Blue Jackets head to Boston to take on Bruins

The Boston Bruins’ surprisingly sporadic start this season could finally be over, and an improved defensive unit is playing a big part in the turnaround.

Boston looks to continue its perfect second half and clinch a season-best six-game win streak Saturday night when it hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Tuukka Rask and the Bruins’ defense have improved from the 16th-ranked unit through Jan. 4 to the NHL’s best in their five games since, allowing just six goals on the streak. Rask recorded his second shutout of the season and first since Nov. 18 on Thursday, blanking the New York Rangers 3-0.

Boston (24-15-6) surrendered 30 shots on goal to New York after allowing an average of 19.3 over its previous three contests.

"When the team plays good in front of you, it makes it that much easier," Rask told Boston’s official site. "Earlier in the year, it used to be 15-20 scoring chances – the odds are you are going to give up two or three goals.

"Now when it’s close to 10, or if it’s nine or 11, it helps a lot. I have felt pretty much the same all year, but now I’m not getting stupid bounces and we are playing a really good team defense, so that results in goals against going down."

Rask owns a 2.42 goals-against average this season – his worst since 2010-11 – but he has won each of his last four starts.

The offensive production has also improved during a surge which has featured wins over Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. Torey Krug has seven points during the streak and rookie David Pastrnak has four goals for the Bruins, who have scored three or more in each win.

Pastrnak, who was picked 25th overall in last year’s draft, has played in nine games and will remain with the team for the foreseeable future.

"What I explained to (Pastrnak) is that this is the next step in a development piece and it doesn’t mean that you’ve got a lock," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "Nothing’s guaranteed in life, but you’ve earned it."

Pastrnak, along with linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci, could have a larger offensive load to carry Thursday as three-time 20-goal scorer Brad Marchand will serve the first of his two-game suspension. The league issued the punishment Friday after Marchand slew-footed Rangers forward Derick Brassard a day earlier.

The Blue Jackets (18-21-3) are kicking off a three-game trip following a winless homestand before returning to Columbus to host the All-Star game Jan. 25.

Following losses to Toronto, the Islanders and Montreal, Columbus fell to the Rangers 2-1 on Friday. The Blue Jackets have been held to two goals or less in each loss.

Those offensive difficulties were not present in the previous meeting with the Bruins this season – a 6-2 victory Dec. 27. Scott Hartnell scored two goals and Curtis McElhinney stopped 26 of 28 shots for the Blue Jackets’ first win against Boston in seven tries, including a 4-3 shootout loss Nov. 21.

"They’re a deep hockey team as well," Hartnell said of Boston. "We play as hard as we did (Friday) we’re going to be right in the game again. You got to play a full 60 in this league, and I don’t think as a group we’ve realized that."

McElhinney could get the nod again Saturday after Sergei Bobrovsky made his fifth consecutive start Friday. McElhinney is 3-6-1 with a 3.22 GAA this season.