The Bruins ended the first half of the season on a remarkable note when they scored four goals in the final 3:23 of regulation to beat the Penguins, 4-2. There may not be a better way of begging for a last-second grade inflation on a hockey scribe's report card.
Yet these grades are about more than just a great comeback that followed a great collapse. They're about expectations, hot streaks, and slumps. The best or worst grade doesn't indicate the best or worst player -- it's an indication of how the player has done relative to expectations and their importance to the operation.
Shawn Thornton: 41 GP, 7 G, 2 A, 9 PTS, +3
Think all the way back to before training camp opened. The B's brought tough guy Brian McGrattan in for a tryout, and he spent the preseason with the team before signing on after the European trip. At the time of the McGrattan signing, it wasn't crazy to think that the team might keep him up as an extra forward and dress him every now and then to give Thornton a night off after a particularly bruising game.
Exactly three months since the B's signed McGrattan, he's down in Providence, where he's been most of the season. And the notion that he could spell Thornton from time to time? Preposterous -- and that's not a knock on McGrattan at all.
Thornton, in addition to being a third of the Merlot Line that's become so popular you almost wonder if the Bruins should consider selling their purple practice jerseys, has exceeded just about every expectation that could have been placed for him.
The 33-year-old might joke that some of his career-high seven goals have been lucky or that he doesn't have enough "apples" (assists), but his on-ice performance has ignited the Bruins all season. From his game-tying strike against the Capitals on Nov. 5 to his game-winner in Pittsburgh five days later, the guy whose value before the season was as an enforcer has been able to do it all. Not a bad deal for $812,500 a season.
Lastly, Thornton truly understands that you don't need a "C" or an "A" to be a leader. The eight-spoked "B" is all he needs, and his work ethic and no-excuses attitude set an example for his teammates that shouldn't be overlooked.
Brad Marchand: 38 GP, 7 G, 9 A, 16 PTS, +11
Marchand has been the epitome of an "energy player" this season. A roadrunner who probably talks more trash than he needs to, Marchand has excelled in his role both on the fourth line and as a penalty killer (his three shorthanded goals are tied for the league lead).
Almost shockingly, Marchand scored more first-half goals than fellow rookie Tyler Seguin. If the 22-year-old wants to commemorate having the statistical edge on the second overall pick, he should probably do it soon, as it likely isn't a distinction Marchand will be able to hold for too long.
Mark Recchi: 41 GP, 8 G, 17 G, 25 P, +5
It took 12 games for Recchi to score his first goal of the season, but he still contributed with six assists in the first 11 games. Since then, he's made each of his goals count, as he leads the B's with five game-winning goals, including two in the final minute of regulation.
Milan Lucic: 41 GP, 16 G, 12 A, 28 PTS, +11
Lucic wanted 20 goals this season -- that's the challenge he set for himself. Through the first 30 games of the season, the feat looked hardly challenging for the 22-year-old, as he netted a team-leading 16 goals. In 11 games since, he hasn't scored a single goal and has had a positive rating just once. He's a plus-11 on the season despite begin a minus-five over the last 11 contests.
Michael Ryder: 41 GP, 11 G, 13 A, 24 PTS, -2
Ryder has been the most underrated Bruins' forward all year. On Monday, he snapped a five-game scoreless streak by assisting Recchi's game-winner, but aside from the aforementioned stretch, Ryder has been a consistent producer. While Lucic and Nathan Horton have dealt with longer slumps but produced more overall, Ryder has been a steady offensive contributor.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ryder is one of only three Bruins forwards with a negative rating this season. He also took a very costly tripping penalty late in Saturday night's game to spark the Habs' comeback.
The 30-year-old Ryder is another guy whose value to the Bruins has increased over the course of the season. Over the summer, he was seen by fans as AHL-bound once Marco Sturm returned from his knee injury. It was clear Ryder wasn't going anywhere long before the B's dealt Sturm to the Kings.
Gregory Campbell: 39 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 12 PTS, +3
Campbell had two high-sticking double-minors over the first six games of the season, but since then there hasn't been much to complain about (critical face-offs in Montreal aside). Described by longtime teammate Nathan Horton as a guy who can do everything, Campbell has fit the description well. He's even contributed some big goals, like the one that sent the St. Louis game to overtime or the one that gave them a third-period lead on the Leafs in December.
Campbell's character is also one of standout quality. After one of those high sticks sent Rangers forward Brandon Prust to the hospital, Campbell -- a quiet guy who clearly prides himself on being an honest player -- shot Prust a text message saying he needed to be more careful with his stick.
David Krejci: 34 GP, 7 G, 18 A, 25 PTS, +9
All things considered, Krejci had a fine first half after his season was sidetracked by a concussion suffered on Nov. 6 against the Blues in overtime. He's had at least a point in half of the 34 games he's played, and he has seven multi-point games. Fifteen of Krejci's 25 points this season have come in those multi-point games.
Still, the question with Krejci seems to be whether he will get back to 73 points he recorded back in the 2008-09 season. His .73 points per night mean that he would be on pace for 60 points if he played 82 games this season (obviously impossible given his eight games missed).
