Early 2013-14 Grades for Each Boston Bruins Line
With their first handful of assessments behind them, the Boston Bruins lines are due for some grades.
Considering that the Bruins are just two points back of the Atlantic Division lead with a pair of games in hand, the class average is fairly high. However, there is a fair amount of variation between the groups.
Here is an early grade for each Boston line:
Line One: Lucic, Krejci, Iginla
Boston's top line has been it's most stable and effective trio throughout the early going.
Newcomer Jarome Iginla hitched up with longtime partners David Krejci and Milan Lucic at the beginning of training camp, and the results have been superb ever since.
Krejci and Lucic haven't shown any signs of missing departed winger Nathan Horton. The two are tied for the team-lead with six points each.
With three goals, Milan Lucic seems to have finally regained the elite regular season form that has eluded him since he scored 30 times back in 2010-11.
Iginla's numbers have lagged behind his linemates, but there is little cause for concern. Though the snake-bitten star has yet to score for his new team, he has peppered goalies with a team-leading 24 shots.
The legendary winger's 531st career tally cannot be far away. If he can start putting the puck in the net, this line will be very scary.
The group should continue to rack up minutes and points as the season goes on.
Line Two: Smith/Marchand, Bergeron, Eriksson
With Loui Eriksson coming to town in July, this line projected to be one of the best two-way units in the league. Although the early returns haven't been bad, there have been some growing pains.
Patrice Bergeron has been reliable as always with his well-known mixture of face-off dominance, back-checking brilliance and consistent point production.
Eriksson failed to get on the scoresheet in his first three outings, but he has two goals and an assist in his last four. The Swede's recent success has been sparked in part by the presence of Reilly Smith on the opposite wing.
Though Brad Marchand seemed to have plenty of job-security in the top-six after leading the Bruins in both goals (18) and points (36) last year, early-season stumbles resulted in him swapping roles with Smith.
Acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, Smith earned a third-line job out of camp and climbed up the depth chart with a series of strong showings. The former Miami Redhawk has five points in seven games and his plus-four rating is the best among Boston forwards.
Currently running a four game point streak, Smith won't give Marchand his job back without a fight.
This trio is trending way up right now, which is bad news for the rest of the Atlantic Division.
Line Three: Soderberg/Caron, Kelly, Marchand/Smith
It's still too early to grade the third line as head coach Claude Julien continues to shuffle wingers on either side of Chris Kelly.
Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith won the wing-work in camp, but a Soderberg injury stopped that trio from ever appearing together in a competitive game.
Jordan Caron took Soderberg's spot through the first six games of the season and played surprisingly well. The oft-criticized winger flashed some previously unseen offensive skill in the season's opening week. At times he was arguably Boston's most threatening player.
However, Caron managed to score just one goal in six games while failing to pick up any assists. He was scratched to make way for Soderberg's debut against Tampa Bay on October 19.
Reilly Smith played so well across from Caron that he earned a promotion after just a handful of games. In his place Brad Marchand has been unspectacular. Marchand has a minus-one rating and just one point since dropping into the bottom-six.
Despite all of the moving parts around him, Chris Kelly has performed nicely as the one constant. After scoring just three goals all of last season, the Bruins' alternate captain has found his scoring touch with three lamp-lighters in seven games.
He has yet to replace the goose egg in his assist column, but that should change soon if Marchand and Soderberg stay by his side.
Soderberg's play moving forward will be especially interesting. He was a goal-scoring machine in his native Sweden, but he has yet to score an NHL goal in seven career games.
The upside on Boston's third line is evident, but questions continue to be abound.
Line Four: Paille, Campbell, Thornton
It's been business as usual for Boston's beloved "Merlot Line", and that doesn't include a ton of offense.
The trio of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton have combined for a total of just two goals so far this season, but they have continued to provide their signature grit and energy.
Thornton is tied for the league lead with three fighting majors, and his line has continued to excel defensively.
Despite their lack of offense, not one of the Merlot-liners has a negative plus-minus rating.
While rare Thornton goals will always come as a surprise, Paille and Campbell ought to kick in a little offense as the season rolls on.
It will be interesting to see if Jordan Caron gets a look on the fourth line down the road.