- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the midst of the NHL's holiday break, it's a good time to reflect on some of the issues concerning the Boston Bruins through the first 37 games of the 2013-14 season.
The Bruins are currently in first place in the Atlantic Division and have been battling the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Injuries have affected the team this season, but it has been able to maintain a level of success during this recent bout of adversity. Goaltender Tuukka Rask has played well and without a doubt has stolen some games for Boston.
I hope everyone enjoyed a safe and happy holiday. Let's dig in to the mailbag:
Q. He's obviously not the same player he was years ago, but I've actually been pretty impressed with Jarome Iginla so far. Do you think there's any chance the B's look to bring him back next season? -- Jason (Connecticut)
A. I believe the Bruins will attempt to bring him back, Jason. Iginla has been a strong addition both on and off the ice. His work ethic has helped make the Bruins' top line better and we're seeing that in the results the team is getting from David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Given what happened at the trade deadline last season -- when Iginla waived his no-trade clause and chose the Pittsburgh Penguins over Boston for a chance to win a Stanley Cup -- it's obvious the future Hall of Famer is comfortable in his new city. The 36-year-old forward keeps himself in tremendous shape and there's no reason to think he can't play into his 40s, similar to former Bruin Mark Recchi. Iginla has 10 goals and 14 assists in 37 games for the Bruins this season. Even though he does not wear a letter on his sweater, Iginla deals with the media like a true captain, which takes a lot of pressure off Patrice Bergeron. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has been happy with his offseason signing; it wouldn't surprise me if he's already thinking of ways to keep Iginla in Boston.
Q. I know they've had a ton of injuries, but I'm a little worried by the minutes that Zdeno Chara is playing. He's actually playing a little more than he did the last two seasons. I know the guy is sort of a physical freak, but he's also 36, and I'm worried they're going to wear him down before the playoffs -- which seemed to happen last year. Thoughts? -- Nathan (Springfield, Mass.)
A. You're not the only one thinking this way, Nathan. Both GM Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien discussed this subject at the start of the season. The team was hoping some of the younger defensemen would be able to log more ice time, which would help Chara in the long run. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case so far; he's still averaging more than 25 minutes per game. And the last thing the Bruins need is for their captain to be physically unable to perform at his highest level of play during the Stanley Cup playoffs, similar to what happened last spring. It has been a challenge, and will continue to be, for Julien to limit Chara's ice because he wants to do as much as he can. Some think Chara's added responsibilities on the power play don't help in keeping him fresh, but he's having success: Six of his nine goals this season have come on the PP.
Q. Joe, why is Jordan Caron still here? Why can't the Bruins brass just admit they screwed up a first-round pick. Bobby Robins deserves a shot. He brings a lot more to the table then Caron. They should just send him down and hope someone picks him up. -- Brian C. (Barrington, R.I.)
A. Caron's an interesting topic, Brian. At this point, the Bruins are proving why it's important to have depth in the organization and Jordan's a part of that. Until this season -- whether at the NHL or AHL level -- Caron did not show he could play the way the Bruins wanted him to on a consistent basis. He's been a healthy scratch for the majority of the season, but due to injuries and Shawn Thornton's 15-game suspension, Caron has been given the opportunity to play. He's doing more of the things the Bruins have wanted from him -- going to the net more and bringing a physical presence -- but he still needs to improve. Once the Bruins' lineup is complete again, and given the success of the younger prospects in the organization, it wouldn't surprise me if the Bruins consider moving Caron at some point this season. As far as Robins, his skill set is something the Bruins will need and Chiarelli has even said the 32-year-old forward will be a part of the Bruins' future. Since Thornton has seven games remaining on his current suspension, maybe we'll see Robins sooner rather than later. In 21 games for the P-Bruins this season, he has three goals and five assists with 102 penalty minutes.
Q. I know the trade deadline is a long way away, but do you see Peter Chiarelli being active this year? It's hard to pinpoint a glaring need for Boston, but I'm sure they'll still be looking -- maybe a backup goalie? -- Bill (Hartford)
A. Bill, you can bet Peter Chiarelli doesn't think the trade deadline is a long way away. You're right that there's not a pressing need to make any deal at this point, but if Chiarelli believes there's a way to make this team better via the trade market, then he will pull the trigger. He's done it in the past, and each time it has helped the club down the stretch and into the playoffs. Whether or not Chiarelli makes a deal will be based on a lot of things, including the health of the team. As far as the goaltending situation, Chad Johnson has been solid as Tuukka Rask's backup, and with both Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban in Providence, I believe the organization is pleased with its netminders.
Q. I've been really impressed by Ryan Spooner. You think there's any shot the B's would look to deal Chris Kelly when he's healthy so that Spooner can get in the lineup? I know he's not the defensive player Kelly is (which may be the answer right there, given Julien's style), but I really like what Spooner's speed and offensive flair brings to the lineup. -- Kelly (Natick, Mass.)
A. There's a lot to like about Ryan Spooner's game, Kelly. I've been really impressed with his ability to create speed through the neutral zone, and he always seems to find that extra gear when needed. His playmaking abilities have helped the Bruins during this recent bout of injuries, and there's room for improvement on the defensive end of the puck. The one thing that's keeping him from becoming a full-timer in the NHL is the fact the Bruins are loaded at the center position. When Kelly does return it will be interesting to see how the Bruins handle that situation.
Q. What have you thought about Dougie Hamilton's play so far this year? I was really encouraged by him before he got hurt. He might not be having the kind of offensive impact I think some B's fans expected, but to me he's been a solid, consistent part of their blue line -- which is pretty good for a kid who is still only 20. -- JT (Boston)
A. JT, I've been impressed with Hamilton from the start. Sure, he's experienced his growing pains in the NHL, but the ability is there. He's actually one of the better defensemen on the team when it comes to handling the puck on the blue line, and his shots usually find a way to the net or he'll put the puck into open areas for his teammates to win the battles. I would like to see him play a little more physical at times. I also think having Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug, along with plenty of other young options on the blue line, is helping Hamilton remain focused. He's still young but the potential is definitely there.
Q. What's the latest on Loui Eriksson? I have to imagine they'll be pretty cautious with him, especially given their standing in the East. -- Matt J. (Cape Cod)
A. It's too bad what has happened with Eriksson this season, suffering a pair of concussions in a five-week span during his first year in Boston. Given the Bruins' experience with head injuries, the organization will make sure its second-line winger is 100 percent healthy before he is given clearance to return to game action. He has been feeling better, but as of Thursday afternoon there's been no word on when he'll be able to begin skating.
Q. All season I've felt like the B's are just missing something -- they've been decent, but not great. But at the same time, who else in the East is any better than them? Other than Pittsburgh, what other team in the East would you really consider a threat to Boston? -- Nate (Portland, Maine)
A. There's been an exciting battle atop the Eastern Conference so far this season. Between Pittsburgh, Boston, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Detroit, Washington and Toronto, it's going to be fun to see which teams break away from the pack and which ones keep it a close race. Once Steven Stamkos returns from a broken leg, the Lightning could surge in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins are also the type of team that understands the importance of consistency. It's not unusual for this team to have long stretches of success before going into a bit of a skid. Too many times over the last few seasons we've seen that from the Bruins, but once they accomplish their first goal of reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs, they usually play their best, and that's the reason Boston has reached the finals twice in a three-year span.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance