Beware of bear
The Bruins are back in the hunt for the Eastern Conference title with a snarly disposition apropos of their logo.
From where they were last year in September to where they are now is a remarkably significant leap. It is no wonder that NHL fans have kept rubbing their eyes in disbelief of what the standings tell them. Eighth in the conference last year with a spirited seven-game playoff battle with Montreal under their belts, the Bruins sought to improve the roster over the summer.
General manager Peter Chiarelli's work yielded Michael Ryder and Stephane Yelle to the mix and the recoveries of Manny Fernandez and Patrice Bergeron appeared to put the Bruins in a position to improve marginally.
A quick look at the stats, however, does not indicate that any of the above has made a huge impact. Ryder has yet to catch a goal-scoring wave. Fernandez sits as the No. 2 goalie although has played well recently. Yelle is useful, but hardly a major upgrade over Glen Metropolit. Patrice Bergeron has been predictably useful, but certainly not a superstar.
So what gives?
Strength down the middle
Every GM looks for strength down the middle. It starts with a good goalie, then a key pair of defencemen and a top-10 scoring/playmaking centre.
In the backend, goalie Tim Thomas has to be a candidate for a couple of major NHL awards at this point in the season including MVP. He has been outstanding. Zdeno Chara has overcome a tentative start and is back on his game while Dennis Wideman has become an elite NHL defenceman this year.
And up front? The much-maligned Marc Savard has found the full measure of his game with help from head coach Claude Julien and looks like a much more committed player. And speaking of the coach, there is no doubt that he has to be given much of the credit for the continued rise of the franchise. This team works for 60 minutes with motivation and discipline.
As for the rest of the lineup, Milan Lucic has become a franchise icon with a rough and tumble style that earmarks him as a potential power forward extraordinaire. Blake Wheeler, a big, plodding right-winger with nice hands has become an exceptional rookie beyond all expectations. Phil Kessel has harnessed his speed to become a long bomb threat and a constant annoyance to opposing defencemen. David Krejci, in his second season, has been the guy to steady anyone who has been struggling to find his game. Chuck Kobasew has gotten healthy and looks like a solid, two-way forward.
And for leadership? Shawn Thornton and three-time Cup winner Aaron Ward are good at keeping the troops focused.
Balanced. Fearless. Solid goaltending and defence employing a sound system. The Bruins are once again rockin' the house in the town that had buried them for most of the last five years in favour of football, baseball and basketball.
They are back. They are definitely for real.
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