The first 50 games of the season for the Bruins had plenty of good and plenty of bad, but the team really began to hit its stride over the last month, and as a result, Claude Julien’s club is sitting atop the Northeast Division with a four-point lead.
Yet much of what has made up the season so far for the Bruins has been largely surprising. From Tim Thomas to Brad Marchand to the team’s inability to beat the Canadiens, there were a lot of things that few, if any, saw coming. Here are 10 surprising aspects of the Bruins’ season at the All-Star break.
TIM THOMAS IS THE STARTER/VEZINA FAVORITE
Thomas’ contract got more attention than he did over the summer, and though it became clearer and clearer as the offseason progressed that he’d stick around, nobody expected him to have either the amount of starts or the production he’s had. Of course, those two things go hand in hand, as it was his shutout performance in the second game of the season that earned him the next start, and from there he has only continued to put together one of the best seasons by any goaltender post-lockout.
Tuukka Rask, who emerged as the team’s starting goaltender down the stretch last season and manned the pipes throughout the playoffs, was expected to be the team’s top goaltender this season, with Thomas falling somewhere between a backup and a guy splitting time. Thomas has been neither of those, and the two haven’t exactly split time. The 36-year-old has gotten the start in 35 games, making it a 70-30 split between he and Rask. Thomas, who will play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, leads the league in goals against average (1.81, the lowest since 2003-04), save percentage (.945) and is tied for the league lead with seven shutouts. He’s second in wins with 24.
MATT HUNWICK CAUSES MARC SAVARD’S LATEST CONCUSSION
This one’s a combination, and given that one would have to predict a trade and an injury to get this one right, it’s safe to say nobody saw this one coming.
The team traded Hunwick to the Avalanche in a deal to clear up cap space, which was of course was going to be an issue for the B’s when Savard, who missed the first 23 games of the season due to post-concussion syndrome, returned.
When Savard did return, he wasn’t his old self. Known for setting up linemates like few others could, Savard instead found himself making the passes that led to opponents’ goals. His turnovers led to the game-clinching goals in losses to the Flyers on Dec. 11 and the Wild on Jan. 6. Though he had started to turn the corner, he once again found himself down on the ice and being tended to by trainer Don DelNegro in the team’s Jan. 15 loss following a shove from Deryk Engelland. Savard stayed in the game and said after that he wasn’t concerned, but concern was the only thing the Bruins had a week later after Hunwick’s clean hit left him concussed for the fourth time in his career and second time in 10 months.
BRAD MARCHAND LEADS BRUINS ROOKIES IN GOALS
Before the season, it seemed to be a two-man race for which Bruins rookie would have more goals this season. Neither of those players were Brad Marchand, of course, as Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron figured to pack more of an offensive punch. Caron’s production wavered over 20 games, and the 20-year-old was sent to Providence for more seasoning. Seguin, on the other hand, had a modest first half (7 G, 9 A) and is still getting acclimated to the NHL. Such a start is understandable for a 18-year-old, but the Bruins have to be hoping he'll step it up after the break. Seguin has no points over the last eight games.
The truth is that it is unlikely anyone anticipated any Bruins rookie – even Seguin – would have 13 goals at this point. Marchand certainly didn’t seem to be a candidate for such offensive success, as he didn’t score in his 20-game sample of the NHL in the 2009-10 campaign. He even admitted Wednesday night that he hoped to score 10 goals this season.
Yet the Bruins have gotten all sorts of scoring from Marchand. Nine even strength, a league-leading four shorthanded, and an empty netter for good measure. The 22-year-old probably wasn’t being counted on to provide an overwhelming amount of statistical production, but the 5-foot-9 Marchand has come up big. He now seems a good bet to surpass the 16 goals Patrice Bergeron scored as a rookie back in 2003-04, and if he continues his recent pace could hit the 20-goal mark.
Marchand is also tied with Patrice Bergeron and Daniel Sedin for the league lead in plus/minus among forwards (plus-21).
SHAWN THORNTON HAS ONLY FOUR MORE FIGHTING MAJORS THAN GOALS
You would think that differential would be a bit higher, but Thornton, while still dropping the gloves as much as anticipated (11 fighting majors thus far), has found the back of the net, too. Thornton’s career high in goals for a season entering the 2010-11 campaign was six, which he registered in 2008-09. It took him 33 games to get to seven this season, and despite the fact that he hasn’t scored in 17 games, his offensive production has been eye-opening given that he scored one goal last season. When it comes to the assist department, Thornton, who has five, holds a two-helper edge over Tim Thomas’ three.
