The pace of questions has slowed a bit. That always happens when the team is doing well and there's less to wonder and fret about. But this week's mailbag was still filled with some thoughtful inquiries and I have tried to provide some equally insightful answers.
As always, I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll answer as many of them as I can as we continue on in the season.
Hey Doug, a lot of people have been criticizing the production of Joe Corvo so far this year. He has picked up some assists lately to take the heat off, but I never thought it was warranted. Even without a goal, I thought he was playing well. He was supposed to come in as a 5-6 guy, but I feel like he's played his way into a 3-4 role even before injuries. Thoughts?
–Joe Pedersen, Hamden, Conn.
Joe Corvo, like most of the Bruins, got off to a rough start to the season but has come on strong during this November winning streak. Through the first 11 games of the season, he had just three assists and was a minus-6, but over the last eight games he's had six assists and is a plus-13. The only real concern is his lack of goals. He was expected to provide more scoring from the blue line with his powerful shot, and the fact that he has no goals in 19 games after scoring 10-plus in four of the previous six seasons is a bit disconcerting. But the rest of his game has come around so it seems like just a matter of time before he pots a few. One thing I did look at was whether he was shooting less this season, but with 41 shots in 19 games he's averaging 2.17 shots a game. Coming into the season, he averaged 2.2 shots a game in his first 568 career games. He's firing away at the same frequency and the assists are starting to come, so the goals should as well.
As for where he ranks on the defensive depth chart, I think he is definitely playing a top-four role already. The Bruins are a little different than most teams because with their depth when the top six are healthy there isn't a big difference between their second and third pairs in terms of responsibilities or ice time, and Claude Julien often mixes the pairings throughout the course of the game. Still, Corvo is already fourth on the team in ice time at 19:52 a game. That trails Zdeno Chara (25:16), Dennis Seidenberg (24:35) and Johnny Boychuk (20:28), while ranking significantly ahead of Andrew Ference (17:45), Adam McQuaid (14:48) and Steven Kampfer (11:48). When the top six are healthy, Corvo and Seidenberg are generally the second pair, with Ference and McQuaid the third. Corvo is also third on the team in power-play time (2:56), but has been used sparingly on the penalty kill (0:37). That's a bit surprising because he was one of Carolina's leaders in shorthanded ice time last year (2:42), but that shows the kind of defensive depth the Bruins possess.
With all the attention to hits to the head this year, why is the hit with [Milan] Lucic and [Ryan] Miller getting more attention than the hit [Brian] Gionta had with a goalie where contact was made directly to the head vs. Lucic's hit?
–Mark, Bonney Lake, Wash.
That's a very good question. I think that incident has been seriously underplayed, and anyone that called for Milan Lucic to get suspended should have been looking for an even longer ban on Brian Gionta. If you haven't seen the hit in question, you can view it here. To me, this hit was worse than Lucic's collision with Ryan Miller because it directly targeted the head of James Reimer and because Reimer was still in his crease at the time of the impact. Like Lucic, Gionta made no effort to avoid contact and was given a two-minute minor (for goalie interference, Lucic's was for charging) and received no further supplemental discipline from the league. Like Miller, Reimer remains sidelined with what the Leafs will categorize only as "concussion-like symptoms."
Peter Chiarelli did state that Gionta's hit was the subject of discussion at the recent GMs meetings, noting, "That was actually the comparable scenario for Lucic, as far as accidental contact. There's a feeling that [Gionta's hit] was more accidental than Looch's." I don't agree with that view, but at least that hit was brought up and was part of the basis for Brendan Shanahan's pronouncement that going forward there would be "a heightened sensitivity to the well-being of our goaltenders."
What's the deal with the Canadians booing [Zdeno] Chara? They do it every time he gets the puck.
It's not an uncommon practice around the NHL, especially in Canadian cities, for fans to boo a top player on the opposing team whenever he touches the puck, especially if there is some history between that player and the city in question. In many ways, it's the ultimate compliment, as it shows how much impact a player can have on the game if the opposing fans are that focused on trying to get to him. It's also often used against players coming back to a team they used to play for, particularly if they left via free agency or demanded a trade. Chara has often gotten that treatment in Ottawa since leaving the Senators to sign with Boston in 2006 and Bruins fans have done the same for Phil Kessel whenever Toronto comes to town since he forced his way out of town in 2009.
Chara has been a target in Montreal throughout his tenure in Boston. His physical style and strong all-around play initially attracted that attention, but his reception in Montreal is even more intense now in the wake the Max Pacioretty incident last March. Considering the fact that many of those Montreal fans were calling 911 when Chara's hit sent Pacioretty into the stanchion between the benches in that game, ending his season with a broken vertebra and a concussion, it should come as no surprise that they would be able to sustain loud boos every time he touches the puck throughout the entire contest whenever the Bruins visit the Bell Centre.
Has the Bruins' hot streak in November proven that they are the team to beat this year? Do you see a potential repeat this June?
–Paul, Littleton, Mass.
