Yost: Boston Bruins dominance is a thing to behold | TSN

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How have the Boston Bruins been so dominant this season?

It’s becoming a more pertinent question as the regular season unfolds. It’s not that the Bruins don’t have significant competition, even within their own conference: Teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, and New Jersey Devils have proven capable in the East. In the west, the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights have enjoyed similar success. Having the Colorado Avalanche, who managed to weather an injury-plagued first half, would also be a fool’s bet.

But Boston’s dominance has been something to behold. That’s 56 goals better than the opposition, which is almost twice as many as second-place Dallas (+30). They have yet to incur a regulation loss at home (18-0-3). And with so many points in the bank, Jim Montgomery’s team only needs to play at a 62-point pace the rest of the way to qualify for the playoffs. A 62-point pace, I remind you, would normally be good enough for last place in the NHL standings.

So where has Boston accumulated such a competitive advantage relative to its peers? Much of it boils down to two issues. The first is that the team is deep: they may be due an upgrade to their fourth lane when the trade deadline rolls around, but nearly every lane combination and matchup Montgomery has created has outperformed the competition so far. it’s from the season. The second is that this team is still impossible to crack defensively, and a lot of it has to do with the goal.

Any time a goalkeeping tandem saves just under 93 per cent of the shots faced, it can reasonably be assumed that the goalkeepers are playing a significant role in their team’s success. And that’s what we’ve seen from Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman over the first half of the season. But in Boston’s case, the Ullmark-Swayman game has been additive.

If we control for the impact of goal-setting by comparing actual goals scored to expected goals against (a measure blind to goal-setting performance and volatility), Boston still appears to be the most dominant team in the league. That’s because their offense is hard to slow down and their defense is even harder to break through:

At the end of the day, we only care about the real goals. But the expected goal can be illuminating when evaluating a team’s play, particularly in a low-scoring league like the NHL. In the case of the Bruins, we see a dominant two-way skating team, regardless of how well they played goaltending.

What does this look like in practice? Before Ullmark and Swayman enter the equation, it’s almost impossible to get into those premium scoring areas against the Bruins:

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The other thing I would point out is that this is true at the skater level as well. If you look at all Bruins players to date based on actual goals scored (on ice) and expected goals conceded (on ice), you’ll see staggeringly favorable differentials. It looks like a team capable of dressing at least three quality lines and three defensive pairings; You can probably criticize the performance of some deep players, but that’s about it:

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Virtually every Bruins skater is positive this season whether he controls the goal or not, the only exceptions being the deep forwards in Tomas Nosek and AJ Greer. Any notion that the Bruins’ veteran roster is putting together a memorable final season is hogwash: Those veterans are producing, but so is the rest of the roster.

That brings me to the goal. I said it was additive, and the table above emphasizes just how much. If we analyze the goals saved against expectations, we can measure the goalkeepers controlling the defensive game in front of them. We know Boston is a tough defensive nut to crack, and that’s why his team’s save percentages have been soaring for years. But compare what the team is getting from Ullmark and Swayman relative to Bruins goaltenders from years past. They are bailing the team out when they need to:

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Contrary to popular belief, the Bruins haven’t always had great goalkeeping. You can look as recently as last year, where a similarly dominant defensive team in Boston saw a weaker goal than expected. Swayman and Ullmark last season allowed eight more goals than expected based on the shots faced profile, and even behind a well-structured team, the Bruins finished 10the in all situations save percentage.

This season? Different story. Boston’s goaltending combination has wiped a staggering 20 goals (nearly four qualifying wins) off the ledger, most thanks to Ullmark’s play. I’d like to know how much of Ullmark’s play has also forced Montgomery’s hand a bit. This group was ripe for peloton work, where teams trade one elite goalkeeper for two quality ones who alternate starts. I think that was the plan to some extent in Boston, but Ullmark has just been too good and the Bruins have skewed their usage in his direction.

All of this to say that it’s very hard to see what’s going to slow this Boston team down anytime soon. A regression of the goal is coming, yes. And they’re still outfitting one of the oldest teams in the league, which lends itself to risks like increased fatigue and increased injury risks.

But overall, they’re taking teams off the ice. And this story is as old as time, at least in the modern era: build a dominant team of even strength with quality in goal, and you’ll be next to impossible when it matters most.

Easier said than done, but the Bruins have everything going right now.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference

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