WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins take on the Washington Capitals in their home opener at TD Garden on Thursday night. Here are five quick and very early observations on the 2010-11 Bruins -- a team that is 3-1-0 despite starting the season in Europe and playing two more games on the road before skating on home ice.
1. Tim Thomas still has it. After his subpar 2009-10 season and offseason hip surgery, many in the hockey world wondered if goalie Tim Thomas could regain the form that won him the Vezina Trophy in 2008-09, when he went 36-11-7 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Thomas simply looked off on too many nights last season and finished 17-18-8 with a 2.56 GAA and .915 save percentage.
But alas, if you know Thomas and how he battled through a Crash Davis-like career in the minors and Europe before getting a legit chance in the NHL, then you never would have doubted that he would come back this season on a mission to once again prove everyone wrong. Instead of him and his four years at $5 million per season left on his contract sitting on the bench behind upstart youngster Tuukka Rask, it has been the 36-year-old Thomas who has played the past three games and gone 3-0-0 with a .67 GAA and .979 save percentage, including a brilliant 35-save performance in a 3-1 win over the Capitals on Tuesday.
2. The Bruins really missed David Krejci against the Flyers. Anyone who watched the Bruins' first nine games of the 2010 playoffs realized when David Krejci went down with a wrist injury in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers that the Bruins would miss him and the eight points he had accumulated. Krejci had a four-game point streak going at the time and helped the Bruins jump out to a 3-0 series lead. But combine not seeing him in the lineup for the next four games, which the Bruins lost en route to losing the series, and the torrid start Krejci is off to this season (one goal, five assists) in the first four games, and it's clear that this is a much different team with Krejci in the lineup.
Even if Marc Savard wasn't out with post-concussion syndrome, Krejci still very well could be centering the top line with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. The Bruins, as they have between the pipes with Thomas and Rask, would have two strong options at center.
3. There is a reason Nathan Horton was a third overall pick. The word "underachiever" has always followed Horton since he was drafted third overall by the Florida Panthers in 2003. Despite scoring 20 or more goals in five of his first six seasons (including 31 in 2006-07), Horton just couldn't shake the label. On more than one occasion since coming to Boston, Horton has admitted he could've worked harder, but he has also been honest in acknowledging his lack of interest in playing in a nonhockey market like Florida.
Well, consider him interested in being a Bruin and playing in a real hockey market. Horton is showing why he was drafted so high, and at 25, appears to be entering his prime. The 6-foot-2, 229-pound winger is looking like a prototypical power forward and scorer with three goals and three assists in his first four games as a Bruin.
4. As a unit, this defense can move the puck and contribute offensively. One of the biggest knocks on the Bruins entering this season is that they didn't have a legit puck-moving defenseman. While that may be true still, the defense as a whole has a good transition game going and is chipping in on offense. As a unit, this defense appears to be getting those first outlet passes to forwards quicker and more precisely. That is why the blue line has accounted for five points thus far and, in turn, the offense is clicking with 12 goals in four games. The blueliners haven't looked too shabby in their own end, allowing only seven goals, but a good portion of the credit has to go to goalie Thomas.
5. The energy line is energetic. Too many times last season, the Bruins lacked energy and emotion, and when the fourth line or energy line was called upon to provide that jump, it rarely did. Usually it was Shawn Thornton playing that role by himself without help from whomever he might have been playing with. But so far this season, Brad Marchand and Gregory Campbell have been there to pick up the slack when called upon.
Marchand has been the pest this team so desperately needed, while Campbell is providing some great two-way play and helping with the fighting duties with two fighting majors already. This line has also generated some offense with three points thus far.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.