On New Year’s Day, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will partake in an event that is slowly becoming an honored tradition. The 2016 Winter Classic will feature two Original Six rivals, and, if history has anything to do with it, the 70,000+ in attendance at Gillette Stadium are in for a scrappy, hard hitting game.
Montreal started the year with the league’s best record, with losses being a word that wasn’t in the Canadiens’ dictionary. Nine and ten game winning streaks were common place, and when opposing teams saw them on the schedule, they knew they were in for a fight with their best play needed to win.
As of late though, the Canadiens have become that team that can’t get out of the rut. They are the team that others water at the mouth for, knowing that an easy prey is coming to town and two points is almost guaranteed. They are losers of ten of their last eleven games as of Saturday Night, and points are being lost everywhere they turn. Luckily for them, the Bruins haven’t bought any points themselves in the past few games with tough losses to St Louis and Buffalo plaguing the Boys of Beantown.
Speaking of Boston, the Bruins come in to the week of the Winter Classic in second place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind their rivals to the north. The B’s became as hot as the weather around this year’s Christmas in the month of December. Their defensive play caught up, and they were able to maintain the league’s best Power-play percentage, at 29% for the year. Headed into the week of Christmas, it appeared that by New Year’s, the Bruins would be in first place of the Atlantic Division. St. Louis turned out to be a loss, which was perfectly fine considering they are becoming one of the best teams in the NHL. It was a game that the Bruins considered a “smart loss,” with momentum only being lost for a few seconds, although they were the few seconds that counted the most.
Saturday night against the 14-16-4 Sabres was a game that the Bruins went into with full confidence that they would win. The Sabres had been appearing to be better as of late, but the Bruins were a much more disciplined team with better stats in almost every category. During one two minute stretch in the second period the score quickly became 2-1 Boston. It stayed that way until late in the period when Krejci put in a SportsCenter Top 10 goal, batting the puck out of the air at crossbar level to put the Bruins up 3-1.
The third period saw the unthinkable happen. The Sabres put together five, yes five, un-answered goals and stunned the 17,565 in attendance at TD Garden. As Bergeron put it after the game, “we stopped playing the way we wanted to play. Stopped playing hockey. Just very careless and trying to be cute. Hopefully this is an eye opener for a lot of guys that were not even close to where we wanted to be. Its about being professional and playing for sixty minutes.”
Playing for sixty minutes was something that plagued the Bruins earlier in the year, and something that writers from all across the country focused on game after game. With the recent stretch of good play, all of that had been forgotten, but it quickly came back Saturday night when Buffalo turned on the pressure, and the Bruins turned off their game play.
In another bit of news, David Pastrnak will not be attending the Winter Classic. Not because of his injury either. Bruins GM announced that Pastrnak will be joining the Czech Republic World Juniors Team in Finland on December 28th. This will take place instead of his rehab assignment that he would do in Providence. When asked why, Sweeney said that Pastrnak gained a lot of confidence and momentum in the WJC last year, and they want that to continue hopefully this year.
The Canadiens will come into the Winter Classic without Brandon Gallagher, Jeff Petry, Carey Price and Devante Smith-Pelly. Most notable are the injuries to Price and Gallagher, who are cogs in the Montreal winning machine.
The Bruins injury list will include Chris Kelly, Jonas Kemppainen, Pastrnak and possibly Torey Krug, who left Saturday’s game in the first period with an undisclosed injury.
The Bruins and the Canadiens will be meeting for their third matchup of the year during the Winter Classic. So far, they have each taken a game in the series. If the last game at the Belle Center is any indication of what is to come, then Bruins fans are in for a real treat. All they have to do is survive the home and home series against the Senators, which is a whole other topic to talk about. Look at it this way, the Winter Classic wait is like waiting for a second Christmas morning: you’re going to count down the minutes and when it arrives, it will exceed every expectation you could have possibly set.