After a wild four day stretch of hockey which saw the Boston Bruins lose to their archrivals from Montreal, make a frantic comeback in a physical game against the Penguins, and travel to Toronto to defeat their friends from last year's stunning playoff series, here are some quick questions surrounding the team:
What caused Shawn Thornton to morph into Sean Avery or Matt Cooke?
By now we have all seen the clip of Shawn Thornton throwing Brooks Orpik to the ice and knocking him unconscious on Saturday night. While there was a lot of concern (and rightfully so) surrounding the condition of Orpik after the incident, Bruins fans should be more concerned with what caused our beloved enforcer to cross the line and create a dangerous situation on the ice. Thornton has always been the type of player who loves to throw the gloves down but does it in a respectful manner, often relenting on his fights when he notices his opponent either injured or in a vulnerable position. Trying to engage Orpik to retaliate for his hit on Loui Eriksson on the first shift of the game is understandable, but doing what Thornton did has no place in the game of hockey. It will also put a mark on the reputation of Thornton, who is about as loved by a fan base as any current hockey player can be. Thornton always represented the city of Boston and its hard-working residents with his hard-nosed play but respect for others. Grabbing a fellow player by his back, tossing him to the ice, putting him in a defenseless position, and knocking him out cold might cost Thornton much more than a few games and some Christmas spending money. He might lose out on the respect of the rabid fan base in Boston.
Is Reilly Smith really the gem of the Tyler Seguin trade?
We all thought that the best player coming over from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Tyler Seguin (who by the way had another hat trick this week) would be Loui Eriksson, who was projected to notch 25-30 goals at the minimum this season, especially since he was being paired with one of the best centers in the game in Patrice Bergeron. But Eriksson has gotten off to a slow start with the Bruins, and has been out on two separate occasions this season with concussions (the latest leading to the Thornton incident). Reilly Smith has stepped up his game this year, giving the third line a huge boost along with Chris Kelly (now out with a broken fibula) and Carl Soderberg. Smith has six goals and 14 assists on the season, with a goal and two assists in the last two games. Smith's assist set up Zdeno Chara's game-winning goal with 13 seconds left to top the Penguins on Saturday night. Smith tallied just three goals and six assists in 37 games with the Stars last season. Smith's hard work in the preseason, which solidified his spot on the third line, was rewarded with consistent ice time, which he did not receive in Dallas. While Seguin is towards the top of the league in goals scored with the Stars, Smith has shown that he was more than just an add-in piece to the trade, and has become an important part of the Bruins' success this season.
Just how deep is this Bruins team?
Every hockey team is bound to go through parts of the season where there are many transactions and call-ups due to the injury bug, and that seems to be the case right now for the Bruins. Adam McQuaid has been in and out of the lineup nursing lower-body injuries for the past few weeks. Dennis Seidenberg missed a couple games in November. Johnny Boychuk was injured this week in Montreal, leaving the ice on a stretcher with a back injury. Chris Kelly broke his fibula against the Penguins. Both Dougie Hamilton and call-up Kevan Miller got hurt in Sunday's game against Toronto (Miller should be fine while Hamilton may miss a week or so). And you can add Shawn Thornton's name to the list of players missing in action, as he will undoubtedly be out for multiple games after his pending hearing with the league offices. With all these starters missing time, it would be understandable if the Bruins struggled a bit and their level of play dropped with all the call-ups and healthy scratches seeing action. Yet as evidenced in Sunday's game against the Maple Leafs, there is no drop-off when regulars miss time with this year's squad. Matt Bartkowski and Jordan Caron have done an admirable job staying prepared and ready for play even though they have been scratched from most games this year. Kevan Miller has been solid in his two short stints in Boston, netting the game-winning goal in Toronto (his first career goal and point in the NHL). Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser (yet another player acquired in the Seguin trade) did a nice job filling in for Eriksson and Kelly on an emergency basis, as both players had just played back-to-back nights for the Providence Bruins prior to their call-ups. With Spooner (19 assists in Providence), Fraser (16 goals), Nick Johnson (11 goals and 9 assists), Joe Morrow (the final piece in the Seguin trade; 14 assists), Jared Knight (9 assists) and Anthony Camara all playing solid hockey for the P-Bruins, the Boston squad seems to be set up for any more lengthy injuries or suspensions in the coming weeks and months. Those players could also be used as trade pieces for the Bruins when the trade deadline hits later this season if there is a larger need to fill.