The Bruins recently played their 27th game of the season. That’s one third of the season in the books and time to give a periodic assessment of the team. One third being the equivalent of one period of hockey in a game. The record is 18-7-2, leading the Eastern Conference with 38 total points having played 17 home games and 10 away games for a 12-3-2 home record and 6-4 on the road. Some of the statistical information; GFA 2.71 for 12th in the league, GAA 1.94 for 1st, PP% 17.8 for 18th, PK% 85.4 for 4th and FO% 52.7 for 6th in the league.
The Goalies: Tuuka Rask 14-6-2, GAA 1.90 SV% 9.35 2 SO and Chad Johnson 4-1, GAA 1.97, SV% 9.18.
This is the dominant strength of the team as Tuukka ranks in the top 5 in all categories and many pundits rate hime the number one goalie in the league overall at this time. Chad Johnson came in as a relative unknown and was pushed to compete for the Back-up role. While for the most part steady and conservative, he has had some stellar play at times; but doesn’t have the feel that he could be stellar for lengthy periods of time.
The Defense: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, John Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Daniel Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski
The most interesting defense in the league at this time. A blend of proven, championship defensemen and youth with promise for the now and future. Chara is a top 5 in the league defenseman that plays huge minutes and has a big offensive upside. A perennial Norris Trophy candidate every year and has been adding master tudor credentials to the next generation Bruin dominant defensemen. Dennis Seidenberg, a big game shut down defensemen and perhaps one of the most under rated in the league at his position. Boychuk and McQuaid are just reaching their top maturity levels and have been steady hands in their own end and both are capable of displaying meanness and heavy shots. Enter the youth movement of Hamilton, Krug and Bartkowski. Bartkowski almost ended up as a traded piece in the Calgary trade for Iginla and had he, would most certainly be a top 4 performer on that team. He has good size, mobility and foot speed with an underrated offensive skill set. But for Krug or Hamilton, he would be a 5 or 6 spot on this team in the McQuaid/Boychuk mold. Instead he is the number 7, awaiting injuries and stepping in as a general fill when needed. Torey Krug at a mere 5’9″ has exceptional offensive skills and speed. He can be and has been occasionally overmatched in his own end because of his size. If their were a shortage of quality forwards on this team, I might want to experiment with him as a second line left wing; but this team is deep in leftwing depth. Hamilton is the rawest and most immature of the defensemen but at 20 and 6’5″ has ever growing offensive skills that will be Shea Weber like in the next season or two. Learning how to be exceptional in his defensive skills against top opponents is his big learning curve and he gains and learns in leaps and bounds. I expect hime to be a top ten defensemen in the league in 2-3 years and a top 5 once he masters his defensive skills.
The Forwards: Despite start of the season growing pains, this mostly seasoned group of forwards presents all kinds of challenges for opposing coaches. It starts with Boston’s first Line of David Krejci, Jerome Iginla and Milan Lucic. Any of these three players would be coveted by other teams, all together on one line they create big problems. Although Nathan Horton was a complimentary player on this line, Iginla as his replacement brings something that has been lacking; veteran on ice leadership and experience and you can see game by game a more consistent level of performance from Krejci and Lucic. While not a powerhouse first line and no top 10 league performers, they bring grit, tenacity and timely scoring skills every night. Barring injury, I expect this line to be the break out line in the league mid season as a goal a game line with the potential to pot 3 or 4 on any given night.
The second line is anchored by Patrice Bergeron who has had remarkable chemistry the last 3 years with Brad Marchand. The addition of Loui Eriksson to this line makes it a true shut down with offensive upside line combo. Perhaps the line no other line wants to perform against in the league. Marchand has had a slow start and I believe it is due to two factors. Bergeron now has an equally adept option on the right side to Marchand and this has limited Marchand chances and Marchand and Eriksson have not had complimentary chemistry with each other. It the last two weeks as Coach Julien has kept this trio together, you’ve seen the defensive game of this line grow and Marchand and Eriksson get better at complimentary cycling in the corners. The scoring and point totals for both have started emerging on the scoresheet and Bergeron has benefitted with some sudden goal scoring of late. As this trio becomes more comfortable with each other you may see them emerge the second half of the year as the line with the most ice time going into and during the playoffs. Eriksson’s gift is he is a younger and as gifted a player as Mark Recchi, but has been playing for a so-so team in Dallas the last 5 years. He’s hungry and this addition to the team will payoff more and more as the season goes on.
