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    On Hockey

    Fine season so far for the Bruins

    file/gene puskar/Associated Press
    Claude Julien deserves a shout out for his performance with the Bruins this season.

    A few Boxing Day briefs, with the Bruins set to return to the practice rink this afternoon, the Coyotes waiting for a Wednesday night visit by the blazing-hot B’s in the Glendale desert, and MIT sports-ologists getting paid overtime this holiday weekend to gauge the odds of Brad Marchand, now with a club-high 15 goals, racing off with the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s No. 1 goal scorer:

    - Benoit Pouliot, seven goals. Really? Three weeks into October, with the Bruins chopping along like an ’83 Chrysler K-car, Pouliot looked destined for a quick dish to, say, Columbus or Long Island, maybe Peoria. Now he is playing the way a former first-rounder (No. 4, Minnesota, 2005) is expected to. Three of those seven goals have provided the Bruins with a 1-0 lead. That’s good shootin’. Up in Montreal, where Pouliot and ex-coach Jacques Martin had trouble seeing oeil-a-oeil, seven goals would equal the output of Tomas Plekanec and be one better than Mike Cammalleri.

    - As the season’s halfway point approaches, the Bruins have scored more goals (119) and allowed fewer goals (63) than any other team in the NHL. Which is to say they are as sexy as they are sensible. Which is also to say that I’ll leave it there before I lose my job and end up in divorce court. But what a combination!


    - The 8-0 jawbreaker the Bruins dealt the Panthers Friday night brought Tuukka Rask his second consecutive shutout. Tim Thomas has four, so the Bruins lead the league with a half-dozen. General manager Peter Chiarelli told me recently he has placed all contract talks on the back burner, in large part because the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire next September. But it could be prudent to make Rask a front-burner item, in part because Thomas, 37, has only next year left on his deal ($3 million salary, $5 million cap hit). Rask, 24, and on the books for a $1.2 million cap, is set to be a restricted free agent July 1. If he keeps delivering, his leverage increases and his price goes up. A two- or three-year deal now, at around a $3 million cap hit, could avoid a potential Phil Kessel-like taffy pull come July, August, September . . .

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    - Gotta say, I’m increasingly impressed by Claude Julien’s coaching, both in-game and day-to-day (injury management, practice scheduling, travel, etc). Heck, I’m even loving the incessant rolling of four lines. What’s not to love when each line not only acts like it can score, but often does score? Which is just another way of acknowledging a team’s depth, of course. Good for Julien, who has to have a few hundred thousand disconsolate Habs fans realizing this morning that it was more about a weak roster than any weakness behind the bench when he was sent packing in Montreal halfway through the 2005-06 season.

    - David Krejci and Nathan Horton are a combined minus-4. There, I said something bad. My lips were getting chapped.

    - To remind one and all, the 1970-71 Bruins finished with a plus-192 goal differential (399-207), across a 78-game schedule, when every game was 60 minutes max. So, yes, their current plus-56 is highly impressive, but tide and time have carried all comparisons far out to sea. Let’s all enjoy what’s happening and stop looking through the Orr-Esposito-Cheevers lens, OK?

    ■ In case you missed it, the Tampa Bay Lightning will unveil a life-sized bronzed likeness of Phil Esposito Saturday to commemorate their 20th anniversary. Espo, their first GM and founding father, is depicted in sportcoat and a Bolts tie, holding a hockey stick, and with Stanley Cup rings on his fingers for the Lightning (2004) and Bruins (1970). He told the other day that he only wishes the tribute had included a pair of skates off to the side. A huge pile of pucks, 778 to be exact, would have been nice, too. No. 7 turns 70 in February.


    - Lost in the fine print of the scoring summary Friday night: Patrice Bergeron (10 for 12) and Greg Campbell (5 for 7) dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 79 percent of their drops vs. the tired Panthers. Bergeron now has won 380 faceoffs (fourth best among his peers) and the Bruins are first overall in faceoff efficiency (55.5 percent). Not only did the Panthers have trouble doing much with the puck, they spent most of the night chasing it around the dance floor a la Chaz Bono.

    - The Bruins will have played only twice over 11 days when they pull into Newark on the night of Jan. 4. As scheduling goes, that’s light, even by European standards. But that also starts a murderous stretch in which they’ll play 12 times in 20 days, and then another 12-in-20, beginning Feb. 28. In fact, from Feb. 28 until the last regular-season game April 7 (22 games total), they will have only one two-day break - and they’ll lose the second day for a flight to San Jose. Conclusion: Expect some turbulence in the second half.

    - Update just in from the MIT folks: They’re still working on Marchand’s projections. Early word is that he probably can’t keep pace with the Rangers’ Marian Gaborik, who is leading the pack now with 21 goals. But the Smoots over in Cambridge say they’re impressed that Marchand, with only 14 guys ahead of him on the NHL goal-scoring list, is running with the big dogs despite having only two power-play goals. The guys ahead of him average five, and Pittsburgh’s James Neal leads that pack with 10. “Wonder why Marchie doesn’t get more power-play time,’’ said one of the MIT stat guys, pushing a Sharpie into his shirt’s plastic pocket liner while wiping down his iPad. “Seems to add up, doesn’t it?’’

    Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at