The Boston Bruins have gotten off to a strong start, going 8-1-0 to lead the Atlantic Division. That includes a five-game winning streak during which they held their past three opponents to one goal or fewer (a 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, 5-1 against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday and 4-0 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday).
The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been as fortunate. They’re 4-4-1 and have lost four in a row, all of which came during a five-game road trip. It’s been quite a turn from the 3-0-1 start they got off to this season.
Starts are important, but how will the seasons continue for each? And at the end of the season, will the Bruins or Penguins be the better team?
That’s the question before NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika and staff writer Tracey Myers in this installment of State Your Case.
Myers: My argument probably would have carried more weight before this weekend, when the Penguins’ losing streak reached four games. But there have been a few times now where I’ve thought, “Nope, the Penguins don’t have it this season,” and I’ve been wrong. So with all due respect to the Bruins, who are off to an excellent start, I think the Penguins will get back on track and finish higher. Sidney Crosby is still good and leads the Penguins with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in nine games. Evgeny Malkin is off to a solid start with eight points (four goals, four assists) in nine games. The Penguins are struggling to score goals, but they’ll get their touch back. Jake Guentzel coming back Saturday after missing four games because of an upper-body injury will help. I could end up being wrong (I usually am), but I’m not giving up on the Penguins yet.
Video: [email protected]: Crosby buries one-timer to take the lead
Cottonika: I wouldn’t give up on the Penguins either, not with Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang, not to mention Guentzel and coach Mike Sullivan. But you’re in a tough spot Tracey. It’s hard to argue against the Bruins right now. Entering the season, the biggest question was how they would handle their start with a new coach and key players injured. Well, coach Jim Montgomery has them at 8-1-0, and atop the NHL standings entering the week. Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk returned from shoulder surgery Oct. 20. Brad Merchant returned from double hip surgery Thursday, and he looked great with two power-play goals and an assist in the win against the Red Wings. Just wait until defenseman Charlie McAvoy returns from shoulder surgery. His six-month timeline would bring him back around early December.
Myers: Oh for sure, the odds are against the Penguins finishing higher than the Bruins, especially with a healthy and very effective Marchand back and McAvoy yet to return. Again, the Penguins always find ways to get things going and I do think they’ll get their offense rolling again soon. They also have to improve their penalty kill. Entering the week it’s 28th in the NHL at 71.0 percent. If the Penguins are going to be among the top teams again, that’s not going to fly. It starts with being more disciplined, something the Penguins weren’t on their latest road trip. As long as Crosby, Malkin and Letang have been with the Penguins, they’ve had strong leadership that’s known when to give the team a kick in the pants and get going. They’ll get it together.
Cottonika: Another good sign for the Bruins? After David Pastrnakwho leads the Bruins with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists), the next two scoring leaders are Patrice Bergeron with nine points (four goals, five assists), and David Krejci with eight points (two goals, six assists). Bergeron came back at age 37 after winning the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL for the fifth time last season. Krejci came back at age 36 after playing last season in his native Czech Republic. (He left the game Thursday because of an upper-body injury.) If Bergeron and Krejci can look like their familiar selves as the season goes on, Boston will be tough to beat.
Video: [email protected]: Pastrnak dekes for spectacular goal
Myers: Yes, the Bruins are getting what’s needed from their veterans in the early going. But here’s the thing about the Penguins: the first month of a season usually isn’t so great for them. Last season they finished October 3-3-2 and on a three-game losing streak. They started the 2020-21 season 5-4-1. You’d have to go back to October 2019 to find a stronger start (8-5-0). In other words, the first few weeks of a season aren’t their strong suit. They’ll ramp it up.
Cottonika: My last point is that each these teams have had the same cores for a long time now, and the Bruins simply have had better results in recent seasons. Boston has finished with more points than Pittsburgh four times in the previous five seasons. The Bruins have won six series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during that span; the Penguins have won one — and none in the past four seasons. However you define “best team at the end of the season,” I’m betting that the trend will continue, which is why I’m picking Boston.