This has been an up and down season for the Boston Bruins, a team with championship aspirations and a championship pedigree to go along with them. They are one of the league’s toughest outs and are known for their physical, structured style of game that wears down opponents - but it hasn't been as consistent as they’d like it to be this season.
Boston has slid to fifth place in the Atlantic Division, in large part due to a barrage of injuries that sounds quite familiar to the Blue Jackets. The Bruins have been hit with injury after injury and have spent a considerable part of the season without top players like David Krejci and Zdeno Chara, but as they always do, they’ve relied on organizational depth and their identity to keep them above water.
A lot of credit must go to coach Claude Julien, who is one of the NHL’s most accomplished active coaches and has played a big role in forging the Boston identity. The Bruins are big, they’re sound defensively and they have one of the game’s best between the pipes in Tuukka Rask, who has gotten a few more nights off this year with backup Niklas Svedberg proving capable of stepping in and doing the job.
The last time these two teams met, it was an entertaining and spirited hockey game at Nationwide Arena in late November. The Blue Jackets raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and looked to be on the right track, but they could not hold a third-period lead and had to rally late to force overtime.
Alex Khokhlachev, who had recently been called up from Providence (AHL) on an emergency basis, scored the game-winning goal in the seventh round of the shootout to give Boston the second point.
As we just mentioned, the Nov. 21 meeting between the Blue Jackets and Bruins was a memorable one and for a variety of reasons. The fight between Dalton Prout and Milan Lucic stirred up some controversy, with the Bruins publicly making it known they didn’t like the scrap (though Lucic initiated the engagement) and a short-lived war of words ensued.
The game itself was energetic, confrontational and embodied exactly how both of these teams like to play the game. Columbus got out on the front foot eager to put a prolonged losing skid in the rear view mirror, but stumbled in the third period amid some costly mistakes inside their own zone.
They learned a hard lesson that night: do not relent against a team that has been there and done that many times before. The Bruins never quit, stuck with their game plan, and found a way to get two points.
Always one to get under the skin of his opponents, Marchand has been putting the puck in the net this year, and in the Bruins’ 5-3 win over Nashville on Tuesday, became the first Bruin to hit the 10-goal mark on the season. It’s typically an “offense by committee” effort for Boston, with Patrice Bergeron atop the team’s scoring list with 26 points after a three-point effort against the Predators. Marchand plays in a multitude of situations for Boston and brings the same thing to the table every night, which is a big reason why he’s been both consistent and reliable in his six-year career (all with the Bruins). A three-time 20-goal scorer, Marchand isn’t quite at that pace in 2014-15 but he’s always around the net looking for secondary opportunities.
Injuries have been a problem for Bergeron over the years, but he’s been in the lineup for each of the Bruins’ first 35 games and the offense is starting to come. A three-assist game in his last outing (vs. Nashville) gives him six points in his last five games, and he is now the team’s leading scorer with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists). One of the game’s elite two-way centers, Bergeron has been a stud in the face-off circle, as well, going 60 percent or better in three of the last five games - including a dominating performance against the Predators.
In short: all of them
The Bruins are a matchup problem because of their size and skill throughout the top six, making defensive assignments especially important for the Blue Jackets, who have the last line change on home ice. But as the Blue Jackets learned in the last meeting with Boston, it’s not just the Bruins’ top players that can do damage. They roll four lines, and each of those lines has the ability to score - which means opponents need an “all hands on deck” approach when trying to shut down the Bruins attack. It’s going to require a committed effort from all 12 forwards and all six defensemen in order for Columbus to start the post-Christmas schedule on the right note.