Bruins midseason grades
The Bruins have begun the second half of the 2010-11 season, so it's time to grade the first half.
It was a first half full of peaks and valleys for a squad that, when the season began, many considered a legit Stanley Cup contender. At times, the Bruins have played that way, but they seem unable to do so on a consistent basis.
As the first half winded down and the second half began, the Bruins might have had the most pivotal moment of the season thus far. After a complete collapse Jan. 8 in Montreal in which they allowed two goals in the final 2:22 and then lost in overtime 3-2, the Bruins responded with an amazing comeback in Pittsburgh two nights later. They erased a 2-0 deficit against the Penguins with four goals in the final three and a half minutes. They followed that up with their most complete effort in a 6-0 shutout of the Senators on Tuesday. If they can continue to build on momentum and put some winning streaks together, they could contend for the Stanley Cup.
Bruins player-by-player report card
Tuukka Rask, goalie
Tuukka Rask came into this season as the incumbent No. 1 goalie in the eyes of many after a sensational rookie campaign in which he led all NHL goalies in save percentage and goals-against average and then took the Bruins to within one game of the Eastern Conference finals. But Rask instead has seen the No. 1 status return to Tim Thomas. Just as Thomas last season struggled through bad breaks, the team's being flat in front of him and his own failure to build any momentum, Rask has experienced the same speed bumps this season. Rask hasn't had to battle any injuries, as Thomas did with his hip last season, and isn't playing poorly, but he hasn't been able to reach the level he was at last season, when he could steal games for his team.
Tim Thomas, goalie
Tim Thomas had a great season in 2008-09, winning the Vezina Trophy. But what he is doing this season, so far, is so amazing that if he continues at the pace he's on now, he, too, could have a trophy named after him someday. Thomas started the season 8-0-0 and didn't suffer a loss until his 10th game. His GAA and save percentage have been amazing all season and leagues ahead of any other goalie, and he set a new career high in shutouts with a 31-save performance in a 6-0 win over Ottawa on Jan. 11. Thomas is the backbone of this squad right now, having stolen numerous games for the Bruins to become a clutch performer. The only thing that could slow this All-Star down is fatigue, but if Rask can come in to spell relief, Thomas could be primed for a long playoff run.
Johnny Boychuk, defenseman
While Johnny Boychuk maybe hasn't been as good as many hoped in the first half, he has proved to be one of the toughest players seen in a long time. Boychuk missed 10 games with a broken arm but probably would have played through the pain if the team would have let him. This blueliner, who broke onto the scene big time in the stretch run and playoffs last season, probably suffers more dings from blocked shots and being physical than anyone else on this team, and yet he plays through despite seemingly limping off the ice after so many games. The B grade here is more because of his struggle to find the offensive game we saw from him last spring, which can be credited to the injuries. If he's healthy, this grade will be higher after the season.
Zdeno Chara, defenseman
Zdeno Chara recently was selected to his fifth All-Star Game, and for good reason. Chara has been his usual stalwart on the blue line while chipping in offensively as well. His monster physical presence has been huge, because on many nights during the first half, the Bruins were outshot and Chara was there to clear opposing forwards out of the crease. The only reason he gets an A- instead of an A is that there have been instances in which he has let his emotions get the best of him, and it affects his team. The most glaring incident came Jan. 8 in Montreal, when Chara was on the ice for all three Canadiens goals in a complete late-game collapse by the Bruins and then lost his cool following the game by going after Habs forward Max Pacioretty after Pacioretty bumped him. He then ignored the media, failing to face them as a captain should after such a tough loss. But Chara, to his credit, admitted fault and acknowledged his lack of emotional control. If he can keep those emotions in check and use them in a positive manner, that will mean a huge second half for the 2009 Norris Trophy winner.
Andrew Ference, defenseman
Andrew Ference didn't have the best start to the season, looking out of place on some nights, but he has progressed as the season has gone on and become a steady blueliner. Ference has played every game so far, but the question now is, can this injury-prone rearguard remain healthy? If so, he is a valuable depth defenseman Bruins coach Claude Julien can depend on down the stretch. The blue line already has suffered some injuries, so having a guy like Ference who can move the puck well and play physical will be a nice asset.
