The NHL season has crossed the quarter pole, so it’s time to grade each Bruins player before they start the season’s second quarter in Atlanta Sunday night.
The offense was the Bruins’ weak link last season, and general manager Peter Chiarelli knew he had to revamp his forward corps in order to improve the club’s scoring.
With the trade for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell, and the drafting of Tyler Seguin, Chiarelli made the necessary maneuvers. But the longer-than-expected rehabilitation of Marco Sturm’s knee and the training-camp revelation that Marc Savard was suffering from post-concussion syndrome set Boston back again the goal-creation department.
However, while Marco Sturm was expected to be out for a while, Marc Savard’s surprise revelation at the start of training camp that he was suffering from post-concussion syndrome added to Boston’s challenge to improve up front.
Thus far, the Bruins have at least escaped the basement of the NHL goals-per-game rankings, as they entered Saturday night’s play 18th. Obviously, they must be better to have a chance at a top seed in Eastern Conference and a strong chance to go deep in the playoffs. The forwards have again formed a solid defensive group, and aided the challenged defense corps in terms of getting the puck out of the defensive zone, but too often the necessary finish has been absent.
Here are the grades:
Milan Lucic: A-minus
We’re finally seeing the all-around, healthy Lucic the Bruins expected to see when they re-signed the young winger to a multi-year contract extension last fall. He leads the team in goals (10) and shares the points lead with Horton (18). Lucic has come up big in the clutch (three game-winning goals) and has been consistent. He has also been the physical presence the team needs, including a couple fights, most nights. But the Bruins need him to be a menace around the net and on the forecheck even more often.
Nathan Horton: B-plus
After a red-hot start, Horton has cooled off a bit over the last eight games. He is still tied for the team lead in points, but his 49 shots are not enough considering his ice time and his power-play duties. If he would just look for his shot more and use his body more often to create some space, he’d be more helpful to the Bruins’ cause.
Mark Recchi: B
It’s difficult to determine the standard Recchi should be held to. After all, he’s a future Hall-of-Famer, but he’s playing at 42 among a league dominated by guys that were in diapers when he broke into the league. The Bruins need him to do more to both score (just four goals) and help create offense for his teammates, especially on the so-far-disappointing power play. But no one plays harder every night.
Patrice Bergeron: B
It took the center seven games to score his first goal of the season, and he still has scored just three thus far. He makes up for that by leading the forward corps in shorthanded ice time (for the league’s best PK) and winning 52.8 percent of his faceoffs. But the Bruins need more offense out of Bergeron, especially while he’s centering Lucic and Horton.
Michael Ryder: B
As far as a bounce-back year, at least Ryder has finally found a consistency level that has allowed him to avoid one of those seven- or eight-game droughts he had been famous far. While you’d like to see him do more at even strength — three of his six goals came on the power play — he’s in the bottom half of the Bruins’ forward corps in terms of even-strength ice time. His stretches of non-existence have been fewer this season, although he could stand to shoot more as much as Horton could. Only his $4 million price tag makes Ryder a player Boston could wind up cutting in the weeks ahead.
David Krejci: B-minus
It’s hard to knock a guy who got knocked in the head and had to miss six games with a concussion. However, that absence is the only thing that makes Krejci’s seven-game goal-less drought less ugly. He has only added three assists in that span. Playing with the type of talent he usually has on the wing, and leading all Bruins forwards in ice time, Krejci should be more prolific in the points department. He also has to pick up his 47.7 percent faceoff success rate.
Tyler Seguin: B
To be fair, the teen-aged rookie was supposed to be getting his feet wet in the NHL as a wing on a center-laden team. And instead he has had to bear the burden of playing center. He has improved in his own end, but it took a while for him to not look lost at the defensive end. Head coach Claude Julien has even taken to cutting the kid’s ice time late in close games. The extra focus on defense has limited his opportunities to put his blazing speed to use with the puck.
Blake Wheeler: B
The third-year forward added to his stock by showing he could be a responsible, active center in the NHL after playing strictly wing since college. He definitely needs more finish (just four goals) and has to venture to the front of the net with more desire most nights, but his tenacious penalty killing seemingly creates as many scoring chances as some players earn in other situations.
Brad Marchand: A-minus
Not only has Marchand kept his peskiness in check enough that it hasn’t hurt the Bruins, he has popped in three goals and been an effective penalty-killer (two of those goals are shorthanded ones). The Bruins really can’t ask much more out of Marchand, except maybe a little more finish to go with the multitude of chances he creates.
Jordan Caron: B
As a rookie, Caron is second among the Bruins’ forward corps in shorthanded ice time and has proven to be solid positionally in all situations. In addition to his three goals, he has created another couple scores with his presence in front of the net. He might’ve hit a bit of a rut a couple weeks ago when the schedule became more rugged, but he has been one of the Bruins’ most reliable three-zone forwards this season.
Gregory Campbell: A-minus
What a find Campbell has been, as he has both scored a couple goals and raised the offensive level of his wingers while centering the fourth line. An effective penalty-killer and the Bruins’ leader in blocked shots among forwards, Campbell just needs to win more than 47.1 percent of his faceoffs to be the perfect player for the role he’s cast in.
Shawn Thornton: A
All that talk of Brian McGrattan supplanting Thornton as Boston’s tough guy is ancient history now that he has not only racked up three fighting majors but also cashed in on his unbelievable amount of shots on net (46) with four goals in just 10:19 of ice time per game.
Daniel Paille: C
Somewhat a victim of Boston’s depth, Paille was a healthy scratch for a bunch of games after he was skating in quicksand opening night. However, he has done little during his opportunities to play due to injury or illness to others to warrant winning a job when Boston’s totally healthy. He continues to be an enigma with his speed light years ahead of the rest of his game, and he could be a cap casualty in the near future.