Julien: Bruins have been good, but are going to be better

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Julien: Bruins have been good, but are going to be better

BOSTON -- The Bruins are off to the best start in franchise history after 10 games in this lockout-shortened season, and theyre sitting atop their division with more than 20 percent of the season already in the books.

Theyve outscored their opponents by a 12-4 margin in the third period this season and theyve ridden some excellent defense and goaltending to a 2.10 goals-against average, good for sixth in the NHL. The Bruins have the best penalty-kill unit in the NHL this season, and have done many of the little things right thus far.

But the Bruins are also far from as good as they can be, and their coach knows it.

If anything, I think weve been consistent, said Claude Julien. Theres no doubt that were going to get better. I think there are still some guys that arent at the peak of their game yet. Thats pretty indicative of how hard were working to score goals.

The Bruins are obviously flailing on the power play, as they have over the last two seasons, and go into Tuesday night ranked 28th in the NHL with a 10.3 percent success rate on the man advantage. That number might improve slightly as the season wears on, but the five-on-five scoring is down a couple of notches from where its been the last few years.

The Bruins are smack in the middle of the NHL rankings while averaging 2.7 goals per game, and the Black and Gold are normally in the top third of NHL teams with a deep, productive offense. The Bruins were second in the NHL in offense while averaging 3.17 goals per game last season, and were fifth in the NHL two years ago with 2.98 goals per game en route to a Stanley Cup.

Clearly the slow start for Tyler Seguin (one non-empty net goal in 10 games played) and the lack of the production from Bostons third line have contributed to the offensive slow going. But theyre not that far off, and Julien thinks there is a high ceiling that hasnt quite been reached by an 8-1-1 hockey club.

Were a better scoring team than what weve shown thus far. I think weve shown that were capable of creating the chances, but right now the finish isnt there, said Julien. Theres certainly room for improvement. But I like where we are at this stage of the season and how weve handled those types of games. But theres a lot more in our hockey club than weve shown so far.

Thats a scary thought for opponents around the NHL: the Bruins are first in the division, second in the conference, have lost just once in regulation through 10 games and have 38 more tilts to keep fine-tuning their hockey club.

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

This probably won’t come as a complete shock to those watching the way things have played out with him this season, but the Bruins have engaged in discussions with multiple teams about a Ryan Spooner trade, per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. 

The 23-year-old Spooner was mentioned casually a few months ago as possible fodder in a Jacob Trouba deal with the Winnipeg Jets, but that deal never really materialized prior to the Jets signing their young, frontline D-man to a two-year deal. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks have all expressed interest in Spooner, per one hockey source, as it appears that things simply aren’t going to work out for him in Boston. 

It’s been a challenging year for Spooner with pedestrian numbers of three goals and eight points in 24 games, but there are plenty of mitigating circumstances behind the slow start. Spooner has been pushed into playing left wing for the bulk of the season rather than his natural, preferred center position, and he’s been dropped to the fourth line by Claude Julien over the last few weeks. At times he’s also been pulled from the Bruins power play where he racked up six goals and 17 points working off the half-wall last season.  

Julien talked about the former second round pick in frank terms after this week’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, which featured a Spooner snipe to the top corner during a successful shootout for the Black and Gold. 

“I think at times that [David Krejci] line goes quiet, other times it’s better. We’ve tried different guys on the left side right now and one [Spooner] might give them speed but doesn’t win as many battles,” said Julien of his search for stability at left wing alongside Krejci and David Backes. “The other way [with Tim Schaller] guys are a little harder right now, and they spend more time in the O-zone. So we’re really trying hard to find the right balance there.”

Trade talks have increased the past few weeks because A) the situation has worsened recently with Spooner’s prolonged stint as a miscast fourth line winger and B) the speedy, skilled forward will most likely be a man without a spot when 22-year-old left winger Frank Vatrano returns sometime around the mid-December range. 

According to one source, the Bruins are asking for a “top six forward” in exchange for a package including Spooner, and it’s a lead pipe certainty they’re looking for some goal-scoring given their 24th ranked offense this season. That represents a bit of an organizational sea change after the Bruins searched low and high for a top-4 defenseman in trade over the summer. The emergence of 20-year-old Brandon Carlo, and the Boston defense’s performance across the board, has lowered the Black and Gold’s priority list need to trade for a D-man. 

The Bruins have scored two goals or fewer in 18 of their 25 games this season and badly need somebody that can put the puck in the net from one of the wing positions. Unfortunately for the Bruins, there aren’t a lot of top-6 forwards readily available that could make an immediate impact. It’s highly doubtful any team is going to fork one over for an asset like Spooner that’s been downgraded due to the way he’s been utilized by the Bruins this season. He hasn't played with the same creativity or confidence this season after posting 13 goals and 49 points as their third line center last season. 

So it remains to be seen what the Bruins will get for Spooner after they offered him and a draft pick to Buffalo for rental forward Chris Stewart a couple of years ago. That was a deal Sabres GM Tim Murray turned down before trading Stewart for considerably less at the trade deadline.

The bottom line: the Bruins are working the phones discussing possible Spooner deals, and it feels like there is some motivation from B’s management to move a player that doesn’t seem like he'll ever be a proper fit in Julien’s system. 

Sunday Dec. 4: Zacha adjusting to life in the NHL

Sunday Dec. 4: Zacha adjusting to life in the NHL

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while marveling at the Bruins setting a franchise record this season for fewest practices in a regular season. Thanks compacted schedule due to the World Cup!

*Pavel Zacha is adjusting to life as a rookie in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, and things are getting better as they go along.

*Manitoba Moose players relive their favorite Star Wars moments prior to the team holding their Star Wars Night.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Friedman sits down with new Florida Panthers head coach Tom Rowe to discuss the massive changes in that organization with the firing of Gerard Gallant.

*Good for Anders Nilson putting a rainbow decal on the back of his goalie to mask to support some gay friends that have faced public resistance in their lives.

*Bruce Garrioch has his weekly NHL notes with several players, including Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald, potentially on the trade block if anybody wants them.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson suffering a broken leg that will keep him out 6-8 weeks.

*There was no blood for the Vancouver Canucks fans, but there was still plenty of drama in a win over the Maple Leafs.

*For something completely different: The World Baseball Classic works for everybody except for Major League Baseball, and that would appear to be a problem.