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With the Bruins off to an up-and-down start, we dig into the mailbag and try to figure out what their problem is.
Q: What do you see as the biggest reason for Milan Lucic's struggles so far? To me it looks like he's a step behind, which impacts his physical play as much as anything and we all know how much better he is when he's physically involved? -- Howard (Springfield, Mass.)
A: You must have written prior to his three-point game against Toronto and his two-point outing against the Sharks on Saturday. But those games only validate your point because in the last two games, Lucic has been doing exactly what you said makes him an effective player. He is using his size, skating and physical presence to contribute offensively. When Lucic gets his legs moving -- as he has in the last two games -- and barrels down the ice going north-south, he is at his best.
For the first six games, Lucic was trying to play too much of a perimeter game, but the last two he's been driving along the boards and cutting to the net. The question is, can he continue to do this every game. If he is willing to pay the price to play that way, he should be able to approach or even exceed his career-high 30 goals of last season.
Q: Obviously it's early, but maybe this idea that the Bruins wouldn't miss any of the players they lost was a little off? Ryder and Recchi weren't superstars, but they were each solid offensive players. To me, Caron and Poulliot seem more like fourth-line guys at this point. I'm just not sure they contribute enough on offense to be regulars in the top three lines? -- Jimmy (Hingham, Mass.)
A: I'll be the first to admit that I thought by now, Jordan Caron would have found a permanent spot in the lineup. He has the potential to be a prototypical Claude Julien player. Size, speed and the potential to be a solid net-front presence. But for some reason Caron just can't seem to handle the daily grind of the NHL and he has been sent down to Providence after making the team out of camp.
As for Benoit Pouliot, I originally agreed with your assessment but he has proven me wrong thus far. He has been consistent with his effort and physical presence, and also is being a thorn in the opponents' side, drawing numerous penalties. So far he has earned his keep on the third line.
As far as the Bruins missing Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi, I do believe they're missing Recchi but not necessarily Ryder. Ryder was very inconsistent, but did come alive in the playoffs. But Recchi's leadership, net-front presence and power-play expertise is sorely missed. All those attributes are something the Bruins could use as they have stumbled out of the gate. The Stanley Cup hangover is no joke and the Bruins are finding that out first-hand. I believe if Recchi was here, they would be reacting better.
Q: I know that there are aspects to Phil Kessel's game that aren't ideal, but this idea that the Bruins robbed the Leafs by getting Seguin (I know it wasn't just Seguin) seems a little off. For one thing, Seguin isn't cheap ($3.55 million on the cap) and Kessel is clearly a better player right now. I'd even argue he's what the Bruins are truly lacking -- a sniper. -- Nathan (Natick, Mass.)
A: While I agree with you that the Bruins could use a natural sniper like Phil Kessel, I still don't think his streaky play and attitude could help this team. The Bruins are very similar to the Patriots dynasty that won three Super Bowls as a result of Tom Brady and everyone buying into Bill Belichik's coaching system. The core and the pieces added since have bought into Claude Julien's system since he took over the bench in the 2007-08 season, and that is why they finally won the Stanley Cup last season. When you have talented malcontents (think Randy Moss) like Kessel, you may win more regular-season games but when it counts, you need everyone buying in and that's what the Bruins had last season.
|Tyler Seguin arguably has been the Bruins' most consistent player of the young season.|
That is why I believe they did win out in the Kessel trade. They got a potential superstar in Tyler Seguin, a possible cornerstone defenseman in Dougie Hamilton and plenty of talented prospects, all while ridding themselves of a player that didn't want to play for Julien.
Q: The Bruins seem to be having trouble staying on the right side of that fine line between aggressive physical play and undisciplined play. Do you think they are having a tough time with the tougher application of the rules by the officials so far this season? -- Gord (Montreal)
A: I don't think it is so much a matter of the way the game is being called but more of the Bruins simply controlling their emotions and picking their spots. The perfect example of this happened this past week in the 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes and the 6-2 win over the Maple Leafs. In the latter, the Bruins decided to use their physicality and emotions to unload their frustrations rather than use them in a calculated approach to set the tone for a game as they did in that win over Toronto. There is no doubt that the Bruins feed off their physical edge and they can still do so even in an NHL that is clamping down on border-line hits and headshots. They just need to know when the right time is and not use it as a reaction but rather an action.
Q: I like Rich Peverley -- a lot. But I think it's absolutely insane to play anyone other than Tyler Seguin on the second line. Why not stick him in there with Marchand and Bergeron and let them grow together? I could see those three tearing it up together for the next 10-15 years. Am I wrong? -- Liam (Melrose, Mass.)
A: I am a big Rich Peverley fan as well, largely because he is so versatile he can be slotted anywhere and he'll fit right in. I think that is why you saw Julien do that to start the season. His speed, two-way game and experience were the perfect fit for Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. That being said, I don't disagree with your opinion on Tyler Seguin fitting in on that line as well. Due to the salary cap and Marchand's agent, who for whatever reason thought he could play hardball after one good year for his client, I'm not sure about the next 10 or 15 years though.
But as for now and the foreseeable future, that trio could be a top line on any team. I think what you're seeing now is that Julien is still making Seguin earn his playing time, which is exactly what he is doing thus far. He arguably has been the Bruins' most consistent player and is really coming into his own. That's why eventually I believe you will see your suggested line of him with Bergeron and Marchand -- and it will be a very dangerous line.
Q: I have always thought that having both Lucic and Horton on the first line was a mistake. If I created lines, my strategy would be to have a center, a speed/playmaking winger and a power forward make up the front lines. Lucic and Horton, although they play on opposite sides, play a very similar game. I think having both on the PP will work but I'd like to see them split the lines and to reflect Lucic-Krejci-Seguin, Marchand-Bergeron-Horton, Poulet-Kelly-Peverley for the future. Peverley and Seguin can be switched, but I think Seguin offers a higher offensive upside. -- Eric (Weymouth, Mass.)
A: I see your point and I agree that it is wise to use your depth but at the same time, I like the idea of the relatively smaller David Krejci having two big wingers to dish to. I think that the security of two bangers on his wings gives Krejci the confidence and security to utilize his crafty skills. Krejci's injury combined with the Stanley Cup hangover prevented this line from finding its groove right off the bat, but if they're put together again and given a chance, I see them being just as good as they were last season, if not better.
Q: I know he's still a little raw, but I like the way Kampfer plays. That said, do you see him getting any PT once McQuaid is back and healthy? -- Matt (New York)
A: I am a big fan of Steven Kampfer's puck-moving skills and offensive upside. However, I'll be honest, his play in his own end needs plenty of work and the first two games were a clear confirmation of that. Kampfer needs to maintain his bread and butter as a slick puck-mover, but at the same time he really needs to top forcing the pass up ice and read the play better. He has been a turnover machine in his first two games this season and he was that way last season before getting hurt. If he can tighten up his defensive game he can be a very effective defenseman in today's game. Right now though, as you said, he's very raw.
Q: How would you evaluate Joe Corvo after a few weeks of games? -- Billy (Vermont)
A: While his plus-minus hasn't exactly been where he or the Bruins would like it to be, Joe Corvo wasn't exactly brought in for that. Corvo knows why the Bruins traded for him: to improve their power play. So considering the fact that two of his three assists have come on the man-advantage, Corvo is fitting in just fine. Will it take time for the offensive-minded Corvo to fit into the defensive-minded system of Julien? Yes. But right now, I'm pretty satisfied with not only how Corvo has done but also with his physicality. He has shown an edge to his game that fits right in with the physical Bruins.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.