The team to beat? That's hard to say, though I suppose the reigning champs are always the team to beat until someone takes the title away from them. I thought coming into the year that with the bulk of the team back and the confidence and experience gained in that Cup run that the Bruins were better positioned to make a run at a repeat than most recent champions. I'll admit the rough start to the season had me wondering if I had misread this team, but their current win streak certainly reaffirms what I thought about this club's potential. I don't expect them to score six goals a night or keep winning every game as they have this month, but I do think the team we're seeing now is a lot closer to the "real" Bruins than the club that stumbled through October.
That said, a lot of things had to break just right for them to win last season, and it will be a tall task to ask them to do it again this spring. They will obviously need to stay healthy, and they could face a tougher road to get out of the East this time around (not that surviving three Game 7's last year wasn't tough enough). The biggest obstacle might be Pittsburgh now that Sidney Crosby is back and they have all three of their big centers (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal) healthy, plus James Neal added on the wing, an improved defense and a goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury who has already won a Cup. If the Penguins stay healthy, I think they have to be considered the team to beat. That said, the Bruins are one of the few teams with the depth, experience and defensive system to match up with that Pittsburgh squad, so I'm definitely not writing off Boston's chances to hang on to that Cup for another year.
If the league MVP was to be decided today, what would Tyler Seguin's chances be of coming out the winner?
–via Twitter @bruinsgirl33 (Sara T.)
It's a little early to be predicting the end of the season awards, and as good as Seguin has been in these first 19 games, I really need to see a bigger sample size before I can put him in that kind of discussion. There's no denying the talent, and he could very well end up with some hardware before his career is over, but I don't see him as a Hart candidate just yet. He's already in a small slump (no goals, one assist in last four games) and I think with a player at this stage of his career there's going to be some bumpy stretches like that. He'll go on tears for a while and string some goose eggs together in other stretches. It's all part of the maturation process and that consistency usually takes even the best players some time to develop. At this point, I think seeing if he can get back on a roll and make a run at being named to the All-Star Game is a more realistic option.
Even within the restrictions of the question as you posed it (considering just what he's done so far without projecting out for the rest of the season), I wouldn't be able to put him atop my first-quarter Hart ballot. I don't think I'd even have him as the Bruins' MVP at this point. Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and especially Tim Thomas remain bigger keys to the club's success in my opinion. The good thing for Seguin is that the voting isn't held until the end of the year, and I will definitely keep an open mind. If he gets back to the 100-point pace he was on before this current mini-slump he could still find his way onto my ballot, but realistically I think he's a couple years away from that.
Tyler Seguin has slowed down a bit in his last few games. Do you still see him putting up [Steven] Stamkos type numbers?
–Timothy, Waterville, Maine
Piggybacking the last question, Seguin has already begun to fall off Stamkos' second-year pace a bit. Seguin is now on pace for 47 goals and 91 points, slightly under the 51 goals and 95 points that Stamkos put up in 2009-10. That can change just as quickly if he puts up a few more points in the next couple of games, as a week ago he was well ahead of Stamkos' pace. But as I mentioned above, I think at this point of his career Seguin is still bound to be a bit streaky. Stamkos had a few rough patches as a sophomore as well, going five games without a point in early December. But Stamkos still had a pretty remarkable season that year, as there were only two other times that he went even three games without a point. Seguin has been similar so far. Even with his current minor slump he hasn't gone more than two games without a point.
The Stamkos comparisons have been with Seguin since before he was drafted. So far they've stayed on a pretty similar path. The Bruins would love to see that continue, but even if Seguin falls a little short of Stamkos' remarkable second-year production, there shouldn't be too much disappointment as he's proven he has the ability to be an impact player in this league and at 19, he should only get better with time and experience.
Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron have been fighting for the spot on the third line. Do you think one of them will emerge as full-time player or will [Peter Chiarelli] have to trade for one at the deadline?
The Bruins have been pretty patient with both Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron, who have both gotten plenty of chances to play with injuries opening up spots for each of them in addition to the third-line role they've shared. I have to think that patience may be wearing thin with Pouliot though after his undisciplined penalties in Montreal on Monday. He had been playing better in the last few games before that, so I don't think we'll see anything as drastic as him being waived or released at this point, but Caron might get the nod over Pouliot in the next game or two. Caron has also looked better of late, but neither has really taken advantage of the opportunity to lay claim to the spot.
I actually think Zach Hamill looked better than either of them in his brief call-up. If Pouliot and Caron continue to struggle, Hamill could get another look before the Bruins explore the trade market. The Bruins' turnaround this month and the fact that virtually every other forward is contributing in a variety of ways certainly lessens the need for any rash action and gives Julien and Chiarelli the luxury of letting Pouliot and Caron try to find their rhythm. Still, I would be surprised if the Bruins don't add another forward at the deadline. Even if it's not to fill that spot directly, there's bound to be injuries or just a desire to add some more depth, experience and scoring punch and the Bruins have the cap space to make such a move. Chiarelli has proven very adept in his deadline acquisitions in recent years (Mark Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, et al), so I'd expect him to be active again later this season even if Pouliot and/or Caron get things going.
Leave your questions for Douglas Flynn's mailbag in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.
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