Bruins Reach Season’s Quarter Pole Right Where They Want to Be Among NHL’s Best Teams

Bruins Hurricanes HockeyA lot has happened since the Bruins opened their season on Oct. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

On the day after the B’s opened their 2013-14 campaign, the Red Sox opened their postseason against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. A couple of days after that, the Patriots were handed their first loss of the season in Cincinnati. It was quite the busy time.

The Bruins beat the Rangers on Tuesday night in New York as the B’s completed their 21st game of the season. That pretty much puts them through the first quarter of the season, and a lot has happened in that time. You know, like the Red Sox winning the World Series and the Patriots racking up wins and controversial losses as well.

So it would be understandable if you weren’t paying a ton of attention to the Bruins during the first quarter. But the days are getting entirely too short, the weather is getting entirely too cold and Christmas music is playing entirely too soon. The bottom line, though, is that winter is near, which means we’re about to enter the dog days of the NHL schedule.

Before we get there, let’s look back at the Bruins’ first month and a half or so with breakdowns of each line and each unit.

First line

What to like: They have been the team’s most productive line, and it’s not really close … Milan Lucic is playing like a man possessed. The power forward is playing like the player we all thought he would be as he’s both scoring goals and bringing a physical aspect to the game … David Krejci has been David Krejci

What not to like: There’s really not a whole lot, but maybe you’d like to see better production out of Jarome Iginla. He has just four goals in 21 games, which puts him on about a 15-goal pace. Here’s the thing, though. Iginla’s shooting percentage is just 6.9 percent. His career average is 13.1 percent, so unless he’s totally lost it, things will start to turn around at some point.

Second line

What to like: Patrice Bergeron has been healthy and he’s been productive. He’s been him, which is basically all you need to say … Loui Eriksson appears to be finding his game after a slow start that was only prolonged by a concussion. Since returning, though, he’s posted 2-5-7 totals in eight games

What not to like: The biggest complaint here would be the uneven play of Brad Marchand, who is still working to get everything going. He got off to a dreadful start in which not only was he not scoring, but he wasn’t doing the little things (being a pest) that make him effective. He’s started to do that more recently and results are starting to show a little bit, but the Bruins need him to be better in order to really have effective top-six depth

Third line

What to like: Like many things with this team, they’re starting to get better. In just this last three-game road trip, the third line is generating chances and putting pressure on the opposition. They had a key shift Monday in Carolina that swung the momentum back to the Bruins after the Hurricanes had hemmed the B’s in … You can see why the Bruins tried so hard to get Carl Soderberg over here. With increasing volume, we’re starting to see some real good things out of him. He’s especially strong on the puck in the offensive zone and going to the net, and he’s got some really good offensive instincts. He’s likely to start scoring even more … Reilly Smith has been the unsung hero of this hockey team. He’s third on the team in points and has shown that he can contribute on any line or any unit. He’s an aggressive player who has given the team a boost on multiple occasions

What not to like: The lack of production, maybe? There’s really not much to complain about from this unit, and any issues probably look like nit-picking. Now that they appear set as a combination, added chemistry will only help. If the Bruins can get this group really clicking, they’ll have depth matched by very few teams in the league.

Fourth line

What to like: Gregory Campbell appears to be healthy after breaking his leg. He had a slow start, but he’s starting to find his legs and his game. … Shawn Thornton has given the team an added boost with three goals in addition to usual fisticuffs … Daniel Paille remains vital on the penalty kill (just ask Henrik Lundqvist) … They can still swing momentum with the best of ‘em

What not to like: Nothing really. It’s a fouth line.

Defense corps

What to like: They have given up 38 goals in 21 games, which is a credit to the D-men and the team defense as well as the goaltending … Torey Krug has been one of the league’s best offensive D-men. He’s second on the team in goals and fourth in points … When they have needed him most, Zdeno Chara has stepped up and played big minutes … Dougie Hamilton is making strides in his second year in the league and looks much more confident in all three zones … Because of injuries, the B’s have had to finish three games with five defensemen — they’re 3-0 in those games.

What not to like: Everyone keeps getting hurt.  Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk and now Dennis Seidenberg have all suffered some sort of injury this season, which has forced the Bruins to shuffle their D-pairs … All of that has also led to Chara having to see more ice time than the Bruins would probably like … There are still occasional breakdowns, as we saw Tuesday night in New York where issues in the neutral zone led to Rangers breakaways

Goalies

What to like: Everything? Tuukka Rask has been worth every penny of his new eight-year, $56 million contract so far. Rask is among the league leaders in every major goaltending category, which seems to be pretty darn good. He also has a habit of stealing games, as we saw most recently Tuesday night in New York where he was simply fantastic. As long as Rask is between the pipes, the Bruins have a chance to win … Chad Johnson has been a serviceable backup, albeit seldom used.

What not to like: Nothing

Power play

What to like: It doesn’t suck, which is a nice upgrade from previous years. … Putting Chara in front has worked out really well. The big defenseman is obviously “huge” as a screen in front, but he’s also shown an incredible ability to retrieve pucks around and behind the net to keep plays alive and has three power-play goals … Krug has been fantastic quarterbacking the first unit … Iginla has given the first unit a right-handed shot weapon on the right wing that complements the other pieces well

What not to like: Boston has just two power-play goals from its forwards … Iginla is certainly a good weapon to have in theory, but he’s missed the net quite a bit on one-timers from the wing … There are still too many power plays that effectively kill any momentum the Bruins have built up

Penalty kill

What to like: They’re among the league’s best, thanks to a streak of 33 straight penalty kills that ended Tuesday night … They’re only allowing a little more than one shot on goal per times they’ve been shorthanded, which certainly makes it easy to keep the puck out of the net, right? … They’ve scored three shorthanded goals including a shorthanded penalty-shot goal from Chris Kelly

What not to like: After a slow start that hit its lowest point with four power-play goals allowed on Oct. 26 against New Jersey, there’s pretty much nothing to be upset with when it comes to this unit

Overall

What to like: When you look at the Eastern Conference standings, you’ll notice that the Bruins are listed before anyone else. That’s because they’re in first place. Any time you can reach any sort of schedule milestone as the best team in your conference, you’ll take it … The Bruins have done all of this despite not yet playing their best  hockey yet. They have been really good as evidenced by the record, but they’ve yet to be great, but we’re picking nits again … The goal differential of plus-21 is the best in the East … The B’s have taken care of business in the division (8-2-0) and in the conference (11-5-0) … Their 5-on-5 goals ratio is the best in the Eastern Conference, third in the NHL

What not to like: Once again, it’s tough to find a lot to be upset with, but there have been instances already this season where the effort and compete level just isn’t there. That’s to be expected, though, when you play such a demanding style. Some nights, it’s just not going to be there, and we saw that when the Bruins lost four of five recently … There’s always room for improvement on the power play, despite the early-season success … At some point, the Bruins will likely need some more balanced scoring, especially up front. Of the team’s 58 goals, 14 (almost 25 percent) have come from defensemen, which is a ratio that may be difficult to sustain

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