The Bruins have reached the halfway point of the season, and though they did so with a loss Saturday in Carolina, it’s been a long, long time since Bruins fans could be as confident about their team’s chances as they are right now.
Since the B's awoke from their month-long hibernation to begin their title defense, it has been made clear that this is a Cup finals-or-bust type of season. In that time, they’ve been the best team in the NHL, and the debate can begin regarding whether this team is better than last year’s Cup-winning squad. While last year’s season ended as good as it could get, this year’s team, which has two key players that the Bruins didn’t have last January in Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, undeniably looks better suited to do what the Bruins did last June.
It goes without saying that this season’s midseason report card features nearly all high marks for the B’s. Usually, a report card is a good way of critiquing things, but in a season that’s been this dominant, the list of players who fell below the B range was very short.
When giving out these grades, the performance vs. expectation factors in heavily, so each grade is given based on what they’ve provided considering what the preseason expectation may have been. In other words, a guy like Benoit Pouliot might end up with a grade similar to Nathan Horton, even though Horton has almost double the points. For the team’s elite players, merely meeting expectations is enough to earn a high mark.
Away we go.
Chris Kelly: A
41 games played, 13 goals, 10 assists, 23 points, plus-23
The projection here prior to the season was that Kelly would score 13 goals all season. The fact that he’s done that in half the time shows that he’s both on pace for a career year and set to become richer when his deal expires at season’s end.
Patrice Bergeron: A/A-
41 games played, 12 goals, 25 assists, 37 points, plus-27
Rather quietly, Bergeron is also on pace for a career year, as he projects to finish the season with 74 points for the B’s. The team’s best all-around forward, Bergeron is third in the NHL with a 57.7 faceoff percentage and leads Bruins forwards in average time on ice. He’s a big reason why Tyler Seguin has become what he’s become.
Tyler Seguin: A-
40 games played, 17 goals, 21 assists, 38 points, plus-34
Not only is Seguin the most talented player on the Bruins, but he’s one of the most talented players in the league. He’s still 19, so that talent isn’t seen as consistently as it will be in future seasons, but his stretch of seven goals in four games in early November showed just how good he can be when he gets going. Some schools bump students down full letter grades for multiple absences, but we’ll leave the missed meeting in Winnipeg alone until it becomes a bigger problem.
Brad Marchand: B+
37 games played, 16 goals, 16 assists, 32 points, plus-27
When he isn’t on the phone with Brendan Shanahan, No. 63 is proving a lot of people wrong for thinking last season may have been a fluke. Marchand, along with Seguin and Milan Lucic, is on pace for a 30-goal season (Nathan Horton is on pace for 28). Not bad for a team that won the Cup with only one 30-goal scorer.
Milan Lucic: B+
40 games played, 16 goals, 18 assists, 34 points, plus-8
The team’s leading goal-scorer of a season ago took seven games to register his first goal this season, and had a nearly month-long stretch beginning on Nov. 12 in which he scored only two goals over 16 games. The good news with Lucic is that when he hasn’t been cold, he’s been hot for the Bruins. Take his nine points (four goals, five assists) over his last seven games as an example.
David Krejci: B+
38 games played, 10 goals, 23 assists, 33 points, plus-3
The Czech center has picked up 16 of his 33 points this season over his current 11-game point streak. That’s the longest point streak the NHL has seen this season, and right now the Bruins are seeing a white-hot Krejci.
Daniel Paille: B+
37 games played, 7 goals, 3 assists, 10 points, plus-6
If these grades were all about toughness, Paille would get an A+. Paille took a slap shot to the face in November and suffered a concussion in December but has missed only four games this season. If Paille could only finish, he’d seriously be up there in scoring this season, which has been his best as a Bruin. One funny thing that jumps out on the stats page: Paille has zero penalty minutes this season. The next-lowest total for a Bruins regular is Joe Corvo’s 11.
Rich Peverley: B+/B
37 games played, 7 goals, 22 assists, 29 points, plus-15
Peverley hasn’t taken enough draws to be on the leaderboard, but he’s won 143 of his 233 faceoffs, good for a sensational 61.4 percentage. He’s also playing through pain, as Peverley has been nagged by an undisclosed injury that he has said will stay with him for the rest of the season. If he puts up 60-point seasons consistently, he’ll be well worth the $3.25 million cap hit he’ll be getting in his new deal.
