Ten thoughts on the Bruins’ hot start
By now, many Boston Bruins fans are aware of the team’s 8-1-1 record through the first 10 games – their best in franchise history. There have been some minor hiccups along the way, including their ongoing power play woes, but obviously for the most part things are looking up in The Hub of Hockey.
Here are 10 thoughts from your’s truly on the Bruins’ rampant start to the 2013 National Hockey League season.
1) Tuukka Rask’s stellar play
Many were wondering how Tuukka would respond as heir apparent to Tim Thomas, and so far he has been nothing short of extraordinary. The Finnish netminder is 5-1-1 on the season with a 1.96 goals against average and a .922 save percentage and is really positioning himself well from post to post.
This was the Bruins’ top question heading into the 2013 season and so far Tuukka has passed all the tests. But can he continue this roll?
2) The Tim Thomas trade
Count this as another win for Peter Chiarelli.
While the Bruins’ general manager might only get a second round pick in return – if Thomas actually reports to the New York Islanders – he got $5 million in cap relief by trading the two-time Vezina Trophy winner.
The Bruins now have a little over $8 million in cap space according to CapGeek.com. And after this hot start, they could potentially be that much better after the trade deadline. (Jarome Iginla or Steven Weiss, anyone?)
3) Brad Marchand leading the team in goals
After returning to the lineup Sunday from an upper-body injury, Marchand picked up right where he left off. The ‘little ball of hate’ scored the team’s first goal in the 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres increasing his team-leading total to six on the season. What’s more impressive is his shot percentage, which is at 42.9 percent.
Apparently, there’s no secret to his success.
“It’s different every time. You go through points of the year where things are going well and you go through others where things don’t click as well,” Marchand said after Monday’s practice. “You can go nine or ten games without a goal and go five games with goals. So it’s just how things go.”
Things are certainly clicking for Marchand right now on the scoresheet, but the Bruin with many monikers continues to play with an edge. And that is a welcomed sighting after slowing down when returning from last year’s suspension for his hit on Vancouver Canucks defenseman Sami Salo 13 months ago.
4) The play of Dougie Hamilton
So much for his struggles in the World Junior Championships. Even with the benefit of skating alongside Dennis Seidenberg – and with Zdeno Chara in a couple of instances – Hamilton has really provided a spark on the blueline as the second leading scorer on the team among defensemen. The 19-year old from Toronto sure has a bright future, but even now he is helping Peter Chiarelli’s decision to trade Phil Kessel to the Leafs.
5) Tyler Seguin
While one part of the Kessel trade has been doing quite well, the other is still looking for his groove. In what many expected another breakout season for Seguin, the 21-year old forward has only compiled three points thus far (two goals, one assist) and is still a little snakebitten. Seguin did provide a jolt in the third period of the Bruins’ 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens last Wednesday and he is still being assertive, which is a positive sign for coach Claude Julien.
Seguin, like Kessel, has been known to be a streaky scorer. So when he gets going, the goals should come in bunches.
6) The Merlot line
One of many benefits that Julien has is that they can roll all four lines on any given night. When the top lines struggle, Claude can usually count on Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille to provide more energy. Campbell and Thornton can drop the gloves at any moment and can muscle their way in battles for loose pucks, while Paille’s speed is something opposing defenses need to respect. All three can also provide a scoring touch if need be.
7) The power(less) play
Where to begin. Is it the lack of a “puck-moving defenseman”? Is it a lack of shots directed at opposing goalies? Is it because they don’t get many clean entries into the blue-line?
For a team that has struggled on the power play over the last few seasons, one would think this issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. They’ve certainly tried to spark the man advantage by putting David Krejci on the point and Tyler Seguin on the half-wall, but so far that has been to no avail.
Maybe things are heading in the right direction after Patrice Bergeron scored his game-winner on the power play Sunday night. But maybe its just hopeless optimism. Either way the man advantage continues to be a work in progress.
8) The polar opposite penalty kill
One thing that has been consistent in the Julien era has been the penalty kill and this year is no different. The Bruins are currently tied with the Chicago Blackhawks in PK percentage killing off nearly 93 percent of the opposing power plays.
That is impressive in it and itself, but the Black and Gold shorthanded units have come up huge in clutch situations that includes a 5-on-3 against the New York Rangers in the third period on opening night and two overtime kills in a shootout victory against the Winnipeg Jets. Even more impressive, the 6-foot-9 Chara was serving a penalty in both instances.
9) Claude’s coaching
It’s no secret that many consider Julien’s system a defensive first approach. But the players have bought in to the Bruins bench boss’ ways and it seems apparent again this year.
Aside from their 7-4 loss to Buffalo nearly two weeks ago, the Bruins defense has been solid allowing 2.1 goals per game. But the Black and Gold – even though they are in the middle of the league in scoring currently with 2.7 goals per game – also pride themselves using the D to transition into offense.
While they’ve had no stud 50-goal scorers, the B’s have often ended up as one the top 10 teams in scoring with several netting 20 or more goals. And Julien is pretty comfortable with that approach despite some early season struggles offensively.
“I don’t think we are a team that is bad at scoring. I think we are a team that scores by committee,” said Julien. “We struggle to get that 50-goal scorer – or this year that 30-goal scorer – but we are still a team that is usually in the top five in goals scored. I don’t anticipate that being an issue, but right now we are snake bitten with all the chances we have and that we haven’t been able to capitalize as we should.”
10) Familiarity breeds success
Aside from Thomas, Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle, many members of the 2011 Cup run are still donning the Black and Gold. Not only has that been beneficial to the team’s hot start, but it’s also a testament to sticking with Julien’s system through good times and bad.
“It’s definitely huge,” Marchand said about the locker room familiarity. “It’s been a couple of years that we’ve been playing together and especially in a shortened season like we have this year where everything is so compact and we didn’t really have a training camp or a whole lot of practice time. It definitely makes things a little easier and it’s showing out there.”
In a shortened season, a veteran presence is a nice thing to have. And that can especially come in handy come playoff time.