Patrice Bergeron: 41 GP, 10 G, 19 A, 29 PTS, +12
Bergeron has caught fire since mid-December, making him one of the Bruins top offensive performers as the team enters the second half. After his two-point showing on Monday, he now has 14 points over his last 12 games.
One thing to keep an eye on with Bergeron is whether he gets to stick at center for the rest of the season. Tyler Seguin sees Bergeron as a model two-way center from whom to learn, but when everyone's healthy, it seems Claude Julien's plan is to give Seguin the second-line center job with Bergeron on the wing. The 25-year-old is obviously capable of playing right wing to accommodate the rookie, as Bergeron began his NHL career on the wing.
Nathan Horton: 39 GP, 12 G, 14 A, 26 PTS, +15
When the Bruins acquired Horton in June, they got a special player and one of the most skilled scorers in the league -- certainly a guy capable of scoring 40 goals. Yet he's been hot (eight goals in his first 15 games) and freezing (four goals in his last 24).
The mystery is how to get Horton to perform every game, something that for one reason or another, he has struggled to do his entire career.
He's admitted that it was hard to stay motivated in Florida, and given the way things were down there, it's hard to blame him. Now free from the hockey-indifferent culture of Florida, there are very few people in town who enjoy their job more than Horton. He's smiled through the highs of the season and vowed to be better through his struggles.
The surprise it that it seems the book on Horton is already memorized in Boston. Thirty-nine games into his Bruins career, we've seen just about every Nathan Horton there is. We've seen the elite goal-scorer Nathan Horton. We've seen the physical Nathan Horton, and the not-so-physical Nathan Horton. We've seen the Nathan Horton who can go shifts, and even nights, without doing what he needs to on the forecheck. And then there's the Nathan Horton who turns weeks worth of unused physicality into a beatdown of Evander Kane.
Horton missed the last two games of the first half of the season due to "discomfort." His presence in the lineup is important, though once he does return he'll need to be more of a presence.
Blake Wheeler: 41 GP, 9 G, 8 A, 17 PTS, +4
This would probably be a "C" if it weren't for how well Wheeler handled being tossed into the mix at center after Krejci went down early in the season. Wheeler is on pace for 18 goals and 16 assists, which would actually be a step back from his 38 points last season, but he has still looked like an improved player. A restricted free agent at season's end, Wheeler could use a big second half to show the Bruins that he should be in the mix for the long haul.
Tyler Seguin: 39 GP, 6 G, 8, A, 14 PTS, +2
If there were a report card for how often I've made beat-the-horse Seguin/Steven Stamkos comparisons this season, I would probably receive an A for "All the livelong day," "Annoying with how compares Seguin to Stamkos" and "Always comparing Seguin to Stamkos."
So here's some more of that. Isn't it just fitting that Seguin, after limiting his mistakes in the early going and being a healthy scratch is playing a more confident game and seems like he could be ready to turn the corner halfway through the season? Kind of like… ah, well. I'll relent.
The fact of the matter is that Seguin's talent is pretty obvious -- watch him take a puck through the neutral zone or observe a shootout. His development is coming along nicely, and he admitted recently that he's "still trying to figure this league out." He obviously isn't burning up stat sheets, (his 14 points this year are 15th among rookies) but Seguin has shown enough in his first half season to suggest he's going to be an elite player in this league.
Daniel Paille: 18 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS, -2
If Paille plays every night or is given a bigger role (or if he only played in the season-opener), this grade is probably lower, but he's displayed both the good and the bad in the bits and pieces he's given. Paille had a disastrous season-opener in Prague and didn't dress again for over a month. With nowhere to go but up from that performance, Paille has had bright spots since, but ultimately isn't a "solution" when guys go down with injury.
Marc Savard: 18 GP, 2 P, 4, A, 6 PTS, -8
Savard isn't himself and hasn't been since returning from post-concussion symptoms. The Bruins have been very careful with the center (who they've got under contract for the next seven years), so it's hard to ask whether he may have come back too soon, but it was pretty apparent from his return that he wasn't the guy he was before his concussion.
Not only has his playmaking not been where it was, but Savard has clearly cost the Bruins at points with major turnovers. Both the Minnesota loss last Thursday and the Dec. 11 loss to the Flyers came as the result of a costly turnover that led to the game-winning goal. The man is working his way back from a major injury and certainly deserves a bit of a pass as he tries to regain his form, but it's been bad for Savard so far.
Incomplete: Jordan Caron, Jamie Arniel
Steven Kampfer: 15 GP, 3 G, 1 A, 4 PTS, +4, 17:51 ATOI
Right-handed shot? Check. Puck-moving defensemen? Check. Rookie growing pains? Not really. The Bruins trust Kampfer (he got 20:19 of ice time in his third career game) and he's justified that trust with timely goals and rare lapses. He's had a negative rating just twice in his 15 games.
