Q. Hey guys, it looks like the Bruins are playing at an incredibly high level. Do you think that maybe they are peaking too early in the season? Can we expect a letdown soon? -- Gabe (Newton)
A. Gabe, I'm sure that just as there are for any teams -- even the elite -- the Boston Bruins will have some bumps in the road, but this is a team that prides itself on consistency and does a wonderful job of practicing what it preaches in taking it one game at a time. Therefore, I don't foresee any major drops or think the Bruins are peaking too soon.
Q. James/Joe, is it just me or has Timmy Thomas gotten even better than last season? I don't want to jinx anything, but, man, can that guy stand on his head! -- Nate (Bristol, Conn.)
A. Nate, I have been on record here as saying that if the Bruins are to trade a goalie over the next year, it should be the 37-year-old Tim Thomas, but as you pointed out, he seems better than last season. Like Mark Recchi, Thomas seems to age like a fine wine, but in Thomas' case, he is performing at an out-of-this-world level of historic proportions. As Joe Corvo and Adam McQuaid pointed out in a story I did recently, sometimes it's possible to take Thomas' incredible play for granted.
Q. The Bruins have looked amazing! Are there any problems you guys see going forward and if there are how do the Bruins fix them? -- Jon (Dudley, Mass.)
A. Jon, as pointed out above, I don't see any major valleys for this team but I do expect Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to add another defenseman to the mix. While this group of blueliners has performed better than expected and is moving the puck up ice with precise passing and speed, I still think he'd like another top-four rearguard out there. But right now, that's about it. The forwards are all chipping in defensively and offensively, and the team is in sync probably more than last season.
Q. Hey guys, just wanted to know if you like the NHL New Plan? I think it stinks that we only to get to play teams like the rangers 2 times. -- Eugene Mannarion (Bronx, N.Y.)
A. Eugene, I don't think the Bruins get to play the other Eastern Conference teams outside the Northeast division often enough. Other than that, I like the fact that they will play Western teams such as Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles et al twice a season, and I like it even more that the Bruins will have to play out of their conference to advance to the semifinals. I cannot wait for a better rivalry with the likes of the Maple Leafs, Sabres and maybe even a team in Quebec should the Coyotes eventually pack up shop in Phoenix and move to Canada. I think there was a reason there are only seven teams in the Bruins' new conference. I predict a new team will join the mix next season.
Q. How would you assess the progress (if any) of Patrice Bergeron's offensive game? He's a couple of years removed from serious concussions -- I'm not ignoring the one he sustained in last spring's playoffs -- and I'm curious to find out if you two think that part of his game is improving, regressing or staying about the same. (Full disclosure: I'm an unabashed fan of his game.) -- Grant Fleming (Toronto)
A. Grant, I think Bergeron has rounded out his game just fine during last season, the playoffs and this season. He is currently third in scoring on the Bruins, had 20 points in 23 playoff games during the Bruins' Cup run and had 57 points in the '10-11 regular season. I also like the fact that he is playing with the offensively gifted Tyler Seguin now and even Brad Marchand. I see Bergy's numbers consistently rising and think he is one of the best two-way players in the NHL.
Q. How much chance is there that Seguin alienates his teammates with his successful development and success? -- Davey (Mt. Shasta, Calif.)
A. Davey, this could become a very touchy subject for the Bruins. The healthy scratch Tuesday due to his missing a team breakfast and meeting for what both Claude Julien and Chiarelli said was not the first time tells me that maybe his teammates could be growing tired of his act. I know for a fact that Julien and Chiarelli value the input of captain Zdeno Chara and alternate captains Bergeron, Andrew Ference and Chris Kelly, and it appears that this time, perhaps Seguin's teammates didn't go to bat for him. This is surprising to an extent because I really felt that last season humbled the 19-year-old potential superstar, but it seems he still has some growing up to do. This is definitely a situation to keep a close eye on.
Q. I know being an agitator is part of Marchand's game, but I still think he needs to cool it sometimes. It's one thing to be an agitator and another thing to be dirty. I don't think Marchand IS dirty, but a play like the slew foot Monday on [the Penguins' Matt] Niskanen is pretty close. If he keeps that up, he's going to be even more on the ref's radar than he already is. -- Matty (Amherst, Mass.)
A. Matty, I'd have to agree, and you can bet Julien was none too happy with that dirty act by Marchand. Julien and Marchand have really developed a solid relationship, with Julien employing tough love with Marchand, who walks -- and, in my opinion, more often than not crosses -- that thin line between dirty and out of control. He needs to rid himself of the dirty plays like slew-footing but keep being a pest because that is his game. The one thing I worry about is if Marchand crosses the line with an opponent's star player; what will that team do to one of the Bruins' stars?
Q. Guys maybe it's just me, but it seems that Joe Corvo is a bust. I get that he "shoots" more than [Tomas] Kaberle did but he seems to be chasing just as many people in the defensive zone as Kaberle did. Do the Bruins need to upgrade their D-men to ensure a deep run in June. -- Matt (Whitman, Mass.)
A. Matt, As I pointed out above, I do think that is the one area the Bruins could still improve on by adding another defenseman who can help them offensively more than defensively. I wouldn't call Corvo a bust just yet, and he is looking more comfortable playing with Dennis Seidenberg. Have some patience there. However, I do expect to see a trade for a defenseman at some point.
Q. What's your take on Tyler Seguin missing the meeting? Is this something to be concerned about or just a young kid making an honest mistake that he'll learn from? -- Rick (Boston)
A. Rick, as I mentioned above and Julien and Chiarelli both pointed out, this was more than an honest mistake and has happened before. This is going to be a situation to monitor, and I hope for Seguin's and the Bruins' sake, Seguin gets the message.
Q. Tuukka Rask has played very well this season in limited playing time and has produced stats very close to those of Thomas. But still, Thomas seems to always get the support from the offense. Do you think the Bruins play harder in front of Thomas, or is it just a coincidence? -- Sean (Green Bay, Wis.)
A. Sean, that's a hard question to answer. Without offending Tuukka Rask, I'd have to say that it might very well be the case that the Bruins play harder in front of Thomas simply because of all he has done over the past year-plus and the level he's playing at. On the other hand, I think it should be noted that Rask seems to get starts against lesser teams (with the exception of Detroit) and those games are naturally harder for the team to get up for, so maybe that's the case. Either way, I think the Bruins have faith in Rask.
Q. Everyone's talking about this crazy run that the B's are on. As much as I'd love for it to go on forever, I know that's not realistic. What do you see as the biggest area that still needs improvement despite all the success that they've had recently? -- Rob (Knoxville, Tenn.)
A. Rob, I mentioned this above -- I really think the defense could use a boost offensively still and even more so on the power play. Other areas might need tinkering as the season goes on, but right now, that to me is the only visible weakness.
Q. Hi, How does the Krejci signing impact Tyler Seguin's future as a possible first line center and/or Bergeron's future? Thanks! -- Steve (San Diego)
A. Steve, I am on record here as saying I do still think -- even with the Bruins locking Krejci up to a three-year extension -- he might be the odd man out when all is said and done. Chiarelli will need to sign Marchand, Seguin, Milan Lucic and Jordan Caron, who will be restricted free agents in two summers. Tim Thomas and Nathan Horton can become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2013. There is the chance, of course, that any of those players could be dealt or signed to extensions before then. But my guess is that no matter what, Seguin is the priority and Krejci is very attractive at $5.25 million per season. However, if Krejci does get moved, it would have to be done before 2013, when a no-trade clause kicks in.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.