- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins enjoyed a successful first half of the 2010-11 season, posting a 22-12-7 record and 51 points, which put them atop the Northeast Division in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins began the second half on another positive note by completely dominating the Ottawa Senators in a 6-0 win Tuesday night at TD Garden. After that victory, most of the players in the Bruins' locker room and coach Claude Julien spoke of the importance of maintaining consistent play and momentum for the second half.
Here are the Top 5 storylines to watch in the second half of the season for the Bruins:
1. It always comes down to goaltending. Boston has received major contributions from Tim Thomas, who posted an 18-4-6 record along with a league-leading 1.84 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in the first half. The 36-year-old veteran netminder had offseason hip surgery and entered training camp ready to reclaim the No. 1 job between the pipes for the Bruins. He did just that and picked up five shutouts in the season's first half. He posted his sixth shutout against the Senators on Tuesday and is an early favorite for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. Thomas, however, can't do it alone. He'll need help and it appears Tuukka Rask is ready to complete the tandem, proving of late he has returned to form. His record in the first half (4-8-1) does not completely reflect how he has played, but in order for the Bruins to continue their success in the second half and make a deep run in the playoffs, both Thomas and Rask need to be at their best.
2. Any moves left? The NHL trade deadline is set for 3 p.m. on Feb. 28. Whether Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli makes any major transactions remains to be seen, but you can bet he and president Cam Neely are trying to figure out how they can make the team better for the stretch run. While all the talk is that the Bruins need a puck-moving defenseman, that is not necessarily a priority. Rookie Steven Kampfer has been solid in that role, along with captain Zdeno Chara. Another veteran presence on the blue line would help, but the Bruins would have to give up a top forward to make that happen.
3. Will Marc Savard regain his playmaking abilities? He's 100 percent healthy after missing the first 23 games of the season due to post-concussion syndrome, but he struggled in the 18 games he played to close out the first half of the season. He registered only 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points, while posting a minus-8 rating. In fact, Julien benched the center man for parts of the third period of a recent game, playing Savard only on the power play. The coach did say he's not looking at Savard's point production as the barometer. Instead, the focus is on his all-around game, which Julien said is getting better.
4. More from Tyler Seguin? It's already noticeable that rookie Tyler Seguin is getting more comfortable in the NHL after the Bruins selected him as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. The 18-year-old forward made the club out of training camp and has experienced the normal ups and downs of a young prospect. Julien has given Seguin plenty of opportunity to succeed, and on the score sheet, he's provided 7 goals and 9 assists for 16 points in the first 42 games, while posting a plus-4 rating. His quickness is a true asset, and look for him to improve his playmaking decisions in the second half.
5. Job security for Claude Julien? When the Bruins did struggle in the first half, especially with their inconsistent play, it didn't take long for the scuttlebutt to begin about what to do with Julien. Should he be replaced? Or should Chiarelli be replaced? Unless the Bruins have a complete meltdown in the second half, each will remain at his current post. We do know this: Neely hates to lose and wants nothing less than to bring a Stanley Cup to Boston, especially after what happened last spring.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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