BOSTON (CBS) – This is the third in a three-part series grading the Bruins at the All-Star Break.
The offensive improvements the Boston Bruins expected from last season, when they were fifth in the league at just a little less than three goals per game, to the 2011-12 campaign have mostly occurred.
Boston went into the All-Star break as the highest-scoring team in the NHL with 3.53 goals scored per night. Tyler Seguin’s maturity, as well as the continued improvement of last year’s midseason additions Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, has contributed to the Bruins’ attack becoming more dangerous.
The Bruins’ power play has also emerged from the woods with an 18.7 success rate – strong enough for 11th in the NHL. Nathan Horton’s health, as well as the ability of Seguin to continue to blossom and the secondary scorers to again find their touch from early in the season, will be key to Boston succeeding in the second half of the season.
Here are my grades for the forwards:
Second only to his teammate Seguin in the plus/minus department at plus-27, Bergeron has truly emerged as the outstanding two-way center Boston always envisioned he’d be. Among the top 10 in faceoff percentage league-wide, Bergeron is the most important player on the Bruins because he excels in so many areas of the game. Without losing any of his excellence at the defensive end, Bergeron has recorded 43 points – so he might be on his way to his first 70-point season since 2006-07.
With six goals and six fights already this season, Boston’s so-called fourth-line center is well on his way to a second straight double-double season in those departments. As one of the anchors on Boston’s top-10 penalty kill, Campbell has continued to fill his role perfectly just as he did last season.
Considering the amount of times he’s been on the “Providence shuttle” that Caron can even remember what team he’s playing for on a given night is amazing. While it’s hard to tell how much he’s improved since last season, Caron’s continued to prove himself as a responsible player who’s typically positioned well and can fill into different roles based on Boston’s needs.
A CBA clause that would force the Bruins to put Hamill through waivers in order to return him to the AHL is probably the biggest thing keeping him with Boston right now. However, he’s enjoyed some solid third- and fourth-line shifts, which proves the former first-round pick might’ve found his niche. Still, you’d like to see him show the offensive skills he flashed in his junior career, and even early on in his pro career, show up at some point in the NHL.
Once he shook off the cobwebs from last season’s year-ending concussion, Horton began to better resemble the player he was during the Stanley Cup run. With 17 goals and 32 points, he’s on pace to surpass the regular-season totals of last year. You’d like to see him more physically engaged on a nightly basis, but considering he just suffered another concussion you might settle for him just being healthy and available to the Bruins’ cause.
Still as solid in his own end as he’s always been and a key member of Boston’s penalty kill, Kelly’s tailed off at the offensive end after a start that had him on a 30-goal pace. While anything Boston gets from him in terms of scoring should be gravy, they need three lines scoring to make up for the streakiness of some of their top guns. Still with an impressive 14 goals on his ledger, Kelly scored just twice in 12 January games.
While he’s considered the No. 1 center on the depth chart, Krejci goes through too many slumps where he not only doesn’t produce but doesn’t even show a pulse. Still, he’s third on the team in points (38) and has continued to be strong at the faceoff dots. He should be better on the power play. It’ll take consistent production for Krejci, who fancies himself one of the best centers in the league, to surpass last season’s total of 62 points. Of course, there’ll be no questioning him if he can continue his career-long postseason magic.
Mid-Season Grades: The Goalies
A 30-goal scorer last season, Lucic is on pace to match that total last year. He’s gotten a little more consistent and been better finding ways to contribute when he’s not scoring. His five power-play goals have been a welcome addition. The physical presence has continued to be there, and in a smarter way, aside from his one-game suspension for his hit on Zac Rinaldo in Philadelphia.
Head coach Claude Julien had to bench him for most of a period one night and the NHL has had to hand him some discipline over the course of his sophomore season, still those things just come with the territory when it comes to Marchand. As long as he keeps on his 30-plus-goal pace (he has 16) and doesn’t cost Boston a game with his antics, Marchand is the league’s best player/pest.
While his failures on a handful of golden scoring chances he produces for every goal he scores might cost Boston’s brass a hair or two, Paille (eight goals) is still enjoying his best all-around season since he was a 19-goal scorer in 2007-08 with Buffalo. Still an outstanding penalty killer, Paille’s the perfect speed complement to Boston’s fourth line.
Mid-Season Grades: The Defense
Maybe Peverley could stand to pull the trigger on a few more shots and get on a better pace than the one that has him at eight goals so far. Nonetheless, his puck-distributing skills have come in handy for Boston at full strength and on the power play, while Peverley has continued to be a player Julien can trust in any situation.
It took the former Montreal forward so long to get going in a black-and-gold sweater, some might say his eight goals are eight more than he could’ve been expected to produce. But he’s shown flashes of both skills and physicality, so there’s more he can bring the Bruins. Too many nights he’s been invisible, especially lately with just two assists to show for his last eight games of effort. Boston might still want to upgrade its third line and find a more consistent performer than Pouliot.
Now that it seems the one-game scratch taught him a lesson about attending team events, Seguin seems to only need to make sure he keeps a drop of jam in his game in order to become the superstar he’d projected to be. He leads the team with 19 goals and shares the points lead with Bergeron with 43, and has definitely been more responsible in his own end than last season on most nights. As long as he doesn’t let success get to his head, Seguin is on the right track.
Does any player get more bang for nine minutes of ice time per night than Thornton? The fan favorite is only victimized by the offensive expectations he set last season, as he’s scored just four goals this season after 10 last. Still, he’s already racked up a dozen fight majors, including a few that were game-turners for Boston. Thornton continues to set the hard-work example for his teammates, and his attempt to take on the entire Vancouver roster was a highlight of the season even though Boston lost that game.