By Eric Converse
Long time, no see, everyone. Although I have been epically busy, I, of course, have found the time to follow the Bruins organization at both the NHL and AHL levels the past couple of weeks from the very beginning of both seasons.
As expected, the Boston Bruins began to reestablish themselves as a gritty defensively oriented team in true Claude Julien fashion. That is no surprise. Up until the the Columbus Day matinee against the Detroit Red Wings, Tuukka Rask had not allowed more than a single goal in each game (the 2nd goal versus the Colorado Avalanche being an open netter).
So far, the Bruins power play is tactically much better by a large margin. A significant part of the success stems from Torey Krug’s ability to effectively carry the puck in to the offensive zone, which for the Boston Bruins was half the battle of improving the power play. Secondly, with Krug quarterbacking the power play on the blue line, being able to handle the pressure of the penalty killers, along with placing Chara in the slot to screen the opposing goalie, play physical, and put in rebounds, a solid foundation is in place to finally make the power play a weapon for the Bruins.
Jordan Caron: Too little, too late?
With Carl Soderberg going on the IR for the early part of the season, the much maligned B’s prospect Jordan Caron was given a chance on the third line with Chris Kelly and Reilly Smith. Caron did not have a remarkable training camp and appeared destined to become minor league trade bait as he can be a formidable depth player on an NHL squad for many other organizations, but with this unexpected shot at the 3rd line, Caron has played very well and technically should have 2 goals on the season after an incorrect call in the opening night game against the lightning. Caron was also robbed by the glove-hand of Jean-Sébastien Giguère in the game against the Avalanche.
It will be interesting to see how the third line plays out over the next month or so when Soderberg eventually is prepared to return to the line-up. Caron has had scoring streaks in the past, where he eventually cools off and becomes more of a grinder. Will Caron remain with the team as a 13th depth forward or will he be sent to the AHL for good with his 1 way contract?
And in short… the 3rd line as a whole has been light-years better so far than it was last year. Reilly Smith has shown flashes of brilliant hands and enough willingness to be gritty along the boards to be a pretty well-rounded depth forward. It will be interesting to see if he can finally put together some of his dangles and put the finishing touch on some highlight-reel goals.
Brad Marchand identity crisis:
I wrote about Marchand’s struggles over the offseason for the thehockeywriters.com and after he was demoted to the 3rd line, Marchand’s game was broken down on the Toucher and RIch show on Boston Sports Radio 98.5 the sports hub with Joe Haggerty.
After his multiple suspensions in recent seasons, Brad Marchand has taken the edge off of his game, which has negatively impacted the rest of his game. With Marchand playing with less intensity he’s been far less effective in the offensive zone and the transition game. No longer do you see Marchand charging through the neutral zone, dangling around defenders to snipe a goal from the middle of the circles. He often plays in a somewhat lethargic manner, making half-hearted moves with little success breaking through the opponents defensemen.
Marchand needs to find a way to play with intensity in terms of his skating speed and puck decisions without letting that intensity spill over in to him making borderline hits. In theory, more experience and maturity will help him improve in that area.
While Jarome Iginla has yet to score a regular season goal for the Bruins, his opening night fight against Radka Gudas of the Tampa Bay Lightning endeared him to the Bruins faithful at TD Garden. Outside of that, Iginla has had a solid, but fairly quiet start. Krejci and Lucic have been putting up numbers and Iginla will likely follow suit as he is a far more consistent regular season player than his two line-mates.
Loui Eriksson also had a quiet, but defensively effective start. There has been some talk to experiment with placing him on the first line to see what kind of chemistry is there, but so far his game appears very well suited to be paired with the two-way play of Bergeron. There will be a much better gist of how Eriksson will fit on the team with a larger sample size of games.
Dougie Hamilton made the big club out of camp after there being some talk of him possibly being sent to Providence for the first couple months of the season to work on the basics to his game. He was in the line-up for the first three games, but has since been sat down in favor of Matt Bartkowski for the last two.
Personally, (this opinion might be a bit biased) I think it would be beneficial to send Hamilton to Providence for atleast 10 to 20 games to give him significant ice time against lesser competition to regain his confidence in game situations. Late in the pre-season he played a game where he received multiple penalties after he appeared to be trying to do too much.
Secondly, I am a fan of Bartkowski’s game and see it as beneficial to him, after a few years of hard work playing in the AHL, to get a long stretch of games being in an NHL line up to help him find a rhythm and grow comfortable with the day in and day out grind of the NHL that you do not get with the weekend centric schedule of the AHL.
There is very little to say about Tuukka Rask. He is rock solid in the crease, consistent, positionally sound, and has show flashes of athletic brilliance when needed to make a few desperation saves at key points in games so far this season.
I think it can be said that the general consensus amongst hardcore Bruins fans is that they look forward to back up goaltender Chad Johnson’s first regular season start. Johnson is going to need to win his first couple games or at least perform well and not be a key reason why the team loses, to gain the confidence of the fans and probably even the management that likely had difficulty choosing between him and AHL all star Niklas Svedberg for the back up role. Historically, Johnson’s biggest issue has been his rebound control. In the preseason, his extremely conservative style of staying deeper in the crease was a point of concern as well. New York Ranger’s Henrik Lundqvist can do it, but he is a totally different level of goaltender (obviously).
The P-Bruins had a rocky start to the season in St. Johns, New Foundland, Canada against the Ice Caps. After establishing a 3 to 1 lead in the 3rd period the Bruins blew the lead in the final minutes, but ultimately won the game on a goal from veteran Nick Johnson.
The Providence Bruins blew another two goal lead in the 3rd period during their home opener versus the Manchester Monarchs. Providence has struggled with their transition game at times in this young season and it was never more apparent than in the final frame of regulation as they stopped making plays out of their own zone and began chipping the puck down the ice to kill the clock, which as we all know, generally backfires. It did again and they ultimately lost in the shootout.
Their record is 2-1-0-1 so far this season. As stated by Providence Journal writer Mark Divver, the P-Bruins lack veteran leadership right now. Losing Chris Bourque, Jamie Tardif, Christian Hanson, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and last year’s captain Trent Whitfield significantly changes the locker-room dynamic of the team.
More importantly, the inconsistent transition game, weakened power play, and blown leads are products of losing the transition and puck moving skills of Bourque, Krug, and Bartkowski. Those three players played key roles in the power play and reestablishing puck possession for Providence last year.
Of course this is not necessarily a bad thing…
Krug and Bartkowski are now contributing to the more important Boston squad and Bourque, while being a very strong AHL player who I am a very big fan of, was not a good fit in Boston. He seemed to struggle at the NHL level because of his lack of size and the fact that he had to play without the puck far more, unlike in the AHL where he could carry the puck far more and dictate the pace of the game.
Now, players like Ryan Spooner, Nick Johnson, Alexander Kohkhlachev, Jared Knight, Kevan Miller, and Joe Morrow (amongst many others) must fight to earn the leadership roles in the locker-room and on the ice. Once Miller and Bobby Robins return from injuries, it will certainly help out in this department.
Niklas Svedberg continues to be spectacular and in each game I have seen, he has made highlight reel saves. He is on pace to have another excellent season and potentially put pressure on Chad Johnson in Boston throughout the year.
Both Bruins teams realize the importance of getting off to a good start to take an early lead in the standings to be in more control of their own destiny come the stretch months of January, February, and March , rather than playing desperate catch up hockey.