Zdeno Chara: 41 GP, 6 P, 12 A, 18 PTS, +15, 26:38 ATOI
Chara is on pace for his lowest point total since his first year in Ottawa, but he's also on pace for his highest average time on ice since 2007-08. He's going to be around for a while, and while he might not necessarily be a safe bet for 50 points again in his career, he's a sure thing to anchor this defense and chew up important ice time.
Dennis Seidenberg: 41 GP, 2 G, 15 A, 17 PTS, +5, 24:11 ATOI
Put Seidenberg in the "Quietly Having a Career Year" category.The 29-year-old is handling more minutes a night than he has over any of his previous seven seasons, and he's on pace to surpass his career high of 30 points back in the 2008-09 season.
Given the injuries that the blue line has suffered, Seidenberg's presence has been huge for the Bruins. Plus, with him staying healthy for the entire first half, one has to wonder whether this can be Seidenberg's first 82-game season of his career.
Johnny Boychuk: 31 GP, 0 G, 7 A, 7 PTS, +8, 20:35 ATOI
Though Boychuk missed 10 games after fracturing his forearm on Oct. 23, this season has still been another step forward for the 26-year-old. He was able to handle big minutes in the playoffs last year, and hasn't slowed down. Boychuk is still looking for his first goal of the season after scoring five in 51 games a season ago.
Andrew Ference: 41 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 PTS, +14, 18:39 ATOI
Ference has doubled his goal total from the last three years and has stayed healthy for the entire first half of the season. The latter is far greater an accomplishment than the former, and if Ference can stay healthy for rest of the campaign, it will be the first time he's done so since the 2005-06 season in Calgary.
Mark Stuart: 26 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, +3, 16:43 ATOI
Stuart's been out since Dec. 7 with a fractured hand a dislocated finger. He actually hurt his hand on Dec. 4 against Toronto, but he suffered the resulting injury the next game while making a pass against Buffalo. Since he's on IR, it will be at least five days before the B's could activate him, though his actual timetable for a return isn't certain.
One problem with Stuart is that given how hard a hitter he is, it's rare that he can lay a good hit on somebody without the other team reacting and fisticuffs ensuing. It's good for the B's as long as he comes out on top.
Adam McQuaid: 28 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS, +6, 12:03 ATOI
McQuaid is a perfectly safe defenseman who can deliver hard hits and contribute as one of the roster's more capable fighters. Unfortunately, that's what the Bruins have in Stuart. McQuaid filled in admirably when Boychuk went down, but with the emergence of Kampfer, he may return to being a healthy scratch once Stuart does return, assuming whatever kept McQuaid out Monday night isn't serious.
Incomplete: Matt Hunwick, Matt Bartkowski
Tim Thomas: 29 GP (29 GS), 18-4-6, 1.84 GAA, .944 SV. %
There hasn't been a single discussion about who the best goaltender in the league has been this season. Who would have thought that would be because Tim Thomas -- he of the contract that just had to be moved this offseason -- has been the leader of the pack since he first graced the crease on Oct. 10 in Prague?
In case fans have grown complacent since his lights-out start to the season, here's some food for thought: Thomas isn't just having the best year of goaltenders this season, he's having the best year for a goalie post-lockout. His .944 save percentage and 1.84 goals against average this season are better than those of any goaltender in a given season since the 2005-06 campaign. Better than past numbers of guys by the name of Brodeur, Miller, Lundqvist, Rask, and yes, Thomas.
At age 36, Thomas is playing the best hockey of his career and posting numbers people haven't seen in a while. There's no question as to who the team's most valuable player has been.
Tuukka Rask: 14 GP (13 GS) 4-8-1, 2.53 GAA, .927 SV. %
It's not Rask's fault that he was supplanted as the starter by Thomas, because, as mentioned above, there simply isn't a better performance one could turn in than what Thomas has done. Rask has been a good sport about his playing time, and though some rust has led to the occasional soft goal, he should see more time in the second half.
Claude Julien: 22-12-7
Go on, knock this grade for not being an F (I've got emails and reader comments that would suggest that reaction would be appropriate for B's fans). Truth is, this grade would probably be higher if it weren't for Julien's handling of the goaltenders on the last road trip.
The one thing people complain about with this Bruins team more than anything -- more than the lack of offense, Nathan Horton's inconsistency, Milan Lucic's seemingly softened style, or the power play struggles -- is motivation. Does that all fall on the coach? Plenty of these guys were there last year in the playoffs, and if they can't play each night with the pedal to the metal after the way things ended, it's probably more on individuals than it is on the coach.
And on the subject of motivation, instead of fans blaming the coach when they lose, they should be commending the coach for benching players when they underachieve. The idea by fans -- and it's loud and clear after losses -- that Julien has "lost this team" doesn't exactly hold water when considering that the players have to know by now that nobody can get away with an unacceptable performance. Just ask Savard or Horton.
Then there's the matter of his trust in all four lines. Look back at the offensive grades: the Merlot Line has been such an asset to this team with its ability to play against top lines and come up with clutch goals that playing them a bit too much isn't the cardinal sin it's been made out to be.
Disagree with the grades or have a question for a Bruins mailbag? Email DJ Bean at firstname.lastname@example.org.