They are last in the Northeast Division with a 14-19-4 record. Their 32 points are the fourth-lowest total in the entire NHL. And this is after finishing with the second-worst record in the league a year ago.
The Bruins, meanwhile, are in first place in the Northeast, having earned points in five straight games, including the first four games of their current five-game road trip.
Still, the Bruins would be wise not to take Toronto lightly when they visit the Air Canada Centre on Monday. Actually, after the sloppy showing they had in a 7-6 shootout loss in Buffalo on Saturday, they would be wise not to take anybody lightly.
But that warning particularly applies to the Leafs. Since back-to-back blowouts in Boston when the Bruins won 7-2 and 5-2 in the first two meetings of the 2009-10 season, nothing has come easy against the Leafs. That’s especially true in Toronto, where the Leafs are 3-0-1 in their last four games against Boston.
The Bruins were shut out 2-0 at the ACC last Dec. 19 and lost 4-3 in overtime on March 9. They did win the other two meetings last season, thanks largely to Miroslav Satan, who had the only goal in the shootout for a 3-2 win at the Garden on March 4 and scored in overtime for a 2-1 win in Toronto on April 3.
Without Satan this year, the Bruins won 2-0 in Boston on Oct. 28 but lost 3-2 in a shootout in Toronto on Dec. 4. The Leafs are also coming off a convincing 5-1 win over Ottawa on Saturday.
“We know coming in here is never an easy game,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters after practice in Toronto on Sunday. “They’re coming off a big win, so their confidence is certainly pretty good right now. We just got to make sure we come in ready to play a hard game.”
A hard game would be an improvement over Saturday’s effort. The Bruins got more than enough offense to win, but they also gave the Sabres way too many offensive opportunities with their own lax defensive work. Add in an almost complete lack of physical play (Boston was outhit 21-8), and it’s easy to understand how that particular offensive extravaganza produced as many ulcers for Boston’s coaching staff and management as it did goals.
The Bruins also managed just 15 hits in their shootout loss in Atlanta, and there was no excuse for not having more emotional involvement in that one as it came just a week after the fight-filled clash with those same Thrashers at the Garden that bonded the Bruins and should have showed them the blueprint for how they need to play to be successful.
Toronto could give them another opportunity for that, as the Leafs usually provide plenty of physical play since general manager Brian Burke famously promised to build a team with “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” when he took over in Toronto two years ago. The Leafs had that against the Senators on Saturday with 31 hits as a team and a pair of bouts by former Bruin enforcer Colton Orr. That followed a 32-hit effort against Columbus on Thursday.
Former Bruin forward Phil Kessel doesn’t quite fit the mold of a typical Burke player, but he did supply the deciding goal in that shootout win over the Bruins last month — though it was a rare moment of success for the ex-Bruin against his old club. Kessel has no goals and just one assist and is a minus-6 in eight games against Boston, as the Bruins have consistently frustrated their former first-round pick (fifth overall in 2006).
Kessel has 14-11-25 totals in 37 games this year but had been mired in one of his extended slumps, with just 5-6-11 totals and a minus-16 rating in 26 games before coming alive a bit with 2-3-5 totals in the last three games.
The Bruins will have to make sure he doesn’t continue his resurgence at their expense on Monday, and they would be wise not to take the rest of the Toronto lineup lightly either, regardless of where the Leafs sit in the standings.