Previewing the Boston Bruins' 2013-14 Season Series with the Detroit Red Wings
The Boston Bruins will crack open their second newfangled Atlantic Division matchup in as many games when they host the Detroit Red Wings this Saturday night. It will be their first of four regular-season meetings with the Western-to-Eastern Conference transfer and their fellow Original Six franchise in 2013-14.
Here is one cut-and-dry method of measuring the drastic shift in dynamic that comes with Detroit entering Boston’s conference, let alone division. The past four clashes between these franchises spanned between Nov. 3, 2009 and Nov. 25, 2011, a stretch of 752 days.
Conversely, with their paths set to cross on Oct. 5, Oct. 14, Nov. 27 and April 2, the Bruins and Red Wings will conduct their next four showdowns in a matter of 180 days.
Translation: Boston buffs and Detroit devotees alike might as well get to know the present incarnations of these two storied franchises. As it happens, both parties present a host of common intangible and positional threads that ought to be at the forefront of their season series.
Here are the three threads worth remembering the most as the Bruins and Red Wings not only meet with more regularity, but also join six other teams in a footrace for divisional supremacy.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com
Most Intriguing Storyline: Conflicting Quests
Two former captains of Canada-based franchises have shuffled south of the border to join an Original Six team with relatively recent success in hopes of elevating their odds of a Stanley Cup. Detroit has Daniel Alfredsson at its disposal while Jarome Iginla has become a Bruin.
Alfredsson boasts 17 previous NHL seasons, all with Ottawa, while Iginla spent nearly 16 full campaigns in Calgary before a short ride with the Penguins last spring. Both men have only gone as far as one Stanley Cup Final apiece, with the Flames losing to Tampa Bay in 2004 and the Sens falling to Anaheim in 2007.
Bruins buffs old enough to remember the turn of the millennium ought to know this type of storyline, having adopted the Avalanche as their temporary team for 15 months while Ray Bourque engaged in Mission 16W.
While it cannot carry a team on its own, the Bourque saga is proof the motivation that comes with the addition of a long-unfulfilled veteran helps.
Besides that, having come from a longtime Northeast Division tenant, Alfredsson may lend the Wings strategic and tactical wisdom in this matchup. The Bruins can similarly benefit from Iginla, who clashed with Detroit multiple times every year when the Red Wings and Flames cohabitated in the Western Conference.
First Individual Matchup to Watch: Patrice Bergeron vs. Pavel Datsyuk
There should be few, if any, special teams faceoffs in this season series that involves either Patrice Bergeron or Pavel Datsyuk, but not both.
In those years, both have averaged more than a full minute of shorthanded ice time per night. They have both seen multiple minutes of action on the power play every night since at least the turn of the decade.
Datsyuk has been Detroit’s faceoff-winning percentage leader in each of the past four seasons, and Bergeron has been Boston’s for each of the past five. In both cases, neither pivot has finished a given year with a success rate lower than 54 percent.
In turn, when immediate possession is more advisable than ever, whichever coach has the last change will likely seek a maximum challenge for his opponent’s tried-and-true faceoff artist. Any given play that follows the drop of the puck ought to be intriguing as well, no matter what zone it takes place in.
Regular confrontation at even strength is not out of the question, either, depending on which opposing lines Claude Julien and Mike Babcock want to match their best defensive options against.
Second Individual Matchup to Watch: Jimmy Howard vs. Tuukka Rask
Four years ago, while some of their more seasoned countrymen took to Olympic creases, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard both circulated in the Calder Trophy conversation.
From there, both masked men have logged relatively similar transcripts. Their key stats slid as sophomores in 2010-11 before rebounding back to save percentages above .920 and goals-against averages below 2.15 each of the past two seasons.
Fast forward to the present, where both Boston’s and Detroit’s starters are sound candidates for Team Finland and Team USA, respectively, at the 2014 Sochi Games. Those two countries have arguably the most competitive goalie guilds of all and directly outdueling a fellow Olympic-caliber netminder just might bolster one’s case for a roster spot,
As it happens, there could be as many as three Rask-Howard cards between now and the final decisions on everyone’s Olympic scroll.
There will be more for Rask, in particular, to gain out of those three potential confrontations as well as a possible fourth in April. Howard will be one of several telling gauges, as he established his starting position sooner and has finished three seasons in the upper 50- or lower 60-game range.