Commentary

B's flying high into Olympic hiatus

Updated: February 9, 2014, 9:26 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Claude Julien's troops reached the Olympic break playing typical Bruins hockey.

That was their goal, and they finished 8-1-2 over the past 11 games, including a 7-2 drubbing of the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.

The Bruins lead the Atlantic Division and are second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. You have to give the Bruins credit for their success so far this season, especially as they've dealt with injuries to significant players.

[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesAfter scoring two goals versus Ottawa, Patrice Bergeron will suit up for Team Canada during the Bruins' Olympic break.

All in all, Boston has positioned itself well with only 25 games remaining in the 2013-14 season.

"There's only one team in our conference that's ahead of us and there's still lots of hockey to be played," Julien said. "For me, during the regular season I always look more for consistency versus whether a team gets really, really hot and when the playoffs start have they dropped a little bit. I just want consistency and as I've said, my goal is always to have the team playing its best at the right time of the year."

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli met with the media Saturday afternoon and gave his account of the team.

He's been pleased with the team's structure this season. The offensive production has been adequate, but the GM believes there's room for improvement in that area. Due to all the injuries this season, the Bruins' organizational depth has been tested. The contributions from the players -- both forwards and defensemen -- summoned from Providence of the AHL have proven crucial.

"Our depth has been outstanding," Chiarelli said.

Julien's ability to roll four consistent lines is another big reason why the Bruins have become perennial Stanley Cup contenders. Despite the amount of injuries, that aspect of Boston's game hasn't changed this season.

"Generally, I think the four lines have been performing," Chiarelli said. "You can never have four lines at once performing at the top of their level, but I have been happy with their level of performance. There's not many games left, so you just want to think about continuing good habits, continuing structure."

[+] EnlargeKevan Miller
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaKevan Miller is seeing increased ice time due to injuries on the Bruins' blue line, and he showcased his fighting skills versus the Senators' Zack Smith.

After veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 27, Chiarelli said he would look into adding some depth on defense at some point before the March 5 trade deadline. He admitted as much again Saturday afternoon.

"I am looking for some depth defensively, not so much offensively," he said. "Having said that, I think our group has been pretty good depth-wise. There is not much of a market right now, but I like the personality of our team, so if we don't end up doing anything, then we don't end up doing anything and I'm OK. But I'd like to add some depth at some point defensively."

At the start of the season with a completely healthy defense, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski were competing to stay in the lineup. Now, Hamilton and Bartkowski are both in the top four, while Krug and Kevan Miller round out the blue line.

Chiarelli is certain that veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid, who has missed the past nine games with a leg injury, is close to returning to game action and could be back in the lineup after the Olympic break.

"Yeah, I feel he will be back at the start, or if not, close to the start of the resumption after the break," Chiarelli said. "I feel confident. He's been out a while, but from what I'm told he's quite close."

Staying on the defensive side of the puck, Chiarelli is pleased with the way his goaltending tandem of Tuukka Rask and Chad Johnson has worked this season. By the time the season is complete, Rask will have played the most in his NHL career, and so far he's handled the workload well, posting a 25-13-4 record with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesChad Johnson again performed admirably in net, making 26 saves Saturday and improving to 11-3.

Johnson finished with 26 saves in Saturday's 7-2 victory over the Senators for his fifth consecutive win, improving to 11-3-0 this season. If Chiarelli had any doubts about the backup position, Johnson has given the team confidence he can handle the role well at this level.

"It's been important all year to manage Tuukka, and Chad's helped us with that with the way he's been playing," Chiarelli said. "It will continue to be important and [Rask] may carry the mail [at the Olympics] for Finland, so it might be even more important.

"He's played a lot of games before in the past. Obviously, he's not a thick or heavy guy, a little more durability comes from that, but he knows how to play all those games and he knows when you play 55, 56 games that you're not going to be great all the time. You can see that in his demeanor after he finishes storming off the ice, so that will continue to be a challenge for us. But I think we're doing OK."

Overall, if Chiarelli believes he can improve the team via trade, then he will. He's proven that in the past with deals at the deadline, but he doesn't want to subtract from the current core group.

"I think it's going to be a tough market," he said. "It's going to be tough to get players. More teams are at the [salary] cap so they're not willing to give up roster players. I'm in that position. I don't want to give up any roster players, so I don't see it changing. Therefore, that is going to be the result in high, high prices."

Now that the Bruins have completed 57 games and have only 25 games remaining in the regular season, Chiarelli can reflect on the deals he made last summer and feel satisfied with the additions and subtractions.

The biggest deal was trading forwards Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow. While Eriksson has been hampered by a pair of concussions in his first season in Boston, Smith has been outstanding for the Bruins. The young winger, who had two assists on Saturday, has 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points in 57 games.

"Loui is still a work in progress, but I've seen parts of his game that I'm going to expect at some point that I have seen before," Chiarelli said. "He's got to work his way through it, but he is a very good two-way player and I'm happy with him. Reilly, of course has been good, so it's good."

Future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla was the other major addition during the summer. The Bruins signed him as a free agent with the thought of placing him on the top line, along with David Krejci and Milan Lucic.

[+] EnlargeJarome Iginla, David Krejci
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDavid Krejci is enjoying an excellent season with Jarome Iginla on his wing.

It's no coincidence that both Krejci and Lucic are in the midst of the most consistent season of their respective careers with Iginla on their wing.

"I think he's helped," Chiarelli said. "I know Looch looks up to Iggy quite a bit. Looch probably was really disappointed he didn't make the Olympic team, but he's built on that. Although he hasn't scored a lot since [not making the Olympics] his play has been getting better.

"Krech, wearing the 'A' has shown maturity, too. But Iggy's helped. Any time you get a Hall of Famer that plays the way Iggy plays every night, those guys look up to it."

Chiarelli added that all the additions are contributing because each player has bought into the Bruins' system of play.

As the NHL begins its Olympic break, the way the Bruins are playing is a good sign for management and the coaching staff. The way the roster is currently constituted, the team believes it has the depth, strength, defense, offense and goaltending for another deep run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"If nothing gets done, when you look at the team that played tonight without some key components, I think I'm pretty comfortable," Chiarelli said.

Now, forget about the Bruins and enjoy some Olympic hockey.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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