The Providence Bruins have been eliminated from post season play before they even get there for the second time in a row, the question of who’s going to join the big club for the second season. A look at Boston’s needs is probably the best way to eliminate players as despite their performance as a team, several players could make great accessories to an already strong team.

The Bruins powerplay is its most notable weakness, and with all respect to Trent Whitfield, I don’t think he’s the guy to juice an NHL powerplay in the post season. His shot just isn’t NHL level. The two players behind him are Jordan Caron, and Jamie Arniel. Each player had five powerplay goals in Providence this year. Arniel has already hit the twenty goal mark with several games to play and leads the team in goals, points and shots on goal while having a sordid -14. Caron who spent a score of games in Boston had an up and down season, but was also a big part of the penalty kill while in Boston. Either or both could be called up, possibly before the season ends if Thornton’s injury keeps him off the ice for a time.

Depth at defense has been a buzzword since the advent of the Chiarelli administration, I suspect that with Shane Hnidy signed any defenseman brought up will be lucking to get shifts in practice much less games without a multiple major injuries. Yury Alexandrov and Matt Bartkowski each have five goals thus far. While Bartkowski has been called up more than once already this year and this is Alexandrov’s first season in North America, but is a great skater with high end passing ability.

Other guys who could see time in the post season are Zach Hamill who will looked good in Boston (when not playing with Wheeler) and showed a bit more grit than many expected. Max Suave, who had an injury shortened season but who possesses a wicked shot has a solid chance of making it to the big dance.  Suave is also a slick skater who despite a spring ankle surgery managed to stay well into the regular camp this year, he’s among the few Providence Bruins with a positive +/- at +4, and had a four powerplay goals.

Long shots that would say interesting things, but essentially require serious injury to key Boston players include the recent acquired Boris Valabik, newly minted pro Ryan Button (@Buttsy78), and Colby Cohen who was picked up in exchange for Matt Hunwick in something that rhymes with “calorie sump”. Forwards are led by Jeremy Reich, the aforementioned Trent Whitfield, and the under the radar Kirk MacDonald who is currently third in scoring and fourth in goals.

Max Pacioretty states he believes the NHL should have given Chara some sort of suspension for the routine hockey play that resulted in his own injury.

As my grandmother used to say For every finger you point, three point back at you.

For long time fans of Marc Savard, this press conference was scary on a number of levels. Obviously Savard’s health does come first, and it’s alarming in the extreme to watch a guy who normally burbles and rarely stop talking even long enough to breathe, stumble over words, and speak in a slow staccato. Savard as we all know normally speaks confidently, with humor, and energy. When he talked about feeling normal during the game before he was hit by former teammate Matt Hunwick. Savard does not blame Hunwick, and states that Matt has contacted him not once, but twice.

With his ability to track questions, and dodge them I’m less anxious about this being a career ending injury than I was before the conference.  Chiarelli states he definitely feels there is an equipment issue that needs to be addressed.  I suspect we’ll see some changes to the NHL’s equipment by the time next season starts.  Peter also said he is taking a look at Zach Hamill as a center, but hesitated only a moment before saying they were hoping to make a long run in the playoffs, and might want an experienced player.

One other bit of nonsense that can be brushed aside as pure idiocy is the nonsense about his being unpopular. Chara, Bergeron, and Recchi were all in attendance, Kampfer was there to help him off the ice and Matt Hunwick a former teammate contacted him not one but twice.

While I don’t particularly see Moulson as a likely Bruins acquisition there are several reasons he might be a good fit. Chief among them are that he’s a natural left wing. Currently the only one of those we have is Milan Lucic. Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, Blake Wheeler, Nathan Horton, and Shawn Thornton are all most comfortable on the right. Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin have played all three positions at one point or another. Patrice Bergeron was drafted at right wing where David Krejci has also played on the right.

Other markers in Moulson’s favor as a Bruin are his having reasonable size at six one and two ten. He’s a former 30 goal man, and at 26 he’d slide smoothly into the age bracket of the Bruins core.

