in this Eastern Conference battle of the titans. Puck drop is at 8pm due to the national broadcast, which means that it will start closer to 8:15pm to allow for adequate Crosby-fellating time from Pierre & Co.
Less than 24 hours later the B’s will be back at the Garden to host the Anaheim Ducks in a Halloween night contest, which actually should be a pretty exciting matchup as well. The Ducks, celebrating their 20th NHL season if you can believe that, are 9-3-0 so far and are getting solid contributions from across the lineup. Stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are doing the majority of the damage with 13 and 12 points each respectively, while lesser known players such as Matheui Perreault and Nick Bonino have been consistent as well. The ageless Teemu Selanne looks as smooth as ever and has seven points in ten games (3 G, 4 A), good for a tie for fourth on the team. Like Pittsburgh the Ducks are dealing with some injuries up front, namely to Jakob Silfverberg and Saku Koivu, who will both be unavailable. Dustin Penner is also working his way back from a head injury, though he should be in the lineup.
Anaheim has done a decent job keeping pucks out of their net this season, sporting a defensive corps that features a number of youngsters that includes Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm. Francious Beauchemin and Bryan Allen provide some veteran depth, while Jonas Hiller has been good in net after Viktor Fasth went down with an injury. The Ducks have allowed only 31 goals against this season, which is tied for fifth best in the West.
The will be an interesting challenge for the Bruins. Not only will it be their second back to back (we all know how pretty the back half of their last one was) in a week, but Anaheim can attack in a number of ways that will make it more difficult for Boston to defend. They have a number of players who balance skill and grit (Perry and Getzlaf mainly), and they can play whatever game the opponent throws at them. One note however is that two of Anaheim’s three losses have come to Atlantic Division teams, with the Leafs and Canadiens both beating them relatively easily. So the Bruins could have the advantage heading in based on the Eastern Conference style of play if they can remain fresh enough coming out of Pittsburgh.
Boston will once again need their depth to be a factor, not only because of the turnaround but because they should have a clear advantage on the third and fourth lines (on paper at least). Some production from either of those trios could go a long way to making this a much easier game to play.
Puck drop is at 7pm on NESN and NHL Network in the US, and on your radio with 98.5 The Sports Hub.