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December 2, 2013 | 10:29am ET
A New "Team" in Boston
By Shawn Hutcheon, TheFourthPeriod.com

BOSTON, MA -- The season has hit the proverbial quarter pole for the Boston Bruins and head coach Claude Julien's club is sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference.

The team that has made two trips to the Stanley Cup Final in the last three years has picked up where it left off and is once again a team on a mission.

Of course, losing in last spring's Final to Chicago in TD Garden, when it gave up two goals in a span of 17 seconds in the final 1:21 of the third period in Game 6, is serving as motivation to make a third trip to the SCF in four years.

Naturally, it remains to be seen if Boston can achieve that goal, but they will do whatever it takes to get there.

Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of this year's team is not that they are, once again, an elite unit, but that they are doing it with as many as eight new faces in the lineup.

Questions and doubt surrounded the Bruins as the organization said goodbye to key contributors of recent successes. After needing a short period of adjusting to their new environment, players such as Loui Eriksson, Jarome Iginla, Reilly Smith and Chad Johnson have become key contributors.

Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, Carl Soderberg and Jordan Caron had seen limited action last season and in the playoffs and can still be recognized as "new comers" to the squad.

Eriksson, who was forced to miss five games due to a John Scott elbow to the head, has adjusted to playing the wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand and has registered 14 points in 22 games. His contributions go beyond the scoresheet with stellar defensive play in all three zones of the ice.

Iginla, a certain first ballot Hockey Hall of Famer, was expected to load opposing nets with pucks. Some see him as a disappointment as he has scored five goals and ten assists, his value, aside from leading the team in plus/minus with a plus-11, has come with his contribution to the rejuvenation of his linemates, David Krejci and Milan Lucic. The two Bruins veterans are one and two in team scoring and they do not hesitate to credit Iginla for their early season success.

Lucic grew up in Vancouver idolizing the former Calgary Flames star and is ecstatic to be playing on the same line with his childhood hero. Lucic scored seven goals last season but has netted 10 this year and could hit the 30-plus goal mark when it is all said and done.

Smith came in and formed an instant chemistry with center Chris Kelly. Smith has 65 NHL games under his belt but has played like a veteran on most nights since putting on the black and gold. His 17 points has him third place on the team in total points and he is gaining increased power play time that will only help his production.

Soderberg came to Boston at the very end of last season and appeared in six regular season contests and two playoff games. He appeared to struggle a bit with the smaller ice surface than he was used to playing on in Sweden. Since the puck dropped on this season, he has used the size of the ice sheet to his advantage as the big (6-foot-3) native of Sweden has played a physical brand of hockey that has only enhanced his puck handling, passing, skating and shooting skills. He has been a key part of the club's reconstructed third line with Kelly and Smith, and the trio has produced numerous scoring opportunities night after night.

After spending most of the last three seasons with the Bruins' AHL affiliate in Providence, Caron has seen action in 11 games this season. He has been used primarily as a fill in for injured forwards. When he plays a physical style, he can be effective but Caron has not done that enough to push a teammate out of the lineup and with 99 NHL games played and only 26 total points, the former first round draft pick's (25th overall, 2009) days in Boston could be limited.

Bartkowski has been used in the same role as Caron, for the most part. He has the size, skill, toughness and skating ability to be a regular NHL defenseman in, arguably, any lineup in the League, but the Bruins have the luxury of being very deep on the blue line and unfortunately for the Ohio State University alum the B's can only dress six defenders each night and he is currently seventh on the depth chart.

Krug has made such an impact that he is being lauded as a candidate for Rookie of the Year and the USA Olympic team. He has seven goals on the season, which ties him for first in that category among fellow blueliners Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), Shea Weber (Nashville), and Michael Stone (Phoenix) while his 16 points has him 12th among all NHL defensemen and second overall among rookies.

In the crease, Johnson has performed very admirably as Tuukka Rask's backup. He has a 4-1-0 record and has amassed a .918 save percentage to go with a 1.97 goals against average.

With so many new players, some squads need at least the first half of the season to feel like a "team," but clearly that has not been the case in Boston. Players who were brought in during the off-season were welcomed by their new teammates and quickly integrated into what it means to be a Bruin.

"When you're a new guy, you want to fit in," Johnson said when asked about the feeling inside the dressing room. "The more the season grows and we win hockey games and play well, I think it brings you together and I think all of the new guys are really feeling that connection and we all have that same drive as a team."

Iginla added, "It does feel good as one of the new guys coming in and to feel part of the success and it's been fun winning, so it's been fun with this group. There's a long way to go, but it's a good feeling."

Julien also noted that the process of his group becoming a team is an evolving one.

"I think it's a growing thing, absolutely," the coach said. "People realize there wasn't just one or two changes this year, it was more than there has been in a long time. And I think as far as the guys getting along it's been great, but chemistry on the ice develops with time and through adversity, through tough times, through good times, different guys stepping up and scoring goals. So, I think it's an ongoing thing throughout the whole year and you just hope it's at its best always at the right time of the year.

"Right now, I think we have just as good of a crew as we've always had and a lot of credit goes to our leaders that create that atmosphere in our dressing room and to those guys also -- when it comes to playing together on the ice -- they seem to very respectful and supportive of each other."

Respect and support can take a group of players from being very good individually and turn them into a very good team, which in turn will see a team reach its goals.

Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.


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