Bruins Earn Solid Marks for Strong First Half, But Only Long Playoff Run Will Make Season a Success

Bruins Earn Solid Marks for Strong First Half, But Only Long Playoff Run Will Make Season a Success Technically, the Bruins hit the midseason mark of the regular season back on Jan. 10, when they beat the Penguins 4-2 in Pittsburgh in their 41st game of the season.

But the All-Star Break is the traditional half-way marker, and with all but Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin enjoying a long weekend off, it's a perfect time to take stock of where the club stands as it heads into the home stretch of the season.

The Bruins are in solid shape 50 games in, with a 28-15-7 record for 63 points. That has earned them a four-point lead over Montreal for first place in the Northeast Division and the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. But how do they fare on our midseason report card?

Offense: Bruins leading scorer Patrice Bergeron is tied for just 38th in the league with 40 points. No one else is in the top 70. So how can the Bruins possibly be tied for sixth in the NHL with an average of 3.02 goals a game? Balance. Boston may lack a dominant top line, but they have 10 players with more than 20 points and eight players in double digits for goals. Milan Lucic has already shattered his career high for goals, scoring his 20th in the final game before the break. The line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi have done a pretty good impression of a top line of late, combining for 18 goals and 35 points in 11 games since being put together. The fourth line of Greg Campbell (7-11-18), Shawn Thornton (7-5-12) and a rotating cast at the other wing with Marchand, Daniel Paille and Blake Wheeler spending time there at different points, has been surprising productive in addition to providing the physical play and energy expected of such a unit.

There are concerns though. Nathan Horton got off to a great start with 8-10-18 totals in his first 17 games as a Bruins, but has no goals in his last 10 games and just one in his last 20 games as he battles through an epic slump. Seguin has no points in his last eight games and just two goals in his last 25. Wheeler has gone eight games without a goal, but does have four assists in that span, while David Krejci has gone 16 games without a goal, but has eight assists in his last nine games. Michael Ryder also has gone five games without a goal, but scored in three straight before that and has 14 goals after managing just 18 all of last season. The Bruins' offense has gotten the job done for the most part, but if they can ever get everyone going at the same time they could be truly scary. Grade: B

Defense: The Bruins lead the NHL with a 2.14 team goals-against average. Much of the credit for that goes to the goaltending, particularly with Thomas enjoying a historic season. But the work of the blueliners in front of him can't be dismissed. Chara has led the way, shutting down opposing teams' top lines and inserting himself into the mix for another Norris Trophy with an offensive surge in January, posting 6-6-12 totals in 14 games this month.

But the real key to Boston's defense is its depth. With everyone healthy, they've been forced to scratch veteran Mark Stuart of late. The emergence of rookies Steven Kampfer and Adam McQuaid has forced Stuart to the sidelines. Kampfer, in particular, has sparked the Bruins' blue line with a much-needed infusion of speed and mobility, while veterans Dennis Seidenberg (110 blocked shots, 107 hits) and Andrew Ference (plus-18) have been a steadying presence. Grade: A-

Goaltending: So Thomas is not the fastest goalie in the league after losing Saturday's race to Cam Ward in the skills competition. That's about the only category Thomas doesn't lead the league in, as he comes into the break with a 24-5-6 record, 1.81 GAA, .945 save percentage and seven shutouts. A year after losing his starting job to Tuukka Rask, Thomas is not only back to his Vezina form of two years ago, he's even blowing that spectacular season away with his performance. Rask, meanwhile, has suffered through a run of bad luck, as his 2.67 GAA and .923 save percentage don't match up with a 4-10-1 record. Still, there aren't many teams that can claim having a better backup than Rask. And there certainly aren't any with a better starter than Thomas right now. Grade: A

Special Teams: The Bruins have boasted one of the top penalty kills in the league throughout the season, and come into the break ranked fourth at 85.0 percent. They're tied with Pittsburgh for the fewest power-play goals allowed (24), and only Toronto and Florida have been shorthanded fewer times than Boston (160). Even with fewer opportunities, Boston is tied for third with seven shorthanded goals, four of them by Marchand, who leads the league in that category.

While the PK has excelled, the power play has struggled mightily for long stretches. Overall, the Bruins are in the middle of the pack, ranking 16th at 17.6 percent (31-176). Ryder leads the club with seven goals, followed by Chara and Recchi with six apiece, but the Bruins need to get more from their top producers. Their top four forwards in average power-play time have combined for just six power-play goals, with Marc Savard (2:58, 0 goals), Krejci (2:49, 0 goals), Horton (2:49, 3 goals, the last on Nov. 5) and Bergeron (2:47, 3 goals, the last on Dec. 1). Even with Savard's injury issues, it's inexcusable to have gotten no goals in two months from the other three forwards seeing the most time on the power play. Grade: B-

Coaching: Claude Julien has endured plenty of criticism this season, and while there have been some questionable moves at times, he's been able to keep the team moving in the right direction and has them atop the Northeast Division with the seventh-most points in the NHL. After finishing dead last in the league in scoring last season, the Bruins are now tied for sixth, without sacrificing defense as they also lead the NHL in team GAA. Julien has activated his defense more to help the offense, especially since Kampfer added a needed puck-moving element to the blue-line corps, and he's done a better job of shortening his bench when necessary late in close games. It's hard to fault him for sticking with a goalie as hot as Thomas has been, but a lack of playing time may have contributed to some of Rask's struggles. That's an issue that will need to be addressed down the stretch as Thomas, who turns 37 in April and had hip surgery in the offseason, will need some help to stay fresh for the playoffs. Grade: B

Overall: It wasn't a perfect opening 50 games. The Bruins would love to have Savard healthy, Horton find his scoring touch again and Seguin providing more of an immediate impact. But even with the injuries and inconsistencies they've endured, the Bruins are still leading the division and positioned to secure a high seed heading into the postseason. And it's in the postseason that this Bruins team will really determine its ultimate grade. After back-to-back disappointing second-round exits, Boston needs a much longer playoff run to truly call this season a success. But at just beyond the halfway point, there's not too many demerits one can put on their report card. Grade: B+

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