The Bruins roared out to a 5-0-1 start looking like the team that brought Boston its first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years. But Thursday, the Buffalo Sabres brought them back to earth and reminded them and Bruins fans that the Northeast Division won't be a cakewalk. The Sabres exposed the team defense of the Bruins and, as Tuukka Rask said after the 7-4 loss, gave him neck strain with so many red lights going off.
But that game aside, there is still plenty to be happy about if you're a Bruins fan. From Dougie Hamilton to the healthy and productive start for Nathan Horton, as well as Horton and his linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic finding their chemistry again, the team has looked solid overall. But there are still some question marks, such as what to do on the third line with a left wing slot that Chris Bourque doesn't seem ready for. Also, can Rask survive the rigors of being the top guy between the pipes? And can the power play ever get going?
We'll answer all those burning questions and more. Let's begin
Q. Hey Murph, just busting your chops a little, but not looking so good with all that "Milan Lucic is out of shape talk," huh? You were beating that drum pretty hard. He might only have 4 points, but outside of Rask (and maybe Zdeno Chara), I think he's been the B's best player so far. Look at a game like the one against Carolina -- he didn't have any points, but he played a huge role in a number of Boston's goals. And really, while I'm focusing on Lucic, that whole line has been really good. When Lucic and Horton are both skating, there can't be a tougher line in the league to play against, can there? -- Bill J. (Boston)
I think you may have me confused with another reporter. I was actually quite defensive of Milan Lucic with those "out of shape" accusations. In fact, No. 17 thanked me for not piling on like others. Anyhow, I completely agree with you that Lucic has been great so far. In fact, he has easily been the Bruins' most effective player, combining his physical prowess and goal scoring to be the power forward the Bruins know he can be. As for Lucic, Horton and Krejci being the toughest line to play against in the NHL, I'd say it's right up there. Krejci is obviously a different and more confident player with both of those big bodies out there with him -- as we saw against Buffalo when instead of looking to dish the puck, he drove to the net and scored. As you said, when those two wingers are healthy and skating hard, there isn't much opposing defenses can do.
Q. I know Dougie Hamilton was highly touted, but even the Bruins have to be a little surprised by how good he's been, don't you think? -- Matt B. (Hadley, Mass.)
A. Matt, the Bruins definitely had high expectations for Hamilton coming into this season, as they repeatedly told the media a spot on the team was Hamilton's to lose. So far he has done everything to keep it and, yes, even exceeded those high expectations. No one was questioning his skill and potential, but the way in which he has been able to utilize that in every game thus far has been astonishing. He has the poise and vision of a veteran, and to think he is only 19 is scary. It's still early, but the Bruins seem to have the heir apparent to the blue-liner throne for when Zdeno Chara exits.
Q. Murph, I know [Chris] Bourque is deserving of a shot, and that Jay Pandolfo essentially has the next crack at his spot on the third line. My question is why have the Bruins not made a play for Andrew Brunette? Ever since [Benoit] Pouliot signed with Tampa Bay, I've felt he'd be a great fit on a line with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. He'd fill the same veteran leadership role as Pandolfo, but with significantly greater offensive upside. The guy's playing shinny somewhere right now; could we not get him for a song? -- Joe (Los Angeles)
A. Interesting proposal you make there. I've always been a fan of Andrew Brunette. I think back to that great playoff run he had with the Wild in 2003 when he had 13 points in 18 games and helped the Wild to the Western Conference finals. But even though only three seasons ago he was showing that knack for the net with 25 goals, he is 39 now and there's a reason he hasn't been signed yet. He would bring veteran leadership but the Bruins are pretty good in that department and I think at this point if they're to replace Chris Bourque on the third line they may do so with Daniel Paille, who was in that slot Thursday against the Sabres and grabbed an assist on a Rich Peverley goal. They also still may sign Pandolfo, who I really think could help this team.
Q. Great job covering the B's! With this sprint to the finish, what area do you think the B's could improve on the roster? Also, why has the power play been so terrible for so long? How can a team that is one of the best at 5-on-5 be one of the worst on the power play? You would think just by luck over the last four years they would have gotten a little better? I think the bad power play could be their downfall. -- Pete (Tampa, Fla.)
A. Pete, thanks for the praise and I agree with you on the power play. It's an enigma that a perennial Cup contender could be so woeful on the power play, but just look at the Bruins and Kings, both Cup champs minus a power play. So I wouldn't be too worried about it. I think the man advantage has looked a lot better this season, as they're moving the puck around better and not getting too cute. As for where they can improve, I'd say on the left wing of the third line. Also, I think the bottom three of their defense could improve.
Q. What's the deal with Marc Savard's impact on the cap? If putting him on LTIR would make cap space, why not do it? What am I missing? -- Brian (Anchorage, Alaska)
A. Brian, according to an NHL scout I spoke to after reading your question, the Bruins have until the NHL trade deadline, April 6, to place Savard on LTIR and use that cap space. Not sure why teams don't just do it, but they can wait until then or when they need it.
Q. Barry Melrose says the Bruins look like they could have another championship year. Do you agree? I still worry about their weak power play and their goaltending depth. I don't really trust [Anton] Khudobin in big moments. Rask looks good, but won't he get burned out? Thoughts? -- JT (Lewiston, Maine)
I'm not so worried about their power play as both they and the Kings proved you don't need one to win a Stanley Cup. As for goaltending depth, I agree with you on Rask. I am not sold on his durability, especially with a history of groin injuries. I'm also not sold on Anton Khudobin, either. But I do like what I've seen from Nicklas Svedberg and think he is the real deal, so there is some depth. Still, a veteran goalie could help as well.
Q. I thought heading into the season that the Northeast would be easy pickings for the Bruins, but with Ottawa and Montreal both off to fast starts (and the Sabres beating the B's), maybe not. Do you think anyone else in the Northeast will be able to hang with the Bruins for the whole season? -- Carl (Waltham, Mass.)
A. Carl, I actually felt it would be a lot harder than many thought. Both Buffalo and Montreal improved their team toughness and had skill already in place, and Ottawa had a great season last year and is a team on the rise with a strong core of youth. I think this is going to be a very competitive division, but I still like the Bruins to come out on top.