The third line is the biggest surprise as the season has started. Unknowns in Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith have been added to the wings of Chris Kelly. While being hopefully optimistic the melding of these players was the big gamble coming into the season. Soderberg was slowed at the start of the season by an ankle injury and has had to get healthy and learn the North American game by fire. While Smith’s high hockey IQ and zippy speed has enhanced Kelly’s game. Trading Rich Peverly was hard for the Bruins for what he brought in depth and speed, but after a couple of knee injuries, it was apparent that he had lost a big step in his game and it wasn’t sure to return and that made him over priced and moveable. Getting Smith in the Seguin deal was great for Smith as Dallas didn’t seem to know what to do with him as he fell between being a skill forward and depth piece. In Boston, the role of the third line is to out compete whomever you play against and it is hoped that it can at times be a comparable second line on most other teams chipping in depth scoring and tough defensive minutes. This is a perfect situation for Smith to grow his game and get minutes on a team that has needs for his skills. As his game matures Smith will emerge as the first line replacement for Iginla and he’s benefitting from playing wing with Kelly who would be a second center on most other teams. Soderberg has impressed and his learning curve is fast. Obviously a big specimen at 6’3″ he has shown a willingness to throw the body, fight for position and as a converted center, a gift for a soft pass. He can shoot and is strong on the puck. For a big man he has surprising speed and looks like Lucic to me of 4 years ago. I think he’ll develop faster as he is older and his ice time will increase as his familiarity with the language and comfort away from home increases. Expect next year to be a big breakout season for him much like Lucic’s was three years ago. Could be a big playoff performer this year if he stays healthy.
The fourth line: the Best Fourth Line in the NHL. Daniel Paille on other teams would be a solid second or third line left wing, Shawn Thornton while getting up in years has plenty in the tank and I hope he gets another 2 year deal. Campbell after his nasty but heroic injury in last years playoffs, still isn’t 100%, but he’s close and he seems to be getting ever stronger week by week and if he gets all the way back, we’ll see new heights in his game through December sand January. If I had to knock one area of Campbell’s game right now it would be face-offs as he’s been about average and I feel it’s a strength issue. I expect better shortly and his face-off percentage did grow from 27% in October to 42% in Novemeber. In recent weeks, this line has been in several games, the line that picks up the team, carries the play and for a three game stretch, providing the scoring. As the best fourth line, on many nights it plays like a top third line and save for the depth on this team, probably deserves 3-4 minutes of extra ice time game in and game out. But for Campbell’s injury in the playoffs, the team might have stretched a game seven in the finals or even won the cup. I had never seen him play better than the several games before he got hurt and Paille’s game suffered after he went down.
Management: It’s a hell of a team on paper and Peter Chiarelli has made some masterful moves to give Coach Claude Julien the pieces to be successful. While the Pro squad is stacked, building and development have risen to new levels in Providence as the talent down there can step in and help at any level and there are even a few players being denied roles in the NHL because the depth is so deep on this team. What I like best about the Bruins organization; is that they have a management team with a clear image of what they want the team to look like and do and that the management team makes adjustments to build and create that team as time marches on. I really feel the team that won the cup two and a half years ago was a team that matured early and that the team that can win a few cups and compete every year has just now arrived by design and tinkering.
Rating The Team: Goalies-A, Defense-B+, Forwards-B+ and Management-A
Improvements: The Power Play needs to be better and seems to be getting better, the Krejci and Bergeron lines need to score more and they seem to be improving weekly, The defense could be better through 60 minutes as they seem to break down for 5-10 minutes game to game, then get real solid. Stupid penalties, enough said!
Consistents: Staying away from major injuries, Depth in Providence, Team effort
Suggestions: Play standard line combos, whomever is due on the power play, Trade Jordan Caron for anything, Start resting defensemen for a game by utilizing Bartkowski while the defense is healthy. More consistent 60 minute games, understanding that youth on defense is a learning curve.
After One Period of Hockey in this season, The Bruins are up 2-1! Going into the second, more pressure from the offense please!
Until Next Time!