BOSTON (CBS) – The Bruins are one quarter through their season and the only thing we know is that even without playing one great 60-minute game, they’ve still been able to find their perch among the NHL’s elite.
The Bruins took over first place in the Atlantic Division with their win in New York on Tuesday night. And any fears of a post-Stanley Cup finals hangover were never realized.
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In tribute to everyone’s favorite stat – plus/minus – here are a few pluses and minuses from the Bruins’ first 21 games:
*It all starts with Tuukka Rask in goal. After nearly playing well enough to earn the Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP in a losing cause last season, Rask has picked up right where he left off. He woke up Wednesday morning third in the league in goals-against average (1.61) and second in save percentage (.946). The disappointment of losing to Chicago didn’t discourage him and the big-money contract (eight years, $56 million) he got over the summer hasn’t overwhelmed him. Credit too goes to backup Chad Johnson, who in a tough situation has made sure that Rask’s rare nights off haven’t changed the Bruins’ ability to keep teams off the score sheet. The Bruins lead the league with 1.76 goals allowed per game.
*The penalty kill allowed four goals to New Jersey in a loss Oct. 26. Take that game out and the Bruins’ goal prevention against opposition power plays is nearly flawless. The penalty kill just had a 33-kill streak snapped in New York. Any early growing pains the killers had without Rich Peverley have been cured, and David Krejci, Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson have done the job. Of course, when you have a goaltender like Rask, it’s difficult to ever allow a goal regardless of man power on the ice.
*Speaking of Iginla, he really couldn’t have started this season much better. Even though he’s only scored four goals, his linemates Krejci and Lucic have combined for 32 points (Lucic has nine goals). Iginla has been a physical presence, he’s fought three times and his every-night intensity has resonated with all his teammates.
*Readers of this space know all about Brad Marchand’s problems. But it’s not just the three-goal production in 21 games that’s upsetting. It’s that he can’t seem to clear a puck or make a play in the attacking zone that doesn’t turn into a giveaway or a near turnover. Those that want him to play more “on the edge” don’t get it. This is a top-six forward who has to pay the price to score some goals, not yap more. He needs less fear and more simplicity.
*Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille scored the Bruins’ goals in New York, so it looks like the Merlot Line might be percolating again. The Bruins have overcome inconsistent play from almost all their lines. And it’s not about offensive production when it comes to Paille, Thornton and Gregory Campbell. But there were too many nights in the early going when these guys were getting outplayed and were chasing the puck. It was surprising to see Campbell struggle in his return from injury. If these guys continue to click, hanging onto the division lead will be a tad easier for the Bruins.
*Here’s why plus/minus might be the worst way to judge a player. Dennis Seidenberg is plus-10. The German defenseman hasn’t been horrible. But with the Bruins living with mistakes made by young blueliners Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug on a nightly basis – and both those guys have improved exponentially since the start of the season – the team can ill afford to be victimized by a veteran they rely on as much as Seidenberg. His decision-making has been off and he’s lost too many battles. If he stays healthy, and plays better, everyone, including the younger D, will benefit.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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