BUFFALO One season ago the Bruins were reeling after staggering to a 3-7 start. The notion that it would be a disappointing season was already planted deep within the Black and Gold psyche.
The Bruins organization was determined not to hit the repeat button this season with a solid opening number that's made even more important because of the abbreviated 48-game regular season.
Teams like the Bruins needed to stockpile points in the early portion of the schedule in order to survive. Later in the season -- like when there's 17 games in the month of March -- points could come at a premium.
The Bruins accomplished their training camp mission on Sunday night when they capped off their first 10-game segment of the schedule by upping their record to 8-1-1 with a solid 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. The win avenged Bostons only regulation loss of the season two weeks ago, and unveiled a team thats consistently put their best foot forward since Garry Bettman and Jeremy Jacobs yelled Game On! back in January.
That means the Bruins have amassed 17 points through the first 10 games of the season this year after it took them 16 games and more than a months worth of hockey games to get there last season. Missing out on only three of your first 20 points is the ideal way for any hockey club to start the season if getting into playoff pole position is the point.
We just need to keep playing the way were playing, said Patrice Bergeron, who slipped in the third period game-winner on Sunday night against the Sabres. Character has been a big part of it for us. We havent had our best games every time, but weve found ways to battle back and get the lead.
Montreal was a good example of that. We had a bad start and found a way to get the win in the third. But in the same time we cant be satisfied and we have to realize we need a full 60-minute effort because were playing some really good teams right now. In this shortened season we know that every game is important.
Sunday was a good sign for the Bruins, who have worked through their first few moments of adversity over the last couple of weeks. Injuries finally started to hit in their first game with the Sabres as a couple of players were knocked out for a few games. But Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand all returned this weekend in Buffalo giving the Black and Gold their full complement of players once again.
Whats the scary part for the rest of the NHL when considering Bostons start?
The Bruins arent even playing at close to their full capacity right now despite sitting atop the Northeast Division after their first few divisional battles got underway over the last two weeks.
Tyler Seguin has only two goals (one empty-netter) in 10 games played thus far this season, and seemed to be regressing to some of his earlier season bad habits against the Sabres.
The Bruins power play is 28th in the NHL with a 10.3 percent success rate and nearly cost Boston the game on Sunday before they came raring back in the third while snapping an 0-for-17 streak with Bergerons PP strike.
But the Bruins started the season with nearly the same team they ended last year with, and players like David Krejci have jumped out to ideal starts after keeping themselves ready playing over in Europe. Thats been a key while getting top production out of players like Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (who has a team-leading six goals scored despite missing one game with an upper body injury) that worked diligently to catch up over the last month after idling during the four-month lockout.
But the Bruins are also just middle-of-the-pack in the NHL right now while averaging only 2.7 goals per game, and theyve been much better than over the last couple of seasons once things click in offensively.
While the aforementioned offense might not be rolling on all cylinders quite yet and their performance both five-on-five and on the power play would indicate that the Bs are still winning games in the third period when their depth and effort finally overwhelm opponents.
It is meaningful in the situation where the front part of our schedule is extremely light as compared to the back end of it, said Claude Julien. We just added another game to the back end with the Tampa game that was cancelled yesterday, so it was important to get off to a good start.
The way the schedule was made were going to be behind in games played by the end of this month. It is important to stay in the playoff pack and thats what were doing right now.
Rather than simply staying in the pack the Bruins are at the top of the Eastern Conference along with the New Jersey Devils, and in a prime spot while playoff teams from last year like the Flyers, Capitals and Panthers are outside of the top-eight teams looking on with envy.
There are still close to three months of NHL regular season remaining and the toughest part of the grinding year still remains for the Black and Gold. But theyve passed the first test -- about 20 percent of their season is now done -- and they did it with nearly perfect marks.