Why Bruins' early struggles vs. top NHL teams is concerning this season

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How alarming is it that the Bruins can't beat any of the NHL's best? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins are not in a horrible spot in the Eastern Conference and Atlanta Division standings through their first 15 games (9-6-0) of the 2021-22 NHL season.

There is one concern that hasn't been alleviated. In fact, it's gotten worse.

The Bruins are having an awful time beating good teams. And it's not just defeating quality opponents, it's being competitive with them.

Here's a look at the top teams the Bruins have played against so far.

  • Wed., Oct. 27 at Panthers: 4-1 loss

  • Thurs., Oct. 28 at Hurricanes: 3-0 loss

  • Sat., Oct. 30 vs. Panthers: 3-2 win (shootout)

  • Sat., Nov. 6 at Maple Leafs: 5-2 loss

  • Thurs., Nov. 11 vs. Oilers: 5-3 loss

  • Sun., Nov. 14 vs. Flames: 4-0 loss

So, the Bruins are 1-5-0 versus these teams, which happen to be all the opponents the Bruins have faced that are currently in a playoff spot. The only victory was a shootout triumph, so it's hard to be excited about that result. Overall, they've been outscored 23-8 in these matchups.

One of the reasons why the Bruins have been such a good regular season team over the last decade is they've enjoyed plenty of success beating quality opponents. They often rise to the challenge of proving their worth against one of the top contenders in the league.

Year

Record vs. Playoff Teams

2021-22

1-5-0

2020-21

12-8-3

2019-20

16-8-6

2018-19

18-15-3

2017-18

20-11-8

So, the Bruins have taken a lot of points from these teams in recent years, and when you combine that with consistently beating the weaker teams, you see why Boston has finished with 100-plus points in each of the last four seasons (including a 106.6-point pace in the shortened 2020-21 season).

Why are this year's struggles versus good teams such a concern for the Bruins? 

Well, one reason is the Atlantic Division is much tougher. The Panthers have emerged as the top team in the division (and the entire league) and they aren't going anywhere. They are loaded at every position. It's not a fluke, either. Florida is a top three team in most puck possession, shots and goals metrics during 5-on-5 play, per Natural Stat Trick.

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The Lightning are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs and still an elite team. The Toronto Maple Leafs are another ultra-talented group, and they have plenty to prove after last season's first-round meltdown against the Montreal Canadiens.

Even some of the weaker teams in the division have played better than expected, notably the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres. The Canadiens are better than their 5-13-2 record would indicate.

A stronger division (and Eastern Conference, for that matter) makes the Bruins' job of finishing in the top three more challenging that it's been in recent years. The Bruins are five points out of third place, and nine and 11 points behind second and first place, respectively. Sure, the Bruins have several games in hand on most every team in the league, both those matchups aren't guaranteed wins. 

Beating good teams will be especially important over the next few weeks as the Bruins' schedule increases in difficulty.

The Bruins' next 11 games include seven teams that made the playoffs last season or occupy a postseason spot right now. This stretch features matchups against the Oilers, Flames, Golden Knights and Lightning. 

It's an important period for the Bruins, not only to prove their worth against the league's best, but also close the gap between them and the top three teams in the Atlantic. A poor record over these next three weeks could make it incredibly tough for the B's to earn one of the three playoff spots from the division, and ultimately make the the wild card their best hope.