BOSTON (AP) — Inexperience and injuries were supposed to keep the Boston Bruins from returning to the upper echelon of the NHL standings.
But after taking points in 11 straight games heading into their five-day break, Boston has the second-best record in the Atlantic Division. Across the NHL, only the Lightning, Jets and Golden Knights have squeezed out more points per game than the Bruins (53 points, 40 games).
Despite an overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday that ended their three-game winning streak, the Bruins headed into the break with an 8-0-3 streak that is their best since they went 15-0-1 in March 2014 on their way to the best regular season in the NHL.
“Guys seem pretty dedicated to really just taking it day by day and not looking too far ahead,” said forward Brad Marchand, the Bruins’ leading scorer, with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists). “Obviously it’s not going to go as well as it is right now all year, but we know that. We want to make sure that each and every game we give ourselves an opportunity to win and that seems to be what we’re doing right now.”
After ending a two-year postseason drought last spring, the Bruins have integrated a handful of rookies into a banged-up lineup. Center David Krejci missed 18 games, Marchand missed eight and center Patrice Bergeron missed five. Forward David Backes came back ahead of schedule following surgery to deal with diverticulitis but still missed 17 games.
Yet the Bruins (23-10-7) rank third in goals against per game (2.50) and sixth in goals scored per game (3.23).
Much credit goes to goaltenders Tuukka Rask, who has earned points in his past 13 starts (11-0-2), and Anton Khudobin. Also pitching in on defense are rookies Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk, and second-year player Brandon Carlo — half of their defense corps.
“They’re good players. I think that’s the easiest way to put it,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “And they’ve been paired up with the appropriate partners. So put those two together. The team’s winning, got good defensive forwards that can make up for some mistakes you make. That’s I guess the three reasons.”
McAvoy has five goals and 16 assists and is…