NATHAN HORTON COOLED OFF
Horton was all smiles when he came to Boston amidst expectations of a 40-goal season, and his play in training camp and in the preseason made it look like his grin would spread to the fans. That seemed to be the case when he scored three goals over the first two games in Prague and had eight through his first 15 contests. The production slowed from there, as he scored three goals over his next 13 games, but it really came to a screeching halt after that.
The 25-year-old has one goal since Dec. 15, a span of 20 games. He’s totaled only five points in that span, and though he has certainly had nights by which he should encouraged, the fact of the matter is that the team traded for him so he could score. The happy-go-lucky Horton knows that it’s going to happen eventually, but until he does, he’ll have to block out whatever confidence issues accompany these slumps.
MULTIPLE BRUINS FORWARDS HAVE BEEN COMPARED TO ILYA KOVALCHUK
Before the season, Horton was probably the only Bruins player someone could legitimately expect to score as many goals as Ilya Kovualchuk. Yet the Devils’ $100-million dollar man was a flop of epic proportions in his first half-season since re-upping. First, there was the race between Thornton and Kovalchuk, something Thornton got a kick out of but figured wasn’t such a popular storyline in New Jersey.
Kovalchuk has turned it on a bit more of late, scoring six goals in his last 13 games. Still, are 14 goals at the All-Star break enough? Not when the guy’s in the first year of a 15-year pact.
MILAN LUCIC WAS WAY OFF WITH HIS PRE-SEASON GOAL
Lucic wanted 20 goals this season, and it didn’t take him long to reach the mark. Despite going 12 straight games without a goal from mid-December to mid-January and missing three contests with an upper-body injury, the 22-year-old got to 20 with his second-period goal on Wednesday night. His career-high in goals entering the season was 17. As long as he stays healthy, it looks like he could become the first Bruin to 30 goals this season after Marco Sturm led the 2009-10 squad with 22 goals.
STEVEN KAMPFER IS MAKING AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT
While Marchand has stood out among the Bruins’ rookies, nobody has actually hit the ground running better than Steven Kampfer. Claude Julien clearly trusted the 22-year-old from the get-go, increasing his minutes from 13:50 to 15:00 to 20:19 in his first three games following his early-December promotion.
Kampfer has been able to limit his mistakes while also having the wherewithal to know when to pinch without it costing him. He’s been the puck-moving defenseman the team needed following the Hunwick trade, and through 24 games he has four goals and four assists. His presence in the lineup also gives the B’s three right-handed shots in Kampfer, Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk.
Speaking of McQuaid…
ADAM MCQUAID’S PLAY MADE MARK STUART A HEALTHY SCRATCH IN THREE STRAIGHT GAMES
When Johnny Boychuk went down with a fractured forearm on Oct. 25, McQuaid stepped in and began proving that he deserved a spot in the lineup. He got to keep that spot when team traded Hunwick, and with Kampfer’s emergence following Stuart’s broken hand and dicloscated finger, it seemed a logjam on the blueline was on the horizon.
It was tough to tell who the odd man out might be when Stuart returned, as Andrew Ference was dealing with an upper body injury in the first two games following his return. Once all the defenseman were healthy, McQuaid took the first turn in the press box, sitting out as a healthy scratch on Jan. 20 against the Sabres. Stuart has been a healthy scratch in the team’s three games since.
In 36 games, McQuaid is a plus-15, and has had a negative rating in only five contests. In 29 games this season, Stuart is a plus-6. He’s had a negative rating in six games. Stuart is on a one-year, $1.65 million deal and will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
THE BRUINS ARE STILL LOOKING FOR THEIR FIRST WIN AGAINST THE CANADIENS
The B’s may be leading the Habs in the standings, but so far their rivals have gotten the better of them in their three meetings. Carey Price has grabbed victories in each of the contests, with the Bruins blowing a two-goal lead in the final 2:22 the last time they met on Jan. 08. Max Pacioretty scored the game-winner in overtimes.
The B’s picked up only one victory against the Canadiens last season, going 1-4-1 against them. The B’s will get their fourth crack at the Habs when in their fourth game back from the break on Feb. 9 in Boston.