Two months in, and at the quarter-mark of the 2022-23 season, the Boston Bruins are showing no signs of slowing down.
Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning extended Boston’s historic season-opening home win streak to 13. It also marked their third win in the fourth game of their difficult seven-game stretch.
Taylor Hall paced the Bruins’ offense with a pair of goals. He got the Bruins off and running a mere 67 ticks in on a tip, then put them ahead for good early in the third on the power play following a great setup from Nick Foligno.
Amid a tight-checking tilt, the Bruins traded quality chances in the third against a desperate Lightning bunch. A goaltending clinic from Jeremy Swayman and Andrei Vasilevisky kept both teams in check.
In the end, Swayman and company got the upper hand, making one more timely stop on Corey Perry along the way toward Brad Marchand’s empty-net tally.
“I thought both teams were really good defensively,” head coach Jim Montgomery said after the Bruins improved to 19-3. “Room and space… there wasn’t a lot of it out there. It was a playoff game. They played a real smart road game, but I liked the way that we stuck with it, and defended hard, and found ways to score.”
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins earned their fifth straight win over the Lightning.
Hall and Coyle are gaining chemistry on the third line.
The Bruins have a luxurious situation with their top three wingers. Two remain perennial Hart Trophy candidates in Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The other, Taylor Hall, earned league MVP honors in 2018 with the New Jersey Devils.
Nearly five years removed from his career year, Hall finds himself on the third line. Given Boston’s deep forward core, that’s not a bad situation at all.
“I don’t take it as a demotion,” Hall said of his third line assignment. “I take it as, ‘do the best with what you can with the ice time given and the opportunity given.’”
Hall’s growing chemistry with Charlie Coyle provides Montgomery and his coaching staff with even more scoring balance. Even a pointless outing from Coyle couldn’t prevent the duo from picking up where they left off.
With Coyle and Hall together during 5v5 situations, the Bruins outshot the Lightning 8-4 and also earned a 12-9 edge in shot attempts. Their confidence in handling the puck and their ability to create time and space led to more quality looks against the Lightning.
“Taylor Hall likes to have the puck,” Montgomery said of the Hall-Coyle connection.
“Coyle is good at driving the middle lane and opening up space. And then Charlie is also good at hanging on the pucks in the offensive zone, which allows Taylor time to get open.”
Bruce Cassidy tried putting Coyle and Hall together to start his last season. For whatever reason, the two never clicked.
Coyle and Hall had an extended window to work on their chemistry this year. With their ever-growing camaraderie, the Bruins may have themselves a long-term plan with Coyle and Hall flanking the third line.
“He’s such a good hockey player. He’s so strong, and he’s so good at his own end,” Hall said of his chemistry with Coyle. “[After last year] I think if I got on a line with him, I had a better idea of what I needed to do and how I needed to play. And I think the line has been really good.”
Swayman outdueled Vasilevskiy.
The Bruins had Linus Ullmark available to start or back up after the Swede left in the third period of their Black Friday matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes. Given that, Montgomery remained mum on revealing his starter ahead of the second Bruins-Lightning matchup.
Conventional wisdom still might have suggested Ullmark earning the nod from Montgomery and goalie coach Bob Essensa. But perhaps the Bruins went into gamesmanship mode as they tabbed Swayman for duty following his relief appearance on Friday.
“I knew two games ago,” Montgomery said with a laugh. “I know Goalie Bob has liked his progression.”
Swayman and the all-world Vasilevskiy went toe-to-toe in their goaltending duel. They only allowed three combined goals, with Swayman falling victim to a Steven Stamkos power play one-timer late in the second — for Stamkos’s 999th career NHL point — and Vasilevskiy succumbing to Hall’s tip and power play marker.
Vasilevskiy was up to the task and kept his team within striking distance in their second game of a back-to-back. But Swayman was one better, with his multiple clutch stops in the third, including the highlight-reel stop on Perry.
“It’s just exciting,” Swayman said of his matchup with Vasilevskiy. “You look forward to these games, and obviously, he’s had success in the past. You look up to guys like that, and to be able to steal two points is pretty special. Moving on, you take the positives from this game and then move on to the next.”
The Bruins aren’t interested in ‘measuring sticks.’
The Bruins kept shattering early-season records through the first two months of the 2022-23 campaign. After a somewhat tumultuous offseason following Cassidy’s firing, they aren’t surprising anyone anymore.
They’ve proven they belong in the league’s upper-echelon time and again. They continue to laugh in the face of adversity, overcoming deficits and injuries en route to the best start in their illustrious history.
Through it all, the Bruins continue to live in the moment. They don’t feel overwhelmed with the significance of this run, and have embraced their historic start.
Which is why some of the guys inside the tight-knit aren’t interested in using this seven-game stretch as a measuring stick. Nor do they feel other teams need to measure up to them.
Instead, the likes of Jake DeBrusk and more sense an opportunity to establish building blocks and grow their game amid the 82-game marathon.
“We look forward to these types of games. You look forward to it because we know it’s going to be more structured and lots of skill in the other end,” DeBrusk said.
“With Tampa Bay, obviously we’ve seen them in the playoffs enough, and we know what they’re all about. The teams that are upcoming as well… we know that they’ll probably be in a playoff spot and probably going to be fighting for the same thing that we want. I guess you can say that it’s a measuring stick, but we’re just trying to get better in here and trying to find our game and stay consistent with it.”
Even a well-rounded bunch like the Bruins will encounter their share of tweaks. Their recent stretch on the penalty kill highlights the list of improvements. Even Derek Forbort’s return couldn’t prevent Boston’s shorthanded unit from allowing a power-play goal for the seventh straight game.
The Bruins will encounter more hurdles entering their December slate, beginning with Saturday’s matchup against the defending champion Colorado Avalanche. Regardless, they belong in the discussion of Stanley Cup favorites.