Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bruins Sitting Pretty on Turkey Day

Falling just short of a third of the way into the season, “American Thanksgiving” is a time when teams can really start to get a feel for where they stand in their division and in the league as a whole.

By this time, many storylines have started to play out and patterns are starting to emerge. Offseason acquisitions have had time to gel with their new linemates (or defensive partners) and have had exposure to their new team’s system.  I figured now would be a good time to take a look at the Bruins season so far.

The obvious place to start is to take a look at how the Bruins’ biggest offeason moves (arguably the biggest offseason move in the league) are panning out.  Moving Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars, along with Rich Peverley, was a move that certainly made waves across the Boston sports community.  In return, the Bruins received Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith, as well as two other players who are currently playing (and playing quite well) in Providence, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser.

Eriksson and Smith seem to be coming into their own on their respective lines, providing the effort and depth that the Bruin’s hoped to acquire through this trade.  Sporting a recent six-game point streak and hands like this, Eriksson will no doubt continue to make the Bruins better at both ends of the ice. With the addition of a more defensive-minded player to his line, Patrice Bergeron has been able to focus a bit more on his offense.  Though he has not been finding the net lately, that will undoubtedly change and the line of Eriksson, Bergeron and Brad Marchand will contribute immensely to the success of this Boston team moving forward.

The second biggest move the Bruins made coming into this season, was the highly publicized addition of Jarome Iginla, just a half-season after he snubbed the Bruins to go play with those two whiny stars in Pittsburgh (click that link, it’s a good one).  While, fans were understandably hostile when news of this acquisition first broke, at this point of the season, Iginla has won the majority of them over.  Stepping in to fill the vacant winger spot left by Nathan Horton on the Milan Lucic-David Krejci line, Iginla has been everything fans could have hoped for.  He’s brought both physicality and the ability to score along with the passion Bruins fans love to see in their guys.  

The third line features two players who have made a much bigger impact than expected.  Flanking Chris Kelly on the third line this year are Smith and Carl Söderberg.  Smith, coming over in the Seguin deal, has been a pleasant surprise almost doubling his point total last year as a Star, just 24 games into the season.

Söderberg is not exactly a newcomer to the Bruins as he got some playing time late in the season in the playoffs after coming over to from Linköpings HC of the Swedish Hockey League.  Söderberg has really come into his game so far this year, dropping the timid, finesse, Euro game for a more physical, aggressive style while still showcasing his soft hands and strong shot.  Of course, any kind of production from the third line is a step up from last year’s line, which was invisible for the majority of the season.

Depth on the blue line has also contributed to the Bruins success so far this season and is a major factor in their current position atop of the Eastern Conference.  With injuries to veteran D-men like Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins haven't missed a beat.  Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton have all continued to improve and show that they can be trusted to step up and not only eat up minutes, but contribute on the score sheet as well.  Kevan Miller has also stepped up as of late, playing some solid D against some top teams.

The biggest problem I see with the Bruins right now is their goalie situation.  While there’s no question that Tuukka Rask is one of the best goalies in the NHL, Chad Johnson makes me nervous.  I wouldn't call Johnson a sieve, but he is a rebound machine keeping the defense on their toes.  In the recent past, the Bruins have had solid goaltending from both their number one and two guys, whether it was Rask backing up Tim Thomas (and vice-versa) or more recently, Anton Khudobin backing up Rask.  There may come a time this season where the Bruins will have to consider taking a closer look at Niklas Svedberg (in Providence) as a backup.  Let’s just hope Rask doesn't go down because that could prove catastrophic for a Bruins team looking to make another deep playoff run.

All in all, if you're a Bruins fan, you have to be really excited about where the team is
right now and the kind of talent they have on their roster.  It’s still early in the season and hockey is an unpredictable game.  Teams can get red hot, other teams can completely fall apart and injuries can change the entire course of a season.  While it’s way too early for any kind of prediction, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Bruins are currently among the league’s elite teams.  Here’s to hoping they stay that way.

The great thing is after this many games last year, the season was already half over.

The even better thing is, we still have that two-week break in February for Olympic Hockey!

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