Based on what the Islanders need most one a solid defenseman, and a good second center. Realistically this could mean Krejci or Boychuck going back. Moulson and Boychuck are both UFA’s this summer, Krejci still had one more year and is still an RFA at the end of his deal. Aside from the salary a straight Boychuck for Moulson deal is a potential plus for both teams.

A more interesting deal might involve two forwards such as Wheeler and or Krejci and or Paille for Moulson. This would clear more cap space and allow one of the hard working prospects in Providence back on the scene with time on the clock before the deadline for any further tweaking.

2nd quarter started for the Bruins with their 11/26 game against the Carolina Hurricanes and ran through game 41 1/10 against the Penguins. The team sits at first in the division, having served themselves nuked Penguins twice in the past month.

Zdeno Chara: B+, like Bergeron a minus player in just three games in the first quarter. Leads the defense in points, goals, time on ice, leads the Bruins in shots on goals. Still needs to be more menacing. McQuaid and Stuart should not be providing the majority of the blueline snarl.

Mark Stuart: Incomplete: Injured.

Matt Bartowski: 1 game, played unremarkably. No grade.

Johnny Boychuck: C-. Still not shooting well, has zero goals, and only seven assists on the season. He has played reasonably well defensively, but if there is one defensemen on the squad who can help bring the team into the top third of the NHL in scoring, its Boychuck.

Andrew Ference: A- played far less with Chara and more with McQuaid, and still maintained a high +/-. Physical, fast and not afraid to drop the gloves for any team mate.

Adam McQuaid: B has quietly picked up the role of assistant enforcer, and has played solid defense. With only sixteen shots on goal, needs to remember what percent of shots not taken don’t go in.

Steve Kampfer (Rookie): B+  The growth curve on this kid has been scary. He was a late cut from camp, wore the C in the rookie games, and then spent the first quarter of the year in Providence. Has played 15 NHL games and has only been a minus player once.  If he keeps developing, someone else becomes expendable.

Dennis Seidenberg:  B, somehow, very, stealthily you’ve crept into 2nd in scoring for Bruins defensemen. The physical play and smart defense are good, but a look at the game logs will show he needs to be more on his game against physical opponents.

Tuukka Rask: C+ has half his win total in the tail end of the quarter, oddly his Sv% is his third best on the year.

Tim Thomas: A, Duh.

2nd quarter started for the Bruins with their 11/26 game against the Carolina Hurricanes and ran through game 41 1/10 against the Penguins. The team sits at first in the division, having served themselves nuked Penguins twice in the past month.

Patrice Bergeron A. Handsdown the Bruins best skater, and probably the best player across this span. Has 14 points in his last twelve games, has only been a minus in 3 of the 21 games. Ends the quarter atop the Bruins scoring stack with powerplay, shorthanded, and even strength goals. Has brought his Fo% to over 54% on the season, enough to not only make him the only guy on the team over 50% on the season, but among the faceoff leaders for the NHL.

David Krejci C. In five games since the calender turned has yet to record a single point. Has been a minus player in 5 games this quarter. Had a mostly solid December, with 13 points in 14 games, and a +8. He also had a spirited fight with Michael Cammalleri of the Montreal Canadiens, and was involved in the post buzzer scrum in Buffalo. If if weren’t for his engagement away from the puck his grade would be lower.

Marc Savard (Note this grade adjusted for post concussion return) C. Savard offensively is probably slightly ahead of where Bergeron was at the same point in his return. His other areas are still notably behind the curve, but then offense has always been Savards meat and potatoes, the rest of his arsenal are more recent acquisitions and will probably take the most time to get back to par. Last year for example, Savard played about 1:03 per game shorthanded, this year it’s about seven seconds a game.

Greg Campbell: B I could almost copy his first quarter report card and paste it here. Biggest difference is he has taken far fewer penalties. He has scored less, but part of that is less ice time. In October and early November there are plenty of games of 16+ minutes of TOI, in the 2nd Quarter he has only 3 games over 15 minutes at all.

