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The Boston Bruins have reached the top of the CBS Sports NHL Power Rankings ahead of Wednesday's game against the New Jersey Devils. Through 26 games, the Original Six franchise is leading its division and sits only behind the Vegas Golden Knights in the league standings. 

Both the Devils and Bruins had successful regular seasons in 2022-23, but unlike New Jersey, Boston has been able to maintain good positioning with the 2024 portion of this season ahead. With the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, what has led to the Bruins' success in the early half of the NHL season? Let's take a look. 

Weak strength of schedule

It's fair to question whether the opponents through 26 games has contributed to Boston's success. The Original Six franchise is 18-5-6 and sits behind only the Vegas Golden Knights in the league standings. Like the Golden Knights, Boston started the season with a winning streak (six games). 

However, of those six wins, only the 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 21 was against a playoff opponent. Nine days later, the Bruins defeated the 2023 Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers, 3-2, in overtime for their seventh win of the season. Per, no team has an easier strength of schedule to-date than Boston. 

Things may have started off easy for the Bruins, but how will they handle a more difficult strength of schedule on the backend? Coach Jim Montgomery has relied on his leadership core throughout the tougher times of the season. 

"I think our leadership and being able to get back to practice to create the habits and pace that we want to play with, but mostly I think it's the leadership," Montgomery told the media on Dec. 6. 

It's safe to assume the team will do so again as the road get rougher. Boston will face the top two Metropolitan teams -- the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, respectively -- Friday and Saturday. The Bruins will also face the Panthers and Golden Knights twice more this regular season. 

Key players amid hot start

The B's have the best penalty kill in the league (89.9%) and a top-10 power play (22.9%). Like last season, the Bruins are meeting success on home ice. 10 of their 18 wins have come at TD Garden. Captain Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak lead the team in scoring. Marchand recorded his sixth career hat trick earlier this month. 

Charlie McAvoy and Pavel Zacha are also top-five scorers for the Bruins, but neither is available against the Devils on Wednesday. Both are out with upper-body injuries and listed as day-to-day. Forward Morgan Geekie, a free agent signing who played with the Seattle Kraken the past two seasons, was asked to center a line with Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak. 

Montgomery called Geekie a "big horse" who does a great job occupying the middle of the ice and winning important puck battles for his team. He added that making in-game changes like these are ways to provide opportunities for players to step into bigger roles. 

To that end, the Bruins recalled forward Jesper Boqvist ahead of Wednesday's game against the Devils. Boqvist has 14 points in 24 games with the Providence Bruins. Montgomery admitted that knowing Boqvist is a former second-round pick for the Devils also factored into the 25-year-old getting the call. 

"I always find guys dig in and wanna show they other team why they could've kept 'em," Montgomery told the media earlier this week. However, Montgomery would not confirm whether Boqvist would dress for the would-be revenge game. 

"He had a good practice today, but I'm undecided on that and need to talk to the staff," Montgomery said Tuesday. 

Boston's goalie tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have also contributed to the teams early success. The duo has let in 65 goals in 26 games this season, second fewest behind only the Kings (58 goals in 25 games). Swayman is among the top three goalies in GAA (2.08%), SV (.932%) and shutouts (2) this season. 

However, it is worth mentioning again that Boston's schedule will be much harder for the remainder of the season. The best offense in the league hasn't had to overcome much. Will they maintain their productivity against other top teams? 

Their next big test is Saturday against the New York Rangers (19-7-1). Boston and New York lead the Eastern Conference with 39 points each this regular season. The Bruins will host the midseason best-on-best matchup at TD Garden.