Brad Marchand is the latest in a string of young men to come into the Bruins training camp and earn a place the hard way. A third round pick in the 2006 draft the Halifax Nova Scotia native has paid his dues. He spent his first pro season putting up 18 goals 41 assists 59 points and a +13 for Providence. His second pro season he made a 20 game cameo in Boston with just one assist he failed to gain the traction he needed to play for Boston in the playoffs.

And then camp broke. For those who had watched him in the past the differences were right there. The first was better balance and the ability to stick to the puck. The second was timing on his shot. They had improved vastly since his last sojourn in the spoked-B. He also had better focus and discipline, which took a little longer to become apparent. In twenty games last season he racked up 20 PIMS, in 77 this season just 51.

So what’s his game? Just about everything. He was one of a handful of rookies to score at least one goal shorthanded, on the powerplay and even strength. For most of the season he was leading the entire NHL in shorthanded goals. Having earned his way from fourth line energy guy to second line producer in all zones. He blocks shots, hits, scores and one more thing. He’s a pest. A really, really effective pest. Steve Ott who is another well known agitator took more than 130 more penalty minutes this season for the stars and racked up less points.

The commentators on NHL Network called Brad Marchand “a wolverine” during their post game breakdown. Fans of the Boston Bruins around the world call hims something a little bit shorter; ours.

The East Vancouver native is the most well known Canadian born star still playing this off season. Raised in the game, coming up the hard way through second tier teams before scoring, checking and yes fighting his way into a slot on the Vancouver Giants team he would eventually be captain of. Lucic would eventually be drafted into the NHL in the second round by the Boston Bruins.

Arriving at camp as a very young, raw prospect he can’t have been part of managements plans for year except as one more young man to watch in his post draft year in juniors. When he arrived nearly everything was against him. He skated like he had cement blocks on his feet. His shot while powerful, had a release as rapid as his stride. He was also one of the youngest players in camp. On a team with Glen Murray’s notoriously slow feet, and a lack of genuine star power nearly everything was against him. The one thing in his favor was his attitude.

Lucic came into camp and like other fan favorites in Boston over the last life of the Original Six team, he out worked everyone else. PJ Axelsson, Patrice Bergeron, Ray Bourque, and Cam Neely are just some of the other players who came into town and made themselves household names. Booming hits, ferocious punches and a willingness to sacrifice the body coupled with an unquestionable willingness to stick up for teammates as well as himself got him past the first ten games in the NHL, and typified his play over his first three seasons.

Last season was injury riddled and counting playoffs and regular season he was barely on the ice for half the year. Many wondered if the injuries would slow him down this year as well. Lucic’s 2010-11 fight total was half that of his rookie season he had improved other areas of his game. As last nights game breaking rush around Bieksa demonstrated Lucic’s skating has improved dramatically. His speed will never match that of the games fastest skaters, but the difference between his rookie year and now is enormous. That speed, and agility was used to bank a shot off linemate Rich Peverley and past Luongo.  Possibly even more dramatic has been the improvement in his shot release. His rookie season saw him light the lamp just eight times. Peter Chiarelli was roundly criticized for signing him to a new contract that saw him jump into the top three or four forwards on the team before the season. Lucic responded by learing the team in goal scoring.

While goals haven’t come easily this playoff run he’s hardly been dead weight. With 57 hits he leads the Boston Bruins in that stat. This post season he’s also currently tied his personal playoff high water mark for plus/minus. With a plus twelve he is second to only Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara in that category. Lucic is also second among Bruins forwards in blocked shots. Milan Lucic’s value is so high to this team because he is a complete player.

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.