Nathan Horton: B
41 games played, 14 goals, 15 assists, 29 points, plus-4
Early in the season, Horton was taking bad penalties more often than he was scoring, and he admitted he still wasn’t himself after last season’s concussion in Game 3 vs. the Canucks. That all seems like a distant memory now, and with a strong second half, Horton could potentially surpass his career high of 31 goals.
Benoit Pouliot: B
36 games played, 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points, plus-16
Speaking of bad penalties, Pouliot may have written the book on them, but he’s gotten smarter as the season’s gone on. This grade may seem low given what a pleasant surprise he’s been, but realistically, he hasn’t overachieved -- he’s just gotten the playing time.
Gregory Campbell: B-
38 games played, 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points, plus-7
The numbers aren’t what they were a season ago, but Campbell’s job isn’t to rack up the points. Like Kelly, he has yet to be given a contract extension.
Shawn Thornton: B-
41 games played, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, plus-1
Same story as Campbell. The Bruins probably weren’t counting on another 10 goals from Thornton this year, but they’ve still gotten his team-leading 10 fighting majors.
Incomplete: Jordan Caron, Zach Hamill
Zdeno Chara: A
39 games played, 7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points, plus-27
The 34-year-old Chara is showing no signs of slowing down, as he is on pace for a career-high 55 points. The captain leads the team with 12 power-play points (five goals, seven assists) this season.
Dennis Seidenberg: A-/B+
41 games played, 2 goals, 12 assists, 14 points, plus-19
Seidenberg continues to be a vastly underrated player, and he continues to be a stud on the B's blue line. The German defenseman is second on the B’s with 23:49 of ice time a night.
Andrew Ference: A-/B+
39 games played, 2 goals, 14 assists, 16 points, plus-13
Ference hasn’t changed the way he’s played, but he’s on pace to set a new career-high in points. More importantly with Ference, he’s missed only two games this season and is on pace to play more than 70 games for the first time as a Bruin.
Johnny Boychuk: B
40 games played, 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, plus-23
By defensemen’s standards, Johnny Boychuk has the best job in the world in that he gets to play next to Zdeno Chara. That means big minutes (he’s third on the team with 20:17 a night), and he’s handled that well.
Adam McQuaid: B-
36 games played, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, plus-16
Stats won’t tell you much about how McQuaid has been this season, but this will: He’s been a safe, third-pairing defenseman, and he hasn’t cost the Bruins. That’s exactly what they want out of him.
Joe Corvo: C+
41 games played, 2 goals, 15 assists, 17 points, plus-17
Admittedly, it took Corvo some time to feel totally comfortable in the B's system, and he grew frustrated with the fact that it took him until mid-December to score his first goal of the season. In fact, his only two goals this season came in that Dec. 10 contest in Columbus. For a guy who is good for between 10 and 15 goals in a full season, the scoring has been far less than what he had hoped for, but he is on pace for a career-high in assists and is second among B’s defensemen in points. He’ll never be confused for Chara in his own end, but Corvo has been somewhat of a defensive improvement over Tomas Kaberle.
Incomplete: Steven Kampfer, Matt Bartkowski
Tim Thomas: A+
28 games played, 18-8-0, 1.99 GAA, .937 save percentage, 4 shutouts
People entered the season wondering if Thomas could come close to matching his numbers of a season ago. Well, Thomas’s save percentage is just below his .938 clip from last season, and his goals-against average is a tick better.
Tuukka Rask: A+
15 games played, 10-4-1, 1.59 GAA, .945 save percentage, 3 shutouts
Rask, along with Seguin, is one of the biggest reasons this team is better than it was a season ago. He’s matched Thomas stride for stride, and leads the league in both GAA and save percentage.
Claude Julien: A
To keep guys focused and hungry in a season in which they’ve blown out opponents almost routinely can’t be easy, but Julien has done it. That obviously has something to do with the team’s makeup, but it definitely has something to do with coaching as well.
Julien’s also coached the team to a better record than last year’s squad. For the sake of comparison, the 2010-11 B’s were 22-12-7 with 51 points through 41 games. At the midway point this season, the Bruins are 28-12-1 with 57 points.