Most Boston Bruins fans probably don’t consider their team a Stanley Cup contender, and given the number of rookies in the lineup, perhaps that’s the best approach to take.

But a quick perusal of the standings tells a different story. Not only are the Bruins just two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division, they’re seven points clear of their closest divisional competitor, Montreal. What’s more, they have held their own against the iron of the league. Only four teams have fewer regulation losses than the Bruins, who own regulation wins against three of those (Tampa Bay, Nashville and Vegas) and a shootout win against the fourth (New Jersey).

The Bruins still have their bugaboo teams that they can’t seem to beat yet – Washington, the Rangers, Toronto. Meanwhile, the Canadiens, whom the Bruins play three times in eight days in January, always will be the formidable bleu, blanc et rouge to the Bruins, no matter where they sit in the standings.

But the Bruins’ performance through nearly half the season is worth at least a slight recalibration of fans’ expectations. Not only have they been able to win with eye-popping skill, as they did in last week’s rout of a strong Columbus team, they also have figured out how to slog their way to victory when they haven’t been at their best.

David Backes, who might have fit nicely on Boston’s old grind-it-out teams of a half-decade ago, believes this squad’s success lies with Coach Bruce Cassidy’s melding of the pedal-to-the-metal style it played when he took the reins last February with the realities of an 82-game schedule and beyond. The Bruins’ past three wins all had warts, but they still earned six points.

“I think my word is probably ‘adaptation,'” Backes said. “(Cassidy) has kind of toned in his style maybe a little bit from, I don’t want to say it was run-and-gun, but more wide-open when he first took the helm. But I think going into the playoffs, he kind of realized to win on a regular basis, especially to win in the playoffs, you need to have your identity and your pillars in place and firm going into the playoffs. So those types of mantras of ‘make a play when it’s there’ certainly (exist) because we have good players, but if it’s not good, we can’t try too many plays at the blue line. Teams are going to burn us. We have to get pucks behind defensemen and go get them. Credit to a lot of the skill guys who would love to make those plays every single time. They’re putting some pucks in, we’re getting forechecks going.”

When everything else fails, goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have been able to cover up most of mistakes.

As the Bruins’ brass comes to realize that General Manager Don Sweeney’s grand plan, after some bumps in the first year, actually is working, it will need to tackle a couple of new issues.

The first one, which could be staring them right in the face when they return to work Wednesday, is development vs. winning now. Rugged right-shot defenseman Adam McQuaid is just about ready to return. He’s one of the toughest players in the league, a commodity Boston could use in its lineup, and a proven winner. Cassidy has had the most success pairing offensive-minded defensemen with the more conservative blueliners, and by keeping three lefties and three righties in the lineup.

With that model in mind, it would seem Brandon Carlo is the player to sit when McQuaid plays. That has its downside. Carlo has had the ups and downs you would expect from a 21-year-old defenseman, but he could be a top-four blueliner for years to come. Sitting him for more than a night could be detrimental to his development. Lefty Matt Grzelcyk could be sent back to Providence without waivers, but not only has he earned his spot in the lineup, that move would upset the lefty-righty apple cart.

The other question is just how aggressive Sweeney wants to be when it comes to making deals around the deadline. Pure rentals usually are best left to the truly elite teams, and even those clubs eventually pay for them. But the Bruins have a lot of talent for whom they might never find a place, including three left-shot defensemen – Robbie O’Gara, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril – in Providence. Another veteran left-shot defenseman could be a difference-maker.

These are issues that need to be addressed, to be sure. But at least they’re more pleasing to face than patching up massive holes in the organization, which was the case a couple of seasons ago.