Boston Bruins 2011-12: Nathan Horton and 5 Players Who Must Improve

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2011

Boston Bruins 2011-12: Nathan Horton and 5 Players Who Must Improve

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    The Boston Bruins have started off their Stanley Cup title defense poorly, and there are several players to blame for the team's bad start to the 2011-12 NHL season.

    Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic are not having the same success they had last season, and between the two they have one goal and three points.

    While the goaltending duo of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask has been very good, the team has not been able to help them out by scoring enough goals.

    Bruins head coach Claude Julien is mixing up the lines to find the best combinations as the team heads into a tough stretch with games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks.

    Let's look at five Bruins players who must step up and improve on their early-season performances. At the end of the slideshow, I will also unveil who is doing well for the Bruins so far.

Zdeno Chara

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    Boston Bruins defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara needs to be more of an offensive force for the team. Through six games he has zero points.

    His power-play performances have not been great, either, but to be fair, no one on the team is playing amazing with the man advantage.

    Chara is also the team leader in penalty minutes with 23, which isn't good because the Bruins need him on the ice as much as possible.

    With defenseman Adam McQuaid not able to play much this season with an injury/illness, the Bruins cannot afford to have Chara sitting in the box too much.

Benoit Pouliot

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    Benoit Pouliot was a cheap, one-year signing Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made this summer, and he was hoping that Julien could unlock the talent that made Pouliot the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft.

    So far in his brief Bruins tenure, Pouliot has been a massive disappointment. He has not been a factor offensively, he has not played with enough aggression and he isn't using his good size to his advantage.

    Pouliot has no points through six games and was scratched for the team's season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Chris Kelly

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    Chris Kelly needs to step up his game offensively; he has scored just one goal this season with no assists.

    It's possible that Kelly could play with the first line while usual top-line center David Krejci is out with an injury, but that would be a terrible idea.

    Kelly doesn't have the offensive skills to be a playmaker on the first line and create quality scoring chances for players such as Tyler Seguin.

    Kelly hasn't been terrible, but he certainly needs to play better.

Milan Lucic

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    Milan Lucic is one of the best power forwards in the NHL, but his offensive slump that was present for most of the the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs has followed him into this season.

    Lucic has just one assist on the season with no goals, and he has been unable to create enough quality scoring chances.

    Julien has been trying to find the right players to suit Lucic on the top line, and so far, Tyler Seguin has helped Lucic improve a bit since the young center moved to the top line in David Krejci's absence.

    Lucic was aggressive against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and seemed to want to fight his way out of his slump, but he needs to be better offensively and create chances for himself and his teammates with his toughness and high-pressure style of hockey.

Nathan Horton

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    Nathan Horton was the hero of the playoffs last season, but he has been a disappointment thus far this year, and he may even find himself demoted from the first line to the third line as soon as Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Horton has one goal and an assist through six games and hasn't been force on the power play, either.

    Like Lucic, he tried to fight his way out of his slump on Tuesday against the Hurricanes, but Horton needs to play with a little more of an edge and take his intensity to another level.

    Horton will score goals and will get better as the season progresses, but he has to be better than how he's playing right now, because the Bruins cannot ask their goaltenders to be perfect every night despite having two top goalies.

Players Who Are Actually Doing Well

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    There are a few Bruins players who are playing very well right now, and they deserve recognition for their impressive, early-season play.

    Forward: Tyler Seguin

    Tyler Seguin got stronger over the summer and it is showing in his game right now. He battles for pucks in the corners, hits people harder and is playing with a more physical edge than he was last season.

    Seguin leads team with five points on one goal and four assists. He has been the team's best offensive player thus far.

    Defenseman: Johnny Boychuk

    Johnny Boychuk has been a defensive bright spot for the Bruins in the early part of the season and even has two assists to his credit.

    He is also a plus-two.

    Goaltender: Tim Thomas

    Thomas has been brilliant this season, making many great saves, including stopping Chicago Blackhawks superstars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp all in a row in the team's shootout win at Chicago.

    Thomas is playing like a Vezina Trophy candidate again and is not at fault for the Bruins' poor play of late.

    For updates on all Bruins/NHL news throughout the season, follow Nick Goss on Twitter. 

    Nicholas Goss is a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report and was the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals in Boston.