- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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With the Bruins on the road for a three-game trip to Chicago, Toronto and Ottawa, it's a good time to answer some of your questions -- many about the team's lack of offensive punch, the potential goaltending controversy and the team's chances of making a run.
Q: Given [the Bruins scoring] three goals in the last two games, the argument that the B's still lack firepower to contend for the Cup still seems valid. For me, [Byron] Bitz and [Blake] Wheeler are third-line guys. [Milan] Lucic, [David] Krejci and [Michael] Ryder are second-line guys. But we need wings for [Marc] Savard. Would you trade [Patrice] Bergeron for a top-line winger, or would you put him on right wing with Savard and trade Wheeler and picks for a top-line left winger? -- Alex (Austin, Texas)
A: To me, Patrice Bergeron is an immovable object right now -- both on and off the ice. Bergeron isn't just the Bruins' best two-way forward, he's also their go-to faceoff guy and might even be their best penalty killer. Even if they traded him for a potential 40-goal scorer, there would be too many other holes to fill.
Now, there's little doubt the Bruins need some added offense up front. But lately I've been thinking their top priority might be another puck-moving defenseman if Dennis Wideman is either out with injury or just doesn't pick up his playing level when healthy. Such an addition would help Boston at both ends and wouldn't stop the team from also adding another second-level scorer like Ray Whitney from Carolina or Cory Stillman from Florida.
One last thought on Bergeron: I don't see the Bruins moving any of their higher-priced players during the season. But in the summer, they might have to consider dealing from their strength and flip a center for a winger or defenseman. Savard is locked up and Bergeron will be entering the final year of his deal, so Krejci and his reasonable multiyear deal might be the most movable of the Bruins' "Big Three."
Q: Is it just me or is Blake Wheeler one of the most up-and-down players? He looked great for a big stretch, but I thought he wasn't very good at all Monday night against Philly. -- Jimmy, Swampscott, Mass.
A: Wheeler is up and down, but all that does is make him blend in on a team which features a bunch of streaky players, including Michael Ryder and Marco Sturm. You can't forget that Wheeler is just a second-year pro and is still trying to figure out what he is. Is he a power forward, a playmaker, an open-ice guy? His confidence seems kind of fragile, and when he doesn't score on a couple of chances he stops going to the net, hangs onto the puck too long, and begins passing up shots. There's also the matter of burnout, which Wheeler suffered through last year and could face again. I wouldn't mind the Bruins' cutting Wheeler's penalty-kill time so he could focus his energies on 5-on-5 and the power play to put his excellent offensive talents to use.
Q: Do you think [Coach Claude] Julien will make [Tuuka] Rask the No. 1 at some point? -- Rick, Hartford
A: If by some point you mean March and beyond, there's a chance. For now, just like last season, Julien will make sure he keeps both his goaltenders sharp and ready to go in case there's an injury or one of them falls apart. And that's the best way to handle things right now. Burying the Vezina Trophy winner who just signed a multiyear extension does no one -- not Thomas, not the team, not the organization -- any good for now or down the road. But there's no doubt in my mind that if Rask deserves to be the No. 1 come spring, Thomas' past won't affect Julien's decision, and the goaltender who is playing the best will carry the bulk of the workload.
Q: How would you assess [Zdeno] Chara's play this year? Seems like he got off to a slow start but has turned things around lately. -- Tim, Bangor, Maine
A: Chara definitely started the season slow. He had some nagging injuries in camp and had to get to know Derek Morris a little bit. His play has definitely returned to a high level and he'd get more credit for it if his offensive numbers were where they were last season. I still cannot figure out why Chara isn't scoring at the same pace. It may have a lot to do with Savard's lengthy injury absence from the power play. But with a shot like Chara's, you'd think the puck would find the back of the net more often than not. Of course, Chara -- and all the Bruins' defensemen -- are sometimes a little too addicted to shooting wide and looking for tips and deflections rather than trying to beat the goaltender.
Q: When Milan Lucic returns to action, is Vladimir Sobotka the man to be sent down to Providence to make room for Lucic? Or with the physical play and recent point production from the young Czech, will someone else leave the Bruins for Lucic to return? -- Nick E., Millbury, Mass.
A: Unless his play drops off, I don't think Sobotka would be sent to Providence. The Bruins like to carry an extra forward and would definitely keep Sobotka around. As for whether he'd be the healthy scratch, he'd definitely be the favorite -- mostly because he doesn't play special teams. Daniel Paille is too vital to the penalty kill to sit out. Maybe against some less-rugged teams Julien would mix in Sobotka and sit Shawn Thornton, but Thornton's intangibles could be missed.
Q: One guy I think the Bruins need more from is Michael Ryder. He just doesn't seem like he's a consistent enough player. -- Bill, Hartford
A: This is a perfect place to end the mailbag because if anyone epitomizes the Bruins' drop-off from last season it's Michael Ryder. The veteran winger and Julien favorite isn't just holding the Bruins back by not scoring. Last season when he went through his goal-less stretches, he helped the club in other areas -- by throwing his body around (he was second among forwards in hits) and combining with Krejci and Wheeler to form a very responsible line. This season, he's been a ghost (yes, Ghost Ryder). Julien has tried everything. He put Ryder with Savard, put him with Krejci, put him on the top power play and dropped him from the power play all together. And nothing seems to get this guy going. There's really no shot the Bruins would be able to move him based on salary, years on his deal and his lack of production, so they can only cross their fingers and hope he gets going. And if he doesn't start scoring at a clip more comparable to the 25 or 30 goals Boston needs from him, it'll probably mean the Bruins won't go any farther this season than last.
Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com and runs TheBruinsBlog.net.