Tyler Seguin (Rookie):  C+ has gotten better at using his linemates, and is also more aware of all the players on the ice in all three zones. Has spent time on multiple lines, good effort most lines, but needs to uses his speed better. He’s got high end speed even for the NHL, but is often skating at the same speed as opponents. When he explodes at an opponent he’s quite likely to come up with the puck.

Milan Lucic: B-, before looking at the stats I was prepared to write a rip job, and while all the things I noted are true a look at the numbers say there’s little to not difference between the guy who is currently second on the team in points, and the guy who was first in the team in points half a month ago. No, he hasn’t looked good since the start of the year, but he’s also been skating with the still recovering Savard, and the clearly nursing an upper body injury Nathan Horton. Needs to be more intimidating, needs to decide to pick the team up and carry them once or twice a month.

Shawn Thornton: B, he should probably have beaten Matt Cooke down again if given the opportunity,  is doing everything you can ask of your enforcer and more, has been very consistent in both taking other teams goons off the ice, and not taking stupid penalties of his own.

Daniel Paille C, has finally earned his way back into the lineup, sorta. Hasn’t shown himself to be as effective as last year, but not really a liability.

Nathan Horton: C, hasn’t scored a powerplay goal since November. But has dished the puck relatively well, and has at least kept passing well during his recent nagging injury. With luck he can jump back into the fray when he returns, He hasn’t quite made it to the level of scapegoat, but his star is not so well polished as it once was.

Mark Recchi: C+ despite a December that was a downturn over November, he’s on pace for more points (but two fewer goals) than last season.  Like Bergeron was only a minus player three times in 2nd Quarter, none more than a -1.  Is taking more penalties right now than earlier in the year.

Blake Wheeler: C+ Consistently strong effort, but his timing on shots is just slightly off. He’s on pace for a nearly identical points total to last year, with a better plus minus. If the Bruin’s were to lose another defenseman I would actually be in favor of trying him on the blueline for a while. He’s developed enough of an edge to be sixth in hits for Bruins forwards, and has the ability to pass and skate the puck out of the zone. Had one more goal in 2nd Quarter than first, has been reunited (to mixed success) with Ryder and Krejci once or twice this season.

Michael Ryder: B- Needs to both hit and shoot more. He’s currently third in goals, and sixth in points and assists.  Has two of the teams game winners in 2nd quarter, has been most productive on the powerplay, and has recently been cycled through Savard’s wing at even strength.

Brad Marchand: B+ After Bergeron has been the most consistent forward. Just for comparison, last season in 20 games he had 1 point, and was a -3, in 2nd quarter in 8 points and +7. Has been earned his way off a very effective fourth line. The Bruins could do worse than to have him keeping the pressure on other, higher salaried players. Could probably stand to be a touch more obnoxious and draw some more penalties.

When you look at all the uncertainties coming into the season:
Thomas’s hip
Krejci wrist
Rasks head or heart
Salary Cap woes
Savards concussion

There’s not to much to be hugely upset about at the halfway point of the year. Sure there is lots of stuff not to like, but few things one should be able to work up a good tirade on. We’ll go into those in the second quarter grades.

The one thing I’ve come to revile about this years rendition of the Boston Bruins is localized in two players I really like overall: Zdeno Chara, and Milan Lucic.

Watching Chara this year is like a flashback to the Dave Lewis era, and Lucic is no better. For whatever reason Chara and Lucic both seem to have their gloves glued on. Sadly this means they are taking a big, big weapon away from themselves:Fear.

Both are big men capable of hurling their bodies at opponents like a wrecking ball. Both are at their greatest advantage when smaller, less aggressive opposing players try to play from the ends of their own shorter reach.

In the past the frequent spectacle of Milan Lucic slating to a puck only to have his opponents recoil from his footsteps well before they could feel one of his body wrecking hits was exciting. It was very nearly as invigorating as watching him turn unprepared opponents inside out. We don’t see that anymore. We also don’t see him dropping the gloves, pounding the enemy bloody and bringing the crowd to its feet as some poor fool has dropped to his knees.

