By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It's been quite the start for the Boston Bruins in 2020-2021. Sitting at 11-3-2 with 24 points, the B's are currently positioned atop the MassMutual Eastern Division with a game in hand on the second-place Washington Capitals (9-5-3, 21 points).
A year after winning the President's Trophy in a COVID-reduced 70-game season, the Bruins seem to be in prime position to make another run at the Stanley Cup later this spring. However, following their five-game second-round defeat to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting last August, the Bruins entered this season with a lot of question marks. David Pastrnak (hip) and Brad Marchand (sports hernia) both underwent offseason surgeries that required long rehab stints. Fan favorites Torey Krug and long-time captain Zdeno Chara departed in free agency. In turn, Patrice Bergeron was named the 20th captain in Boston Bruins franchise history, and the reins of Boston's defensive corps were handed to the former No. 14 overall pick in 2016, Charlie McAvoy.
The resurgence of Kevan Miller also been a huge addition to the Bruins blue line. After playing in just 54 games over the last two seasons due to knee injury complications, Miller has finally returned to full health and stepped back into a full-time role while logging major minutes on the back end. Currently, Miller ranks second amongst Bruins defensemen in average time-on-ice (18:45), second on the team in hits (30) and third amongst Bruins defensemen in average shorthanded time-on-ice (3:03).
Along with McAvoy (2g,11a) and Miller excelling, the B's have seen a collective surge from their crop of young defensemen. Entering the year, many questioned whether or not the Bruins, a team in search of a defensive identity, could withstand playing in a division with so many high octane offenses such as Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The answer? A resounding yes. Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon have played key roles in the Bruins getting off to their hot start. All three have shown that they have a future on Boston's back end. Grzelcyk has seen time on Boston's second power play unit, averaging 2:53 of power play time a game. Zboril and Lauzon, meanwhile, both currently average more than 18 minutes of ice time per game. Simply put, guys who aren't NHL-ready are not logging almost a full period's worth of playing time on a nightly basis.
Up front, the storylines are similar to those coming from the up-and-coming defensive unit. Second line right winger Craig Smith, whom Boston inked to a three-year/$9.3 million deal last offseason, has been a welcome addition, already accruing seven totals points with four goals and three assists. David Pastrnak is back after missing the first seven games of the season and has already scored a ridiculous nine goals to go along with five assists. Brad Marchand currently leads the Bruins in points with nine goals and 11 assists. Meanwhile, Patrice Bergeron is putting together another Selke Trophy-caliber season with seven goals, 12 assists, and 10 blocked shots, and is averaging 2:15 of shorthanded time-on-ice per game.
Another name to get used to hearing is Trent Frederic, who's solidified himself as Boston's fourth-line left winger. With already two fights this season, including a big-time bout with Washington Capitals heavyweight Tom Wilson, Frederic has become a fan favorite in Boston.
On Sunday, the Wisconsin product Frederic recorded his first NHL goal in the Bruins 7-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL's Outdoor Games at Lake Tahoe (California).
On a more local note, Walpole native and Xaverian grad Chris Wagner is averaging 12:12 of ice time per game as Boston's fourth line right winger. Wagner has notched three total points so far this season with two goals and an assist, including a shorthanded goal in Boston's 3-2 overtime win against the New York Rangers on February 10. Wagner is currently averaging 1:46 of penalty-kill time per game.
Along with his production on the ice, Wagner has become a bit of a local celebrity, appearing on 98.5 The Sports Hub every week for an interview with Scott Zolak and Mark Bertrand on the "Zo And Beatle" mid-day show. Wagner's former team, the Xaverian Hawks, also recently won the Catholic Conference for the first time since 1968. Wagner posted a tweet congratulating his alma mater on the accomplishment.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.