They’re riding a six-game win streak and are 20-2-1 since the start of November.
But these guys are perfectionists, and they still see room for improvement. They also see an opportunity about to present itself for them to become an even tighter, more cohesive group.
The Bruins returned to Boston from a three-day Christmas break on Tuesday and immediately headed back out on the road. Unlike the holiday respite, when the team scattered to various locales around the globe to spend time with their families, this trip will be made together, as the Bruins look to strengthen the bonds of their adopted hockey family as they head to Phoenix and Dallas this week.
“It will be nice, going on road trips, especially one down to Arizona and Texas,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said before departing on Tuesday. “It’s going to be nice. There are definitely times when you can bond with your team, especially after Christmas when you want to be with your family and friends. We have an opportunity to be together for a bit. It’s going to be big. Hopefully we’ll have some fun.”
This team is already a pretty tight-knit group. The chemistry was forged through last spring’s playoff wars, where their camaraderie was a key part of their success. With little turnover on the roster coming into this season, the Bruins came back ahead of the game in the team-bonding process. But a chance to reconnect in a different way with another long road trip is definitely welcome.
“Going on the road, I think it will be good for our team,” Bruins center Gregory Campbell said after Friday’s 8-0 win over Florida in the final game before the Christmas break. “It’s a close team as it is, but going on the road always makes you come together a little bit more and I think the guys are looking forward to it.”
Most of the Bruins looked back at last year’s season-opening trip to Belfast and Prague as a key building block in laying the foundation for their eventual Cup run, with the extended time together on that trip bringing the team together in a very special way.
They don’t have any trips quite as exotic as that one planned for this year, and haven’t really had to leave Boston all that much in the first three months of the season. They’ve played 20 home games thus far and only 13 away from the Garden. Only once have they had more than two games in a row on the road, and that was a three-game trip in November that never left the Eastern time zone, with stops in Long Island, Montreal and Buffalo just before Thanksgiving.
This week, they finally head out West, opening with a visit to Phoenix on Wednesday. That’s the same Coyotes club that provided the opposition in Prague last year, and the Bruins hope this excursion provides the same kind of boost.
Despite their strong play of late, the Bruins may need a boost in the coming months, when they’ll pay for their home-heavy early-season schedule with plenty of traveling. They have more road games than home games in each of the next three months, with 28 total away games left on their regular-season slate.
“I looked at it, it looks like a pretty tough schedule coming up here,” Marchand said. “I think it kind of looked like they tried to give us some time early on in the year to recover and try to rest up as much as we could, but we’re going to have to make sure we get as much rest as we can coming up and stay prepared for what’s coming ahead.”
The good news for the Bruins is that they’ve been a pretty effective road team in recent seasons. They are 9-1-0 on the road in their current run since the start of November and 10-3-0 overall away from the Garden this season. That continues a trend that’s been present ever since Claude Julien took over behind the bench.
The Bruins are 99-54-24 on the road in four-plus seasons under Julien. In each of the past two seasons, the Bruins actually posted a better record away from the Garden than on home ice. They were 24-12-5 on the road last year compared to 22-13-6 at home, while in 2009-10, they were 21-13-7 on the road and just 18-17-6 at home.
Boston’s disciplined game translates well on the road. Their depth and ability to roll four lines reduces the need to match lines, as Julien has faith that each of his units can be dependable on both ends of the ice. Boston’s size and physical style also helps them assert control even when they don’t have a home crowd to feed off.
They will need all of that in the coming weeks. This will be their longest break between home games so far this season, as it will be 13 days since Friday’s win over Florida before Boston returns to the Garden to host Calgary on Jan. 5. After a four-game homestand, the Bruins head back out for their first four-game road trip of the season, then hit the road for two more after a quick one-game Garden pit stop.
That made this Christmas break all the more important to recharge the batteries for the challenging stretch ahead.
“When you have a few days off, it’s nicer obviously to end on a win and have a good feeling going into a road trip,” Campbell said. “We have a lot of games coming up here. I think it’s important for us to kind of unwind and give ourselves a little break here and use it to kind of rejuvenate ourselves.”
Julien agreed, but also expects the Bruins to be just as sharp when they return to action on Wednesday after extending the club’s holiday break by a day with no practice on Monday.
“I think it’s important that they enjoy the three days of the Christmas holiday that they have,” Julien said after Friday’s win. “And those three days will be beneficial to us hopefully not just in the long run, but in the short term. If we come back with the right approach and the right attitude, and head out on the road and play Phoenix and take off where we left off, then that three days will look even better.”