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Bruins at the break: They have time on their side, and other hockey thoughts

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Boston has the best record in the NHL, fueled by the best defense and second best offense.

David Pastrnak leads Bruins forwards in even-strength time on ice per game at 15:47 but that is only 172d in the league.

A hat trick of thoughts on the Bruins while grateful that David Pastrnak’s “Happy Gilmore” homage didn’t include a fistfight with Bob Barker …

1. Any concerns about the Bruins wearing down later in the season should be assuaged by checking out their time-on-ice numbers.

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Hampus Lindholm leads the Bruins in even-strength ice time at 19 minutes 20 seconds per game. That’s just 35th in the league. Fellow stalwart defenseman Charlie McAvoy is second in that same category (17:47), which is all the way down at No. 76 among all players.

Defensemen obviously see the most ice time; the forward who has played the most even-strength minutes, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen, is 52d among all players at 18:25. The Bruins’ leader among forwards is Pastrnak, which is no surprise. But the fact that he’s all the way down at No. 172 in the league (15:47 even-strength minutes per game) might be.

Coach Jim Montgomery has also kept the shifts short for the most part. Pavel Zacha averages the longest even-strength shifts among Bruins at 56 seconds, with Pastrnak and David Krejci right behind him at 54 seconds. Patrice Bergeron’s shifts have averaged a very manageable 42 seconds. For context, the league leader is Washington’s T.J. Oshie, who averages 1:24 per shift, a whole 10 seconds more than the current runner-up, Nathan McKinnon of the Avalanche. They must do cardio.

Of course, the Bruins’ elite players pick up more responsibility on the power play and penalty kill. Pastrnak, for instance, is 30th in the league in power-play minutes per game (3:53). But that’s just a wise deployment of resources, using your best players in the most urgent situations.

That the Bruins are so effective at managing the playing time of their best players is a tribute to their quality depth. It’s also confirmation that Montgomery and the coaching staff have done a conscientious job of emphasizing what’s important.

2. Perhaps the most remarkable development in this special, if-it-can-go-right-it-will kind of season so far is that nearly 60 percent of the schedule was complete before the Bruins hit anything resembling a slump.

And even when it did occur, the timing wasn’t terrible. The Bruins lost three of their final four games before this prolonged All-Star break, the defeats all coming on the road against high-quality Eastern Conference teams — the Lightning, Panthers, and Hurricanes.

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It wasn’t just the first time they’d lost three in a row all season. It was the first time they’d lost as many as two in a row. Conversely, in another confirmation of their dominance, they had three winning streaks of at least six games, including one entering the 3-2 loss to the Lightning on Jan. 26 that began the mini-slump.

The slump, and the way the Bruins’ final stretch before the All-Star break played out, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. They got a reminder — perhaps necessary, perhaps not — that as relentlessly dominating as they have been, the postseason is going to be a hellacious gauntlet.

They recovered nicely, salvaging that road stretch with an impressive 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs before dispersing for a nine-day hiatus. And they got a chance to recharge with the fresh memory of a victory in their heads and the knowledge that they have to bring their best against quality opponents every night.

The brief skid may have raised the degree of difficulty on those heady plans to set NHL single-season wins and/or points records, but in the big picture, it might have been the best thing for them.

3. When fans (and some of us media folks, too) were admonishing the Red Sox for never making Xander Bogaerts a reasonable, good-faith offer before he hit free agency, one of the common arguments for keeping him was that he was the Patrice Bergeron of the Red Sox.

I liked that argument. Maybe I even made it myself once or twice, before or after the San Diego Padres swooped in and signed the elegant shortstop to an 11-year, $280 million contract in December. Bogaerts does have many admirable attributes in common with the Bruins captain, including accountability, humility, and the uncommon knack for inclusiveness. Both are authentic leaders and people.

But in retrospect, I think the appropriate framing should have been to say Bogaerts was on his way to being the Red Sox version of Bergeron, for one reason: longevity. Bogaerts did play nearly a decade with the Red Sox, arriving as a wide-eyed 20-year-old late in the World Series-winning 2013 season and more than holding his own.

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But when Bogaerts arrived in Boston, Bergeron had already been here a decade. On Oct. 8, 2013, Bogaerts drew two walks and scored a pair of runs in the Red Sox’ 3-1 victory over the Rays in Game 4 of their American League Divisional Series matchup. That day was the 10-year anniversary of Bergeron’s NHL debut.

Bogaerts was wonderful. The Red Sox should have kept him. But in the annals of classy Boston athletes, he isn’t quite on the level of Bergeron, who won us over long before Bogaerts arrived, and remains as admirable as ever after Bogaerts has moved on.

Source: Boston Globe

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