Three Key players to watch in the Second Half
The Boston Bruins have entered the second half of the season and are currently the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. This Bruins team has been dominant, and I have never seen anything like it. They are (blank in the National Hockey League in goals). They have allowed the fewest goals and sit nine points above the next-best team in the NHL. This team has the talent, depth, and goaltending to win the Stanley Cup. However, there is room for improvement, which sounds ridiculous when describing a team that is 33-5-4 with one regulation loss at home. But these three players are essential if the Bruins want to win the Stanley Cup.
3. Brad Marchand
Last offseason, Brad Marchand underwent double hip surgery. That is a difficult surgery for any athlete to overcome, never mind for a thirty-four-year-old hockey player. However, I have been pleasantly surprised with how well Marchand has recovered from his double hip surgery. He came back months sooner than expected and has played good hockey. However, it did look like he had lost a step. To start his season, Marchand was not generating a ton of offensive five-on-five. A player like Marchand relies on his skating, particularly his speed and edge work. Coming off of double hip surgery and an offseason where he cannot prepare the same as a typical offseason, it made sense that Marchand did not look 100%. Conditioning is crucial in this sport, and Marchand's conditioning was not where it needed to be due to injury. After missing time, Marchand is playing with more confidence and has looked more like the Brad Marchand Boston fans are used to seeing, as he has scored 17 points in the last 15 games. With every game he plays, Marchand looks better and better. It feels crazy to ask anything more from Marchand. With everything he has gone through, it's impressive that he is playing at the level he is. However, the better Marchand plays, the better this Bruins team is. This team is a serious Stanley Cup together, and they are a lot more dangerous when Marchand is at his best. If Marchand is 100%, I cannot see anyone stopping the Boston Bruins, and Marchand certainly looks close to 100% on the ice.
2. Charlie McAvoy
Charlie McAvoy is a major part of the Bruins quest for the Stanley Cup. The 25-year-old defenseman is the highest-paid player on the team, their top defenseman, and a potential future captain. He missed the first thirteen games due to off-season shoulder surgery. Like Marchand, Mcavoy has played very good hockey since returning from injury. He has 23 points in 29 games, but there is still room to improve. McAvoy's offense during five-on-five play can reach another level. McAvoy has the talent to be a perennial candidate for the Norris Trophy. I still believe he can evaluate his game to that level. He returned to the Bruins a few games after Marchand, and I believe by the All-Star break, McAvoy will have elevated his game to that next level. McAvoy needs to be on his A-game if the Bruins want to win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins are a tough team to beat, with him and Hampus Lindholm on the Bruins blue line. Especially when both guys are playing their best hockey, as great as Hampus Lindholm has been as the team's top defenseman this year, McAvoy can play at a higher level. His stick positioning, skating, and ability to break up plays are second to none on this team. His offensive game is dynamic. Charlie McAvoy should thrive in Jim Montgomery's system and play hockey at a Norris-caliber level. We have not seen the best of McAvoy this season. If he is healthy, I don't see why McAvoy will not return to dynamic form in the coming weeks. I expect more from him come playoff time.
Historically, the Bruins are only as good as their second-line center. David Krejci's return to Boston has been successful. The 36-year-old center has 11 goals and 20 assists through 37 games and is on pace for 65 points, the third-highest total in his career. It is remarkable how effective of a player Krejci is still after a year of playing overseas. However, I am still concerned about the 36-year-old come playoff time. Last season playing in the Czech league, Krejci only played 51 games. He played in several international tournaments, including the Olympics but did not participate in the long and grueling NHL season, which is 82 games + playoffs. Can Krejci continue to play at his current pace come May and June when the games matter most? I have a slight concern about the Bruins in the playoffs because David Krejci has always been a critical part of the Bruins success. I wonder if Krejci will elevate his game when the playoffs come around. He always played outstanding hockey when it mattered most. Krejci ranks third in Bruins history in total playoff points behind only Ray Bourque and Patrice Bergeron, both of whom have more playoff appearances than Krejci. Throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup championship run, Krejci was first on the team in points during that playoff run.
He was first on the team again during the 2013 playoff run. After a year off, is David Krejci's conditioning enough to make a strong impact in the playoffs? Will the Bruins need to acquire another forward/ center to help them chase the cup? I am slightly concerned, but this is David Krejci we're talking about. He is a Bruins legend and one of the game's most underrated players for over a decade. He always delivers in the big moments when the lights shine brightest. It is what he does. Can he do it once more, ride off into the sunset with a second cup, and cement his legacy in the TD Garden rafters with all-time Bruins? I would never bet against David Krejci.