How Bruins are thriving in Brad Marchand's absence

  • Continuity helping Bruins overcome key injuries

  • Pastrnak playing at MVP level

  • Boston's division rivals showing flaws

David Pastrnak (middle) has been producing at an MVP pace for the Bruins so far. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
David Pastrnak (middle) has been producing at an MVP pace for the Bruins so far. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Continuity is the most overlooked trait for any championship-contending club, but it is often the most essential part of getting teams over the proverbial hump. In the NHL's vaunted Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins understand this better than anyone, especially after captain Patrice Bergeron elected to return for his 19th season on Aug. 8.

When the Bruins announced Brad Marchand had undergone double hip arthroscopy and labral repair surgery on May 27, many believed it would be a massive blow to the team’s Stanley Cup chances, as he was initially expected back in November. Through the opening four games of the 2022-23 campaign, the Bruins have essentially said no Marchand, no problem.

Marchand led the Bruins in scoring with 80 points in 70 games last year, but Boston is overwhelming opponents through the opening month by using two elite scoring lines and an underrated goaltending tandem to remain among the top challengers in the East. Boston leads the NHL in goals and high-danger goals for at 5-on-5, while riding a league-average PDO — whittling through the small sample is where the data can be misleading, but there’s ample reason to suggest the Bruins can maintain this blistering pace.

If we’re talking about the 2022-23 Bruins, we have to start with David Pastrnak, who is now inarguably their best player. Pastrnak has been an absolute nightmare to deal with and it's obvious through both the eye test and analytics that Pastrnak is a superstar who has shaken off the distractions that come with contract discussions and is a threat to score on every shift.

During a comprehensive 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Oct. 17, Pastrnak and his linemates, Taylor Hall and David Krejci, out-chanced the Panthers 8-3 while posting a sparkling 72.73 Corsi For share at 5-on-5, via Natural Stat Trick. Pastrnak posted eight shots and scored the early Goal of the Year.

Those aren’t exactly slouches he’s skating by, either. Marc Staal and Radko Gudas are surely pissed off for being another victim of Pastrnak’s highlight reel, which may run longer than a Francis Ford Coppola uncut edit. Pastrnak has recorded three goals and eight points in four games, trailing only New York’s Artemi Panarin for the NHL scoring lead.

Although he’s been aided by some quality linemates, it’s not unfair to suggest Pastrnak has almost become a one-man offense unto himself. Pastrnak leads the NHL in individual expected goals for, chances for and rush attempts, while ranking second in shots and penalties drawn at 5-on-5. Making up for Marchand’s absence was one thing, but Pastrnak could seriously be looking at the Hart Trophy, to go along with a top-of-the-market contract this summer, at this pace.

The line of Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Pavel Zacha also dominated the Panthers at 5-on-5, creating six chances with one allowed, good for a 85.71 percent Corsi For share. Boston has experimented with its top-six forward groups early on. Zacha-Krejci-Pastrnak and Hall-Bergeron-DeBrusk were the preferred pairings during Boston’s opening night 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals, but head coach Jim Montgomery and his staff correctly assessed there was some time to tinker with the combos to get the right formula.

Hall-Bergeron-Pastrnak can also be deployed as an emergency, break-the-glass type of line in case the Bruins need two elite scorers, with the NHL’s marquee defensive forward in the middle. This is the type of luxury most coaches dream of.

It’s not like everything is perfect for the Bruins, though. Charlie McAvoy, who earned Norris Trophy consideration last season, remains on long-term injured reserve due to his nagging shoulder injury. Brandon Carlo suffered an upper-body injury in Boston’s home opener that is keeping him out of the lineup, while Matt Grzelcyk is working his way back from a shoulder injury and will likely be paired with Anton Stralman upon his return. It’s less than ideal, but the Bruins are weathering the storm. Hampus Lindholm has looked every bit worth the eight-year, $52-million extension he signed with the Bruins in March, while Connor Clifton has been on the ice for a league-best eight goals at 5-on-5.

It’s not as if Boston’s competitors are without problems, either. Tampa Bay is likely going to feel the aftereffects of three consecutive runs to the Cup, Toronto’s top forwards aren’t producing, Florida underwent a seismic overhaul through trades and free agency this summer, while the rest of the division is young and promising but still several years from making a dent. The grass is always greener on the other side, and Boston reinventing itself as a high-powered sports car in the absence of its top scorer and leading defenseman should be celebrated.

There is an idea that the Bruins are a team rooted in their defensive identity and are therefore unwilling to shoot the lights out. This ideology may be rooted in Bruce Cassidy’s teachings, but he was surprisingly ousted at the end of the 2021-22 season, and Boston is showing it is capable of adjusting and adapting without its best forward and defenseman.

Continuity matters and the Bruins will certainly welcome Marchand and McAvoy’s returns. Pastrnak has played like an early Hart Trophy front-runner, the top-six is speedy, creative, and flexible, and the defense corps will be returning to full strength by Christmas. No Marchand, no problem.

*All stats current as of Oct. 19

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