There’s been nothing light about the Bruins’ workload this month, and especially not this past week, which featured their first four-game slate in one week this season.
With so much action on the ice, there’s bound to be a few things that you may have missed. So in the latest installment of Bruins Shootout, we’ll take a look at a half dozen items that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks during the past week.
1. Even with the return of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler has remained at center. It’s not hard to figure out why. While Wheeler has had some struggles on faceoffs (winning just 26 and losing 40 going into Monday’s game at Tampa), the rest of his game has flourished at his old college position.
Wheeler had just 1-2-3 totals with 17 shots and was a minus-1 in 11 games at wing this year, but had 3-1-4 totals with 16 shots and was a plus-3 in just seven games at center. The offensive production is almost a bonus though, as his responsible two-way game plays better in the middle, especially compared to Tyler Seguin, as the rookie was dealing with the expected growing pains of playing the pivot in Claude Julien‘s system.
2. Speaking of Seguin, the Bruins finally have him in the spot they hoped to place from the start of the year. Though a natural center, Julien and GM Peter Chiarelli had envisioned easing him into the pro game on the wing, where his speed and skill could flourish without the defensive demands of the center position. Injuries forced the Bruins to keep Seguin in the middle, but the return of Krejci and Wheeler’s emergence as an option at center has allowed Julien to shift Seguin out wide. He responded with an assist in his first game at wing, and should get even more opportunities to put up points after being moved alongside Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi for Monday’s game.
3. With Marc Savard and Marco Sturm inching closer to their returns to the lineup, Chiarelli will soon have to start making moves to clear up cap space. The vultures are already circling. At Saturday’s game against the Kings alone, there were scouts from 13 different teams on hand at the Garden.
4. Milan Lucic has been one of the most popular players in Boston since he first started dishing out his trademark hits in the NHL back in 2007. But in the past two years, he struggled to give the home folks a reason to cheer at the Garden. Lucic’s only goal on home ice in the regular season last year was an empty-netter in the final home game against Carolina, and he started this year with each of his first seven goals on the road. That all changed Thursday against Florida, when he tallied a natural hat trick, with the last two goals just 15 seconds apart.
5. The loss of coaching great Pat Burns affected countless people around the hockey world, but Julien was hit especially hard. Julien’s career path has closely mirrored Burns, with each making stops in Montreal, New Jersey and Boston. Julien credited Burns not only for helping him in his pursuit of several of those jobs, but also for pushing him to greater heights in trying to live up to the standard Burns had set. “I was fortunate enough to follow his path and maybe part of that has helped me become a better coach because I had some big shoes to fill along the way,” said Julien. It would be hard to find anyone in hockey who crossed paths with Burns and didn’t come away better for the experience.
6. Shawn Thornton has been a surprising scoring star for the Bruins in the early going this year, with four goals in 18 games after managing just one in 74 games last year. He didn’t have an assist though through 17 games, even joking that he passed up going for an assist to complete a Gordie Howe Hat Trick after collecting a goal and a fight against Florida because he was going for the Cy Young Award instead. His 4-0 mark in the goals and assists columns did resemble a solid start for a Cy Young contender.
Maybe that’s why he was lamenting finally getting his first assist on Saturday, joking that he blew his Cy Young chances when Greg Campbell banged in a rebound of a Thornton shot. Thornton’s obviously not a sabermatrician. If Felix Hernandez can win the award with a 13-12 record, Thornton should have a shot, even with a couple assists. Just as long as he keeps that ERA down.