If you haven’t been following the plus/minus statistic from a league-wide perspective this season, here’s a quick summary – The Boston Bruins. Combining a powerful offense with a formidable defense, the Bruins lead the NHL with a +64 goal differential by scoring 262 goals while only allowing 198 goals.
Their success as a team has caused numerous Bruins to be ranked at the top of the individual plus/minus statistic. As of the date of this article, the Bruins have six players ranked in the top-10, with five Bruins making up the top five leaders in the category. This type of domination in a category that some fans overlook or dismiss offers plenty of insight about what the Boston Bruins are all about.
There are plenty of fans out there that will tell you that the plus/minus statistic is overrated and used too often to make vast generalizations. While I think those arguments hold water and are generally true, I think the plus/minus statistic is still extremely useful and fun to analyze as the season winds down.
The Boston Bruins are the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Champions. They stormed into the playoffs last year backed by a consistent offensive attack, a powerful defensive unit and dependable goaltending – the three keys to winning a title. In 2010-11, the Bruins as a team finished with a goal differential of +51, finishing second behind the Vancouver Canucks (+77). At an individual level, the Bruins had a few impressive finishes in the individual plus/minus department with Zdeno Chara leading the league with a +33. Adam McQuaid and Nathan Horton were also among the top-10 with +30 and a +29.
Skipping ahead to the current season, we find Zdeno Chara near the top of the list again. No surprise there. This time he brought a few more friends.
1. Boston – Patrice Bergeron – +34 (80 games)
2. Boston - Zdeno Chara – +33 (78 games)
3. Boston – Chris Kelly – +32 (80 games)
4. Boston – Tyler Seguin – +31 (79 games)
5. Boston – Brad Marchand – +28 (74 games)
6. Ottawa – Filip Kuba – +28 (71 games)
7. Chicago – Patrick Sharp – +27 (72 games)
8. New York Rangers – Ryan McDonagh – +27 (80 games)
9. Boston – Johnny Boychuk – +27 (77 games)
10. Phoenix – Ray Whitney – +25 (79 games)
As you can see, Boston rules the top-10. Chara finds himself in a familiar place but this year he is joined by Bergeron, Kelly, Seguin, Marchand and Boychuk. Rich Peverley is also in the discussion, checking in from the 25th spot with a +21.
These sort of numbers really shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise. Last season Boston had eight players that were a +20 or better. However, they only had two that were a +30 or better. This season Boston currently has seven at a +20 or better but they have a whopping four at a +30 or better with a fifth skater, Marchand, knocking at the door.
What’s important to remember is why Boston is dominating the category – a perfect balance of offense and defense. In the past we have seen teams rule the plus/minus category as well, but it’s mostly been due to huge offensive numbers that canceled out some rather mediocre defensive numbers.
In the 2009-10 season the Washington Capitals had a plethora of players at the top of the plus/minus category. They had five Capitals in the top-10, with Jeff Schultz leading the league with an astounding +50. However, their success in the category differs from Boston’s current success. Washington relied completely on offense, aiming to simply outscore any team they played than focus on any sort of defensive strategy. This is made obvious from the fact they ranked 16th in the NHL in total defense while leading the league by a fairly large margin offensively. How well did this tactic work out? Simply ask yourself if the Capitals won the Cup and you’ll find your answer.
Meanwhile, Boston’s strategy is to play both roles tremendously well. They preach a style of hockey that requires all of the forwards to get involved defensively. Fire a shot that was blocked and the opposition is breaking out of their own zone? Better get on your horse and pressure the puck carrier. The forwards are required to follow the puck back in their own end, often being required to linger behind their own goal line in order to assist their defenseman. This strategy mixed with some great exectution has turned guys like Chris Kelly, an owner of a (-13) plus/minus between Ottawa and Boston in 2010-11 into a +32 force in 2011-12.
Will Boston’s strategy and ability to end up on the positive side of the plus/minus category carry them to another Stanley Cup Final? We’ll have to wait and see.