Once upon a time, I used to greatly enjoy seeing players on the other squad scramble into the opposite corner from the side Chara was playing. At that remote point in history, it didn’t matter if it was Mark Stuart, who is no slouch himself, the zippy and feisty Andrew Ference, Aaron Ward or anyone else sharing the blueline with Chara. It was clockwork, opponents would look up ice, take in the behemoth and carefully, smoothly tuck the puck into the other corner where it was safer to go get it. Now, not so much.

So far this season guys like Mark Recchi and David Krejci who have formally been able to expect the mere presence of these two go a long way towards alleviating the types of dirty play they are subjected to this year. Entering this season Recchi hadn’t had a fight in years, he dropped the gloves against a member of the Senators. In his NHL career David Krejci had never taken an opportunity to take someone to the woodshed until he too was pushed beyond his tolerance by the shenanigans of Montreal’s Cammalleri. As the NHL’s oldest player, Recchi shouldn’t have to drop his gloves for any reason but excess moisture. David Krejci looks like he could be used to pick a lock at the start of the season, and by seasons end generally looks like no more than two first class stamps could provide his airfare back to Sternberk. While in the words of one of my favorite Fists of God, especially in comparison to Lucic and Chara Krejci and Recchi are “tiny but fierce”, both should be making opponents pay for their sins with slick passes and neat goals, not with their fists.

Both Chara and Lucic need to step up, tip the stetson back look the first man to step out of line dead in the eye and open up the gates of hell. Neither man, however much they contribute is giving their team their utmost if their menace, if at all, is all of the phantom variety.

With Mark Stuart on the shelf until as late as February recent Bruins acquisition Steve Kampfer is in. Mark Stuart blocked a shot early in the Bruins over time win against the Buffalo Sabres. While this is the second broken hand for Stuart in two years, entering last season Boston’s “Caveman” was the team ironman.  With the stats updated through last nights game, Stuart is just one blocked shot below Captain Zdeno Chara, and in third overall.

Kampfer is a Michigan native, and like Stuart came up through the college ranks instead of heading north to play major juniors. Listed at 197lbs, he’s larger than either Ference or McQuaid and gives the team three sub 200lb blueliners. With Boychuck and McQuaid totaling a spare 105 NHL games and now Kampfer added to the mix, one has to wonder how long the Bruins defense can remain the NHL’s stingiest.

On the plus side Kampfer was among the last cuts made from the NHL roster at the end of the preseason. More importantly he hasn’t spent any time sulking. Like Jamie Arniel who had a cameo earlier this season, Kampfer took the time in Providence to prove it wasn’t where he belongs. At the time of his recall Kamfer was second overall in team scoring, first in defensemen, and first in assists. His stat line of 3-13-16 +10 is good enough to be tied for sixth in AHL defensemen scoring.  The first year pro was also tied for 8th in rookie scoring in the AHL.

If Kampfer can achieve a similar level of performance in the NHL, he might just jump into the Calder Trophy race. Given the nature of the Bruins defense, more injuries are not a probability, but a certainty. Hell, if he plays well enough one or more of the current top six could find themselves sent packing. Despite his frequent pairings with Chara in the preseason, I’d expect that he probably won’t see more than 12-15 minutes a night over his first half dozen games if there are no other injuries.

Two men are standing head and shoulders above the competition this year in the NHL. No, I’m not talking about Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers who can probably shake hands from opposing bluelines. I’m talking about two players simply dominating their positions and contributing to a revitalization of their team, and division. Both are chasing records, both have had their names on the tips of peoples tongues for the last year or so. I’m talking of course about budding hockey icon Steven Stamkos and the sixth oldest goalie in the NHL this season, Tim Thomas.

With a very hush-hush hip injury, and a broken hand that received better press, it’s safe to say Tim Thomas’s year last season might not have been very pleasant. Add to it the fact that everyone expected him to be the undisputed starter working fifty five to sixty games, and being in the hunt for a Vezina for a second straight year and you might get the idea that in the season he did have unpleasant moments were the highlights. Losing his confidence, his starting role and his dream of winning Gold at the Olympics there wasn’t much that didn’t go wrong for Thomas. Capping it off glued to the bench while his team crashed and burned in the playoffs probably means that despite stomping through the early goings of the season, he still hasn’t gotten the bad taste out of his mouth.

