Positives and Negatives from the Start of the Boston Bruins' 2013 Season
Following an encouraging 3-0-1 start to the lockout-shortened season, the Boston Bruins look set to take hold of the Northeast Division.
One of just four teams yet to lose in regulation, the Bruins are surging into midseason form, while some playoff hopefuls have limped out of the gates.
With every point magnified by the 48-game format, Boston has plenty to be proud of, but a few areas of concern remain.
Here is a look at the positives and negatives from Boston's first week of action:
Positive: Tuukka Rask's Excellence in Net
With Tim Thomas' retreat into a mysterious Colorado bunker calling Boston's goaltending into question, Tuukka Rask has answered the bell with a hot start to the season.
The 25-year-old netminder has long been groomed to take over the Boston crease, but has been forced to sit quietly behind the out-spoken Thomas for the past two seasons.
Many forget that it was Rask, who led the NHL in both goals-against average and save percentage during his rookie season back in 2009-10. The following season Thomas usurped the rising star with a Vezina-winning campaign capped off with the Stanley Cup.
Now firmly established as Boston's No. 1 goaltender, Rask has thrived. He has started all four of Boston's games and posted an impressive 1.95 GAA and .926 SV%.
Already at the top of his game, following a sparkling lockout stint with the Czech Republic's HC Plzen, Rask looks primed to carry the Bruins for the rest of the season.
Backed up by the unproven Anton Khudobin, Rask should see the lion's share of the starts, and at his current clip he should convert those opportunities into quite a few wins and possibly a solid Vezina candidacy.
Negative: Tyler Seguin's Scoring Drought
After leading Switzerland's National League A with an eye-popping 25 goals, during a lockout stint with EHC Biel, Tyler Seguin looked set for a huge season.
Despite soaring expectations, Seguin has yet to find the back of the net. After leading the Bruins in both goals (29) and points (67) in just his second season a year ago, the explosive talent has mustered just one point in four games.
Despite his absence from the scoresheet, Seguin has looked very good on the ice. His conditioning is clearly there, and he has showed off his elite speed and vision a number of times, turning intercepted passes into breakaways or odd-man rushes.
He is tied for second on the Bruins in shots-on-goal with 11, and he has produced some of Boston's most threatening chances. However, Henrik Lundqvist, Ondrej Pavelec and Rick DiPietro have robbed him each time.
Eventually, the speedy sniper will inevitably break his duck, at which point the goals could start pouring into the net. Until then, coach Claude Julien will hope that his young star will continue to improve his team-leading plus-4 rating.
Positive: Dougie Hamilton's Instant Success
Selected ninth overall in the 2011 draft, Dougie Hamilton arrived in Boston with mountains of hype, and luckily for the Bruins, the 19-year old played largely as advertised.
Following a two-point effort to lead the Bruins past the New York Islanders, the puck-moving defenseman is tied for the team lead with three points. The 6'5" monster has also registered eight hits and three blocked shots, while making a consistent contribution in his own zone.
Despite his age, Hamilton's maturity and poise have drawn rave reviews from coach Claude Julien. Though notoriously conservative with his rookies, Julien has deployed Hamilton with the utmost confidence.
The Ontario Hockey League product is currently seeing roughly 18 minutes of ice time per game, and he even found himself paired with Zdeno Chara against Winnipeg on January 21. If his big shot and great vision can help to invigorate Boston's anemic power play, then Hamilton's star could rise very quickly.
Though St. Louis' Vladimir Tarasenko has jumped out to a big early lead in the Calder Trophy race, Hamilton has shown the ability necessary to close the gap in the battle for top rookie honors.
Negative: The Sputtering Power Play
After four games, Boston's oft-criticized power play has mustered only one goal on 17 power-play opportunities. The struggling unit's ugly 5.9 percent success rate with the man-advantage ranks second to last in the NHL.
For some reason, Boston's elite offense seems to take a giant step backward with an opponent in the box. So far this season, the unit looks completely discombobulated, with skaters consistently mishandling the puck and making errant passes.
The absence of poise has been nightmarish, with urgency and chemistry also lacking.
A few goals from Tyler Seguin would certainly help, but while the 20-year-old star languishes in a goal-scoring slump, nobody has shown an urge to step up and fill the void.
Rookie Dougie Hamilton has been the lone bright spot, assisting Brad Marchand on the team's only power-play goal and showing the greatest comfort level in the quarterback role. The big defenseman's laser beams from the point have been encouraging, with their ability to create havoc around the crease.
Moving forward, Boston must increase their pace on the man-advantage and cut the rampant hesitation. Hopefully, as players reestablish their timing the passing will become crisper and scoring chances will follow.
However, it does not seem likely that any opponent will be afraid of parading to the penalty box at the TD Garden.
Positive: Fourth Line Scoring
While the power play has failed to produce, Boston's checking line has picked up the slack.
The fourth line trio of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton has offered up more than their fair share of offense to get the Bruins rolling in 2013.
Grinding center Gregory Campbell, four years removed from a modest career-high 32 points, is tied for the Bruins' team lead with three points.
Paille and Thornton have combined for another three, putting the trio on level-pegging with Boston's top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin.
Known for gritty play, rather than pretty goals, the fourth liners are not likely to own big stat lines at season's end, but they are proving themselves to be reliable when called upon.
Negative: Sluggish Starts
Though it is far from a major concern, the Bruins have looked their weakest in the first period of games so far this season.
Four of the eight goals surrendered by Tuukka Rask have come in the first period, while the Bruins have netted just three.
In their only loss, Boston spotted the New York Rangers a two goal lead in the first before forcing overtime with a furious comeback. Despite playing well in the final two periods, the Bruins learned how difficult it is to win without scoring the first goal.
Though they haven't been particularly horrible in the opening frame, Claude Julien's boys have exhibited more energy after the first intermission. As games go on, they tend to show greater poise, with sharper passing and better decision making.
If the Bruins can step on to the ice hot moving forward, they'll have an easier time avoiding the grueling work of erasing a deficit with time ticking away.
Positive: The Lack of Injuries
With one week of the shortened season behind them, the Bruins remain at full strength. Unlike Eastern Conference foes the Philadelphia Flyers, who are reeling from injuries to Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, the Bruins are still capable of fielding their ideal lineup.
Winger Nathan Horton, who missed much of last season due to a concussion caused by Philadelphia's Tom Sestito, has looked excellent in his return with a goal and assist in four games. If Horton can remain concussion free, he is set to have a huge year while shooting for a big summer contract.
Defenseman Adam McQuaid has also looked strong despite offseason surgery. McQuaid won a race against time to make the opening day lineup, and his health problems seem to be behind him.
Dennis Seidenberg is the only Bruin to miss action due to injury this season. He suffered a minor upper body problem in the season opener and sat out the following two games before returning to action on Friday.
In a shortened season, injuries will take an exaggerated toll, and the Bruins would be tremendously lucky to stay this healthy in the coming months.