Thanksgiving 2023: What Bruins fans have to be thankful for this season

Thanksgiving 2023: What Bruins fans have to be thankful for this season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins will enter Thanksgiving with the best record in the NHL's Eastern Conference, which seemed pretty unlikely just a few months ago.

That's because the Bruins lost a lot of good players in the offseason. Their top two centers, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, retired in August. Taylor Hall (trade), Tyler Bertuzzi (free agency), Dmitry Orlov (free agency), Connor Clifton (free agency) and also left the organization in July.

But the Bruins have hardly missed a beat, taking 29 of a possible 34 points with a 13-1-3 record through 17 games. Young players have cracked the lineup and made a meaningful impact for the first time in a while, the goaltending has been fantastic, and David Pastrnak is performing like a top-three player in the world.

This team ultimately will be judged by its success come playoff time, but right now, there's not much for B's fans to complain about as the holiday season rolls around.

With Thanksgiving almost here and the Bruins in first place, it's a good time to look at what B's fans should be thankful for.

Here are three notable ones:

NHL's best goalie tandem

The Bruins would not own the league's best record without the top goalie duo. Boston's defense ranks 15th or worse in shot attempts allowed, shots on net allowed and scoring chances allowed. But they're No. 1 in goals against, both at 5-on-5 and in all situations, because of netminders Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark.

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Swayman leads all goalies with a .933 save percentage, while ranking third with a 2.09 GAA. Ullmark ranks fifth in both save percentage (.928) and GAA (2.23).

The Bruins have alternated this tandem in every game this season with the exception of the last two, where Swayman got back-to-back starts. This back-and-forth should continue throughout the year as the B's try to keep both goalies fresh entering the playoffs.

Swayman has performed slightly better than Ullmark so far and, if the season ended today, would deserve to start Game 1 of the postseason. But we're a long way from that debate.

In the meantime, the Bruins' exceptional goaltending has given them a strong foundation for success each game and is hiding some of the defensive concerns that the team must address.

Better than expected production at center

The loss of the Bruins' top two centers -- Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci -- to retirement in August had the potential to be a real issue early in the season, but any fears at that position have been largely non-existent right from Opening Night.

After a slow start, Pavel Zacha has posted 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in his last 12 games, including an active five-game point streak. His chemistry with Pastrnak is fantastic, and his faceoff win percentage is up almost five percent (45.3 to 50) compared to last season.

Charlie Coyle has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 17 games. He's on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Coyle also is on track to finish with 72 points, which would shatter his previous career high of 56 set in 2016-17 with the Minnesota Wild. His defensive contributions, including a team-leading 54.3 faceoff percentage and excellent work on the league's No. 1 penalty kill, further his value even more. Coyle is 31 and in his 12th season, but you could make a strong case this is the best he's ever played.

Johnny Beecher finally broke into the NHL roster this season and it doesn't look like he'll be going back to Providence anytime soon. The rookie center is winning 53.1 percent of his faceoffs, bringing a much-needed physical edge each shift and also providing some scoring depth (two goals, one assist). The fourth-line center is also playing a key role on the PK with 1:48 of shorthanded ice time per game.

Matthew Poitras was a surprise during camp and the preseason and parlayed that success into an NHL roster spot. He made a strong enough impact through nine games -- three goals, two assists -- to earn an extended stay in Boston and have the team burn the first year of his entry-level contract.

Poitras has impressive playmaking ability, an underrated shot and shows the willingness to fight for puck possession in the dirty areas of the ice. The challenge for him, like most rookies, is consistency. He has cooled off a bit offensively with zero goals and one assist in his last six games. But his progress so far has been very good.

Overall, the Bruins are pretty deep at center, which was not the case at all entering the season. If they add at the trade deadline, a middle-six winger would probably make the strongest impact.

David Pastrnak is a legit Hart Trophy candidate

Pastrnak's hot start to the season is not getting enough attention. Over the summer Pastrnak lost the two centers he has played with the most throughout his career -- Bergeron and Krejci.

Some wingers see their scoring production dip when they're no longer playing with an elite playmaker at center, or when they are developing chemistry with a new center. Pastrnak hasn't suffered from either of those scenarios at all. He's been very productive regardless of who he's playing with.

Pastrnak leads the Bruins with 29 points in 17 games. His 12 goals are two off the league lead, and he's one point short of Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes atop the leaderboard.

His most impressive play of the season isn't even a goal. It's this pass to Pavel Zacha to set up a goal Monday night against the Lightning:

Pastrnak has been remarkably consistent, too. He has failed to tally a single point in just three of his 17 games. He has 10 multi-point games and five three-point games.

The superstar forward was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP last season and finished second in the voting. It wouldn't be surprising to see Pastrnak win the award if he continues to put up stellar stats and the Bruins finish among the top teams in the regular season. The last B's player to win the Hart Trophy was Phil Esposito in 1973-74.