Bruins

Players to keep an eye on ahead of the upcoming Boston Three Week Gauntlet.

The return of Charlie McAvoy gives the Bruins an amazing tandem in the blue lane.

After Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins topped the NHL with a record of 16-2-0 and 0.889 percentage points.

That 0.889 percentage points over an 82-game season adds up to 146 points. Even with their lofty expectations, achieving seven wins more than the historic 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens team remains quite a challenge.

“They’re a special team,” said Patrice Bergeron, who is one point short of a career-high 1,000 after the Bruins beat Chicago 6-1. “We have a lot of depth and I think it shows. Everyone contributes, everyone is valued, and I think everyone has confidence…I think that’s the most important thing.”

This depth was crucial for Black and Gold during their historic start. And they will rely on their four att*cking lines and three defensive pairings as they approach a daunting point in their schedule.

10 of Boston’s next 11 games will feature the league’s best opponents. The main stars of the episode include last year’s winner of the President’s Cup, both sides of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals, and another major league lineup with a familiar face behind the bench.

“It’s unbelievable that we had such a start,” said head coach Jim Montgomery. “Right now we’re enjoying the ride, but we know our schedule is getting really tight. It’s nice to be part of the record book, and one of the things we wanted to do was stay in the present and focus on the next change.”

With that in mind, here are three players to keep an eye on ahead of Boston’s upcoming three-week gauntlet.

Jeremy Swayman

Swayman made his first start Saturday night after injuring his lower body against the Pittsburgh Penguins November 1. The former UMaine standout did not see a huge amount of rubber, allowing one goal from just 18 shots fired during his comeback.

“Only one shot at a time. It doesn’t matter, Swayman said. “Definitely a mentally strong game. I want to make sure I’m ready for a shot, a runaway, an A grade, if that’s what it was.

Swayman is likely to see a much higher number of shots during the upcoming run. Linus Ullmark will start against Lightning on Monday. Should the Bruins return to their rotation, Swayman will most likely get the nod Wednesday night against the Panthers.

Ullmark has been carrying the brunt for the Bruins lately, starting five out of six games in Swayman’s absence. With Swayman back to full health ahead of a tough stretch, the Bruins will need to rely on both sides of their goalkeeping tandem.

“When you play a lot of games lately, you obviously run a lot more on autopilot than when you sit on the sidelines for a long time,” Ullmark said after The Bruins won 5-2 over the Flyers Thursday. “It was fun to watch the guys. They seem to be doing all the right things. “

Boasting the league’s best save percentage, goals-to-average and wins, Ullmark could probably see more action than Swayman in an episode. Swayman will continue to rely on many of these upcoming adversaries. But most of the Bruins’ success will depend on the ex*cution of their current second option between the pipes.

Charlie McAvoy

Saturday night’s four assists marked McAvoy’s strong start to the 2022-23 season. Now with five games under his belt, the Boston blueliner could take another step since returning from off-season shoulder surgery.

“He’s taken off the rust and is starting to play on his fingers,” said Montgomery. “It was nice to see it and it was only a matter of time.”

Norris of the caliber of Hampus Lindholm early in the season provided the Bruins with the number one defenseman in McAvoy’s absence in 13 games. With McAvoy back, Montgomery can use McAvoy and Lindholm as a “1A and 1B” option in the top four.

Thanks to McAvoy’s play, the Bruins have a two-headed monster at their defensive core. Such a versatile backend will give Boston the firepower it needs ahead of the challenge schedule.

“[McAvoy’s] simply using his God-given ability to make things happen,” Montgomery said. “He can drive straight forward. He has poise where he would look, whether or not he looks [Grzelcyk] or looking into a crack … he’s down there and he’s making things happen.”

Anton Stralman

Late entry to training camp and visa issues complicated Stralman’s integration into the Bruins organization. Now, with six games under his belt, the veteran blueliner seems to have regained a stable defensive game.

“It’s just been a crazy start for me here considering everything that’s been going on with the PTO and the visa struggles,” Stralman said late last week. “Since then, I’ve just been trying to catch up a bit and work on my game behind the scenes. Just be ready when that call comes.

Between Jakub Zboril’s struggles and the return of Derek Forbort, which could be weeks away, Stralman has emerged as the most consistent option to complete Brandon Carlo in Boston’s bottom line defensive pair.

Continuing consistency from bottom six forwards and bottom pair defenders like Stralman remains crucial as the Bruins prepare for clubs with equally strong depth.

“It’s always a challenge,” said Stralman. “I think you go out there and try to find your way, find the game pattern and all that stuff. It obviously helps when the team is as good and connected as they are. I hope you can hide out there a bit.

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