EDMONTON - Think of the Boston Bruins as the Los Angeles Kings, but outfitted in black and gold.
Both are big, heavy, hard-to-play-against teams. The statistical snapshots are eerily similar.
The Bruins swaggered into Edmonton with a 21-8-2 record; the Kings were 20-7-4 entering play Wednesday night. Through 31 games, the stingy Bruins had given up 62 goals, same as the Kings.
Neither team scores much. They both have only one player in double digits in goals: Milan Lucic in Boston; Justin Williams in Los Angeles — both with 11 goals. The Bruins have scored 86 goals so far this season, one more than the Kings.
The defence-first Kings are fourth in the NHL on the penalty kill, stifling 86.2 per cent of their opponents’ manpower advantages. Boston sits fifth, at 85.9.
The Bruins are No. 1 in the East Conference; the Kings sit fourth in the West. An illustration of the East Coast discount in this season of Western Conference domination.
Everybody knows about the Bruins, obviously, but the teams haven’t played since a Nov. 10, 2011 game in Boston that the Bruins won 6-3. The sometimes men-against-boys matchup the Kings represent for the Oilers seems apt as Boston makes its only appearance in Edmonton this season.
Something else. Neither the Kings nor the Bruins has hit high gear, a frightening thought to their opponents. At least it should be.
The Bruins, beset by injuries (Dougie Hamilton; Daniel Paille; Loui Eriksson; Chris Kelly) and suspensions (Shawn Thornton), found a way to eke out a comeback, 2-1 victory in Calgary on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, with starting goalie Tuuka Rask ill with the flu, University of Alberta Golden Bears goalie Kurtis Mucha filled in at practice for the Bruins. Head coach Claude Julien said backup goalie Chad Johnson was fighting the flu in Calgary, so who will start against the Oilers was uncertain on Wednesday.
It’s always something, even for a first-place team.
And what might the Bruins have in store tonight at Rexall Place for the small, swift, skilled Oilers, who sit last in the West, a placing lower than the Flames in the standings, Julien was asked.
“With all due respect, that’s not a good question,” Julien told a small reporters’ scrum following his team’s practice on Wednesday. “To look at a team, because they’re lower in the standings and think you don’t have to be ready for them is a lot of crap in this league.
“I think if you lose respect for any team that you play, you’re in the wrong business. They’ve got a lot of talent here. You’ve heard probably every coach who has come into this building tell you the same thing — lot of talent, lot of skill.
“I’m still one of those guys that think it’s a matter of time. But we have enough with our (own) struggles right now to make sure that we need to be ready to play a team that’s got a lot of skill, lot of speed, lot of talent.
“And, again (we’re) waiting for them to explode at some point. But we’re not good enough right now to start looking at the standings and decide how we should play and how much effort we should put in our games.”
Yes, a real sympathy case, these Bruins are, limping into Edmonton having posted a 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games, including two straight victories to start their current four-game road trip.
Lucic, who skated alongside centre David Krejci, Boston’s leading point-getter with 25 (six goals), and the prodigal Jarome Iginla at practice on Wednesday, said he and his under-manned team still are struggling to play a complete game, injuries or no injuries.
“There shouldn’t be any excuses,” Lucic said. “We’ve just got to get back to finding a way to stay sharp for a full 60 minutes.
“Right now, I think, with guys out of the lineup, it’s up to the leaders to step up and set the tone right off the start and keep it going for the full 60 minutes.”
The Bruins are capable of dialing their game up impressively, as they did in taking over in Calgary in the third period, outshooting the Flames 15-5 and scoring twice to seal that victory.
They are experienced enough to know that sporadic play is not a recipe for sustained success, first place in the East or not.
“You want to be at your best come springtime,” Lucic said. “But you’ve got to get there first.
“There’s the journey in the season that will help you get to your best, hopefully at springtime. There’s going to be ups and downs. You’re going to go through injuries and illnesses and all that type of stuff. But you’ve got to find a way to battle through it.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we control the controllables. That’s effort and staying sharp. That’s what we’ve always talked about here.
“Put all your egos aside. It’s about building a foundation, playing the right way. Playing in our structured game plan is what gives us our success.”
If the Bruins bring their A game, start to finish, this will be a major test for the Oilers.
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