Steven Kampfer, defenseman
Steven Kampfer entered the Bruins' lineup as a result of Mark Stuart breaking his finger. The rookie has taken his chance at the NHL level and run with it, becoming a solid puck-mover this blue line can definitely use. Kampfer had some bumps in his first few games, coughing up the puck, but he battled through. Now he is playing with poise, pinching on plays and knowing when to stay back. He might not be the veteran puck-mover this team needs to get to the next level, but he has been a welcome addition.
Adam McQuaid, defenseman
The Bruins didn't expect finesse or offense from Adam McQuaid -- and they haven't gotten that. But they have gotten what they expected in a gritty, simple and calm defenseman. McQuaid has become an enforcer of sorts on the blue line and is an intimidating presence every time he is on the ice. Is he slower and less skilled than others around him? Sure. But he is a dependable fifth or sixth defenseman, as well as a character guy in the locker room.
Dennis Seidenberg, defenseman
Dennis Seidenberg had a strong first half despite a bit of a slow start. He has become a solid veteran presence for coach Claude Julien to pair with younger players, such as Kampfer, and has become a minutes-eater who contributes offensively. Seidenberg is a steady presence on the ice, and that has been key, considering the Bruins find themselves in plenty of nail-biters. The German rearguard will be depended on for more ice time and leadership, and he should deliver in the second half.
Mark Stuart, defenseman
Mark Stuart just hasn't had a good season. After missing the tail end of last season and most of the playoffs, Stuart signed a one-year deal and had high hopes coming into this season, but the rugged rearguard had a rough start and then suffered a broken finger. However, even before the injury, Stuart just didn't look like his usual intimidating self in many games. He seemed to be finding his game just prior to his injury, which he suffered Dec. 2 against Tampa Bay. He played through the pain for two more games and hasn't played since Dec. 7. The read here is that if he can stay healthy, the tough leader on and off the ice will find his game and be a factor in the second half.
Patrice Bergeron, center
As Cam Neely recently stated on radio WBZ-FM 98.5, Patrice Bergeron is a legit candidate for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the best defensive forward in the NHL. While that might be true, Bergeron's offensive game has been a godsend for this team, which is why he gets an A+. Bergeron has become the ultimate two-way player he and the team knew he had the potential to be, and is a leader on and off the ice. As ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald recently wrote, Bergeron should be considered as a co-captain. If Bergeron can keep this up, and David Krejci and Marc Savard find consistency, the Bruins truly will be one of the deepest teams up the middle.
Gregory Campbell, center
Gregory Campbell came to the Bruins as the forgotten piece in the Nathan Horton deal, but ironically, he gets a higher grade than Horton. Campbell has become a great faceoff player and defensive forward who can help create chances on one of the best fourth lines in the NHL with Campbell, Shawn Thornton and, for most of the season, Brad Marchand and/or Daniel Paille. Campbell brings some feistiness and yet smart hockey to the table, and has been a pleasant surprise.
Nathan Horton, center
As pointed out above, Nathan Horton was the main attraction in that pre-draft deal with Florida this past June that brought Horton and Campbell here, but the 2003 third pick overall, who had averaged 20-plus goals per season, has been too streaky, with most of the streaks being goal-less streaks. After scoring six goals in his first 10 games as a Bruin, Horton has had one too many down stretches and hasn't skated as hard as he should to utilize his size and skill. His physical game has been better of late, but Horton was brought here to be the Bruins' sniper on the first line, and it's time he reaches that potential.
David Krejci, center
David Krejci has had more bright spots than dark ones, but he has struggled at times to find consistency. That's why he gets a B instead of a B + or A -. Everyone knows what a great playmaker Krejci can be, and that's because he will go into the corners or the dirty areas and get the puck out to his wingers or defensemen. Krejci needs more of that edge again. He had it on full display when he got into his first NHL fight, against Mike Cammalleri on Dec. 16, and while no one expects more fights out of Krejci, more tenacity could help the cause.
Milan Lucic, left wing
While Krejci could use a bit more edge to his game, he isn't expected to be a rugged player by any means. But Milan Lucic is. It appeared Lucic was rounding into the power forward everyone envisioned him to be when he joined the team as a rookie in 2007-08. Lucic led the team in goals at the halfway point, but as the first half winded down, the winger seemed to lose his nasty side. There is no Milan Lucic power forward if he isn't banging bodies out there. Lucic thrives off his physical game and skating hard. When that part of his game is going, Lucic starts to score. The Bruins need that Lucic back for the second half if they are to have the offensive depth of a contending team.
