BOSTON -- In the grand scheme of all things NHL hockey, the Bruins werent facing too many questions coming into this season.
They boast the young, talented nucleus of a team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and they were considered one of the Eastern Conference's best teams this season no matter what happened to them.
But there was some uncertainty coming off last years first round exit in the playoffs, and a fair share of unknowns dropping into a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule that has thrown everybody off their normal routines.
But the Bruins 4-2 win over the New York Islanders on Friday night underscored just how handily the Bruins have found quality answers for any questions that dogged them coming into the year. Finding answers at every street corner has allowed the Bruins to jump out to a 3-0-1 start in their first four games including two tilts against a fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse in the Rangers.
That means the Bruins are already atop the Eastern Conference after the first week of play, and theyve penciled in some regular season answers to their burning preseason questions.
Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand were all viewed as unknown commodities because none of them played in Europe during the lockout, and Horton hadnt played in an NHL game in nearly a year due to concussion woes.
Instead Horton, Lucic and David Krejci have been Bostons most effective line through four games, and Marchand and Lucic have been Boston's leading goal-scorers through the early going.
The sixth defenseman spot was earmarked for a rookie after the failed Joe Corvo experiment last season, and that seems to have worked out remarkably well. Dougie Hamilton has three assists through his first four games and continues to wow all onlookers while looking like the coveted puck-moving offensive defenseman the Bruins have been on the hunt for since Peter Chiarelli was hired six years ago.
Tuukka Rask is sporting a 1.96 goals against average and .925 save percentage while playing four games in six days, and showing zero signs of fatigue or slowdown despite the healthy workload. That means so much for the Bruins crumbling without Conn Smythe goaltender Tim Thomas or a slow start from HortonLucic putting the Bs offense in the deep freeze.
If nothing else, the Black and Gold look even better than ever while appearing completely well-prepared for the quick camp and immediate season. That's a credit to Claude Julien and his coaching staff under trying circumstances.
With our team its been positive surprises. We talked about Nathan Horton not playing for a whole year and we didnt quite know what to expect from him early onhow long it would take to get back to normal. To me, hes been a real pleasant surprise and so has Milan Lucic, said Julien. We talk about big bodies and those big bodies sometimes take a little longer, but those guys have been great. David Krejci, whos played since the beginning of the year, hasnt missed a stride and has been a good player for that line.
Theyve been great surprises. Dougie Hamilton is opening a lot of peoples eyes, we knew what he could do, but not knowing how he would adjust to this level or how quickly he would adjust. His transitions been pretty smooth so far. And Tuukka Rask is Tuukka. There is a lot of pressure on him to replace the guy that left us, but hes doing the job. So far hes been really good for us.
Things could always be better, of course.
The Bruins had a lousy 20 minutes to start off against the Rangers on Wednesday night, and didnt look too inspired for long portions of the first 40 minutes against the Islanders on Friday night. The power play is still a confidence-sucking mess that alternates somewhere between frustrating and hopeless despite considerable talent, and is now 1-for-17 on the season.
Chris Bourque has one shot, zero points and a minus-3 rating through four games, and hasnt made much of an impact as a third linepower play hybrid among a talented group of Bruins forwards that are admittedly struggling right along with him.
Tyler Seguin is without a goal after the first four games, and was perhaps the unlikeliest Bruins player to struggle back in the NHL after completely dominating the Swiss League in Europe.
But none of those things are unsolvable mysteries to the Bruins, and none of those question marks will ultimately derail a team thats jumping out to an ideal start while their counterparts in Washington, Philadelphia and New York have royally stubbed their toes in the seasons first week.
Its the best start the Bruins have enjoyed since they won their first three games of the 2001-02 season, and its something theyve been focused on since before training camp even began.
Were playing hungry. When you have that much time off you kind of sit back and feel fortunate to be a part of this group. I think thats what has gotten us off to this start. Were just happy and feel fortunate to be back together again, said Lucic, who added to Friday nights festivities by dropping Isles tough guy Matt Carkner with a right handed bomb to the chin in his first hockey fight of the season. Lets hope that mentality keeps us going.
Clearly the Bruins will need more than four games to cement the answers to all of their preseason questions, and things can change quickly in an NHL world where injuries and the fickle hand of fate can damage teams that cant help but tempt it.
But for now theres a feeling that the Bruins have perfect answers to all of their big, burning questions before the season commenced last weekend. The hope now is that nobody decides to change the questions on a surging Black and Gold club that looks ready for a 48-game sprint to the end.