Coming of two straight road wins in the state of Florida, the Bruins return north to face an Islanders team fighting for a playoff spot out on Long Island. The Islanders are the first of four games in six days for the black and gold, as the team looks to build upon two very solid efforts against the Lightning and Panthers. The Bruins currently sit at third in the division, but given that the team has played five fewer games than anybody in the conference, the teams point total is certainly not reflective of their 11-2-2 record. The Islanders are a young team that has the potential to sneak into the first round, where they could very well end up facing the Bruins.
1) Can the Bruins slow down John Tavares?
It pretty much goes without saying that Tavares, an Ontario native has arrived into the NHL with full force. The talented center is one of the few players to earn an age exemption and begin his Junior’s career at just age fourteen. In the years since, Tavares has certainly lived up to the hype. Drafted number one overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, the polished Tavares had an immediate impact on the struggling Islanders franchise. With the season a little more than a quarter of the way through, Tavares currently sits second in the league with goals (13), and third in the league in points (25), despite playing on a team that comparatively lacks complimentary talent. Even more impressively, Tavares’s game has accelerated to the point where he is the driving force behind the league’s 8th ranked offense (2.9 gpg) and the league’s 8th ranked powerplay unit (converting a healthy 84.1 percent). If the Bruins are going to prevent a surprising loss, it all starts with containing number 91.
2) Will Peter Chiarelli’s trade comments elevate the offense’s level of play?
After Thursday Night’s win against the Lightening, General Manager Peter Chiarelli stated to reporters that this year, like in almost every other, Chiarelli is looking to add a depth forward before the April 1st trade deadline. While none of Boston’s current goal-scorers seem to face the issues of past Bruins who were shipped out of town (Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler come to mind), Chiarelli has made it clear he is exploring many different avenues to improve the scoring consistency the Bruins have sometimes failed to have. It will be interesting to see whether or not these comments jumpstart any of the slumping Bruins (Chris Kelly, Chris Borque, Rich Peverly) into producing on a more consistent basis. Skating against a struggling Islanders backend that 29th in the league in goals against average (3.5 per game) tonight’s contest present an ideal opportunity for the B’s third line to solidify it’s role for the club.
3) Can the Bruins continue to find the right balance in between the pipes?
While Bruins fans of decades past may have to pinch themselves, the Bruins have produced some of the league’s best goaltending season’s in the league (highlighted of course by Tim Thomas’s two Vezina Trophy-winning seasons) under Peter Chiarelli’s tenure as general manager. Tuukka Rask has unquestionably filled Thomas’s vacated crease thus far, and previously unknown Anton Khudobin has been a pleasant a surprise in complementing Rask as one of league’s top goaltending tandems. Khudobin’s two wins have come against a very talented Carolina Hurricanes offense, as well as a pesky Sabres team that has certainly given the Bruins trouble this season. Subsequently, two of Rask’s three games following starts by Khudobin have produced some of his best games of the season in wins over Winnipeg (24 saves and 2 goals against) and the Devils (27 saves 1 goal against). With four games in 6 days, including a pivotal game against the 1st place Candians on Sunday, coach Claude Julien most continue to balance his successful starter and backup going forward if the Bruins are going to keep pace in the standings and have Rask ready for the playoffs.
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