Brad Marchand, center
Brad Marchand really has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half. Expected to be the agitator on the fourth line, Marchand successfully filled that role and more. He has provided some offensive flair and been one of the team's best defensive players, becoming a threat to score on the penalty kill and on even strength. All of this and some injuries to other forwards helped Marchand find himself as a dependable forward for Julien to slot in where needed as the first half came to an end.
Daniel Paille, forward
After a tough first game, Daniel Paille found himself a regular in the press box until the injuries started to pile up. At first, Paille looked rusty and unlike the penalty-kill master he was last season. But as time went on, he found his legs, and he has been there for the Bruins when they have needed him. He also deserves credit for being a good soldier while he was a healthy scratch. However, one still has to wonder whether the Bruins would be better off having rookie Jordan Caron as the guy to come down from the press box and fill in for stretches of games. Right now, Paille is filling the role with a B- grading.
Mark Recchi, forward
What more can be said about this future Hall of Famer? Recchi is the consummate professional on and off the ice. In the first half, he was the Bruins' best clutch player, leading the team in game-winning goals. Recchi also remains a pivotal veteran presence for youngsters such as Tyler Seguin and Marchand. He is always in the right spot at the right time and remains an offensive threat. The "Recching Ball" will be 43 on Feb. 1, and he seems to age like a fine wine.
Michael Ryder, forward
Much like Horton, Michael Ryder is a streaky player, and there have been too many of the wrong streaks with Ryder this season. He seems to be playing better physically and skating harder than Horton at times, but he has similar stretches in which he seems to be invisible. Numerous sources have confirmed the Bruins have been and still are trying to deal him, but is there a market for such an inconsistent player?
Marc Savard, center
It seems unfair to give such a harsh grade to a guy who missed the first 23 games with post-concussion syndrome, but Marc Savard simply hasn't been good. Claude Julien thought as much, benching the star center for parts of two games, and it was well-deserved from this vantage point. Sure, he is coming back from a life-changing injury, but for much of his return, Savard has seemed to be too worried about being the superstar he's been in the past, forcing plays and not using his puck smarts. He is definitely trying, but maybe too hard.
Tyler Seguin, center
Tyler Seguin entered this season with plenty of hype and high expectations, and while maybe he hasn't quite lived up to it all, he has been making steady progress throughout the season. Seguin struggled at first to find his niche in Julien's two-way system and wasn't comfortable in the defensive zone. But give the 18-year-old credit -- he stuck with it and learned the system. He seemed to be turning a corner after the team's five-game holiday road trip and seems to be more comfortable on the ice, worrying less about making mistakes. As a result, his skill is shining through.
Shawn Thornton, forward
Raise your hand if you thought Shawn Thornton would be getting an A - at the halfway point of the season. Well, he is, and it's well-deserved. Thornton, known more for his fists than scoring touch, has proved he can use those hands to beat opposing goalies and has been one of the better all-around players for the Bruins. He might have saved Julien's job Dec. 23 when he went out against the Atlanta Thrashers and had the best game of his career. With the vultures circling over the bench boss, some frustration being aired by team president Cam Neely and the team mired in a funk, Thornton dropped the gloves two seconds into a game and then scored two goals to help his team to a big 4-1 win. He is a vocal leader on and off the ice and has earned Julien's faith in getting more playing time.
Blake Wheeler, forward
Blake Wheeler might not have the offensive numbers he or the team would like at this point, but the 6-foot-5, 205-pound winger is finally using his big frame on the forecheck. When he doesn't create chances for himself, his physical play is creating chances for his teammates. If Wheeler can find the twine more, this grade will easily be an A- or better at the end of the season.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
- Dancing Days
- UMass lands No. 6 seed in NCAA; Harvard, a No. 12, opens with Cincy.
- Look At The Future?
- A big night by Anthony Davis had to whet the Celtics' appetite for the lottery.
- Whirlwind Week
- Mike Reiss breaks down all the comings and goings involving the Patriots.
- Malden Catholic made it four straight Super 8 titles by beating Austin Prep.
- Choose Wisely
- Make your bracket picks for a chance to win $10,000 in ESPN's Tournament Challenge. Play for free!
- Reebok Soft-Touch Men's Boston Bruins Dennis Seidenberg #44 Player Replica Black T-Shirt