Knowing now how unhealthy Thomas was all last year, its hard to remember the form that took him to the Vezina trophy the season before. Well, hard unless you’ve seen him play this season. In that 2008-2009 season where he not only lead the league in goals against and save percentage, but improved both numbers through two playoff series he had just five shutouts.  In fifty four appearances he had a shutout about every ten games. He finished the regular season with a .933 Sv%, and a 2.10 GAA. He went eleven games in the postseason with .935GAA and 1.85 GAA. All impressive numbers. This seasons through 16 starts, he’s averaging a shutout about every three games. After stonewalling the highest scoring team in the eastern conference, the Philadelphia Flyers, he’s once again in the familiar position of being on top of the league in Sv%, with a .955, and GAA with a tiny 1.46.

If Tim Thomas were to keep at his pace, and play the same number of games as his Vezina season he’d have a staggering 16.875 shutouts. That number would be neat, and put him second on the single season NHL shutout chart.  A mere 13 shutouts would make him the most prolific producer of this stat since well before Jacobs bought the team, in fact you would have to go all the way back to the 1927-28 season to find a Bruins goaltender better when Hal Winkler was Boston’s backstop. If Thomas plays to his 66 game career high, at the current shutout pace he’d land at 20.625 shutouts, or 1.375 shutouts short of the all time NHL record held since1928-29 by George Hainsworth.

The hype and drama that has surrounded this Markham Ontario native is unrivaled by anyone since the lockout ended. Ovechkin, Malkin, and Crosby made huge waves as the NHL’s marketing department tried to wash away the stain of the lockout. No one since has had half as much attention. If Steven Stamkos manages to chase down the elusive 70 goal plateau, he’ll join the rarefied heights that only a handful of NHL players have ever reached. Steven Stamkos is chasing the opposite dream of Thomas. He’s chasing 70. The list of players to reach that level isn’t long; Gretzky (4 times), Lemieux (2 times), Hull (3 times), Kurri, Nichols, Esposito (the first to do it), and the last active player to do so, Teemu Selanne who scored 76 back in the 92-93 season. Selanne’s 76 goal season. 1993 is the year Stamkos turned three.  Some of the names not on the list of the 70 goal club are rather surprising: Iginla, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Heatley, Nash, St Louis, all of whom are known for putting up league leading goal totals.

Right now Stamkos is on pace for 68.88 goals. This would incidentally top Ovechkins gaudy goal scoring best. With so many of his games in the Southeast division which doesn’t boast a single top ten defenseman, Stamkos has a damn good shot at seventy. When you factor in the supporting cast of Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St Louis, Ryan Malone, Victor Hedman and the occasionally healthy Simon Gagne, that’s a lot of talent (when present) to defend against, and even elite defenses can only be in so many lanes at once.

So, will either record happen? 23 or 70? If they both happen do these become the most sought after jersey’s in youth and beer leagues across North America? Or would it be 35 and 91? Can the NHL build up a useful marketing campaign on either of these chases? Probably not, they’ve been force feeding two men to the entire continent since before the lockout ended. This despite the fact that the jersey sales success of Milan Lucic, the still lingering PJ Stock tshirts, and the instant recognition Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, Ryan Miller and others get even in places where hockey is just a rumor. Of the two, I have more hope for Stamkos’s chase, it won’t really require the NHL to change templates, just the name on it.

I think having both of these records broken in once season could be the best thing to happen to the NHL in a very long time. With a whole boatload of weak number two goalies holding down number one slots, and less than five fifty goal scorers in each of the last several season it’s time to revitalize both positions. For “the Bettman Ideal” of 80’s style OK Corral style games more snipers are needed. For teams in small markets, or places where high end talent is hard to retain, having a top  notch goalie is a powerful building block.  When it comes right down to it, both are in the NHL’s best interested if they want to remain the premier hockey league not just in North America, but the world.