The problem I have with the 2022-23 Boston Bruins is the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. At the risk of sounding like somebody who has that everything-was-better-in-my-day attitude, Boston’s assault on the National Hockey League record book is a little out of context.
As the Bruins were racing towards all-time records for most wins and most points, they were being ordained as “the best” and, yes, that happens when teams break records. Clearly dominant, Boston is favoured in the spring to win the Stanley Cup in the summer, while out-distancing all great teams during the regular season.
Starting with the ’76-’77 Canadiens.
The comparisons are complicated; long passages of time do that, and these complications come with two fundamental differences. One, the Canadiens played 80 games, the Bruins 82. Two, and this is a bigger one, there was no overtime then — a tie was a tie, worth one point.
So the Bruins had two more games and more overtime points available, en route to erasing the record of 132, which theoretically could have been 136 had Montreal played 82 games. In addition, Boston added 22 points from (at last count) 16 overtime games, six more points than they’d have had if their ties had been “old ties.” This season, Boston’s winning percentage was .820. Montreal’s winning percentage in 1976-77 was .825. However, if all Boston’s ties were worth one point, like the Habs’ were, the Bruins’ winning percentage would be .750.
But for me, here’s the clincher to this statistical duel of the ages.
The Canadiens lost eight games that season. Eight! That means they were beaten 10 per cent of the time. This year, Boston lost about 15 per cent of the time. Except those Montreal Canadiens, no team has ever gone a whole season and lost only eight games. And in case you think it was a one-off, or a fluke, the previous year the Canadiens lost 10 games, and the following year they lost 11. Those three seasons (along with the 1972-73 Canadiens) are the fewest losses ever with a schedule of 70 games or more.
Three seasons and 29 losses. Guess how many NHL teams — this season alone — had fewer than 29, including games lost in overtime?
Only Boston, with 29.
The Bruins deserves a ton of credit for separating themselves from the field. Like the Canadiens of 46 years ago, they maintained a 20-point lead over their nearest rivals. However, that Montreal team had the “Big Three” on defence: Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe. Quickly now, name three Boston defencemen this year, any three…I know, Charlie McAvoy plus two. That Montreal team had nine Hall of Fame players and the current Bruins have three, maybe four, who could be on track for enshrinement. That Montreal team had a 60-goal scorer (Steve Shutt), a 56-goal scorer (Guy Lafleur) and six 20-goal scorers; these Bruins have David Pastrnak (60) and four other forwards with 20 or more. That Montreal team scored 216 more goals than they allowed…Boston’s goal differential is just over 120.
Those Canadiens won their second of four straight Stanley Cups, unlikely for these Bruins. And one statistic will always separate them and the 1976-77 Canadiens.
Eight losses. Really?