2010-2011 NHL season preview: Boston Bruins

GYI0060279309-zdenochara-elsa-getty.jpgLast season: (39-30-13, 91 points, 3rd place in Northeast Division, 6th in Eastern Conference) After manhandling Buffalo in the first round and getting out to a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers in the second round, Boston folded up shop and lost in seven games. What turned into a feel-good season after some early struggles became the ultimate kick in the groin.

Head coach: Claude Julien returns for his fourth season. He’s pretty well established the brand of hockey he wants played in Boston with a defensive-minded, counter-attack style that doubles to also bully opponents around the ice. The Bruins have done well with Julien in charge, making the playoffs in each season he’s been there, so if you’re looking for a ‘hot seat’ candidate, look away from Boston.

Key departures: D Dennis Wideman, F Miroslav Satan, F Vladimir Sobotka, F Steve Begin. Forward depth takes a bit of a hit while losing Wideman might hurt their production on the back line.

Key arrivals: F Nathan Horton, F Tyler Seguin, F Gregory Campbell. Horton and Campbell come over in the trade with Florida that sent Wideman there. Horton should provide power forward goal scoring while Campbell will work as a grinder/Colin Campbell’s Wheel of Justice repellent. Campbell recuses himself from making punishment decisions on any games involving his son Gregory’s team.

Under pressure: Patrice Bergeron. Lots of players to pick from on the Bruins roster, but Bergeron is the most experienced of the bunch and with Savard out for an undetermined amount of time, the pressure is on Bergeron to step up his game in a big way. While his role of late has been to play as a hybrid checking center, getting a few more goals from the former team leader in points would help soften the blow of losing Savard in a big way. While No. 2 overall pick Seguin will have his own brand of pressure, the heat is on Bergeron to hold it all together.

Protecting the house: Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas will again get together to establish a formidable duo in net, only this time around Rask figures to shoulder most of the load. Provided Rask can avoid the Blaine Lacher/Andrew Raycroft second-year letdown, the Bruins figure to be tough to score on once again. Thomas has spent the offseason getting in shape and rehabbing from labrum surgery on his hip. If he bounces back in a big way, the Bruins’ potential two-headed monster in goal will be nasty.

Outside of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, the blue liners have some question marks around them. Johnny Boychuk had a breakout season and if he can continue to be tough, that will help. Matt Hunwick, Mark Stuart and Andrew Ference will all have to be more consistent. Hunwick will potentially see his workload increase with Wideman gone.

Top line we’d like to see: Milan Lucic-Seguin-Horton. Letting the new kid in town run with a couple of bruisers, one who can finish well in Horton and the other who’s good about clearing room all over the ice, might prove to be the best thing for the 18 year-old Seguin. This line would also prove to be ridiculously young with Horton checking in as the old man at age 25. As it is, we’ll have to settle for the projected line of Seguin with Bergeron and ageless wonder Mark Recchi. Past, present, and future working together. Get on that one marketing department.

Oh captain, my captain: Chara once again wears the ‘C’ and who better to do it than the 6-foot-9 physical force? Chara’s done well as the go-to guy for rallies in Boston, but you have to wonder if perhaps he’s gotten a bit more negative attention after the Bruins choke job in the playoffs.

shawnthornton1.jpgStreet fighting man: While they’re trying out Brian McGrattan as a potential enforcer, the man that does most of the talking with his fists is Shawn Thornton. Being one of the most quotable guys in Boston helps make him even more of a fan favorite. With the Bruins’ team heart being called into question repeatedly last season, perhaps standing up for each other a bit more would put a lot of this to rest.

Best-case scenario: Injuries to Marc Savard and Marco Sturm don’t keep the Bruins down. Seguin steps into an NHL job seamlessly from junior hockey. Horton becomes a 40-goal scorer. Rask becomes the second-coming of Gerry Cheevers sending the Bruins into the Stanley Cup finals.

Worst-case scenario: Savard struggles all year long with concussion problems and can’t step back in as the team’s No. 1 center. Bergeron and David Krejci don’t make the ‘jump’ offensively to fill those needs. Seguin plays like an 18-year-old kid while Horton plays more like Lucic, meaning he plays physically but doesn’t punch in the goals they’re looking for out of him. If everything breaks poorly like that, the Bruins would again be fighting to get into the playoffs. Thankfully in the Eastern Conference, things are a bit more wide open.

Keeping it real: The Bruins can easily win their division and be a top-three seed as the rest of their division mates have much bigger questions marks. If the offense can get more consistent and the goaltending stays as good as it has been the last couple years, the Bruins figure to be a difficult and dangerous team to deal with.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5 with one being the worst and five being the best, the Bruins are a solid 4.

(Photo: Elsa – Getty Images)

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    Pre-game reading: Does the NHL’s playoff format need fixing?

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    — Up top, Brian Boucher and Mike Milbury have their say on NHL participation in the Olympics, something Gary Bettman continues to put into doubt.

    — At least fans can still be certain there will be playoff hockey. That being said, does the NHL’s format need fixing? Because as it stands right now, at least one of Washington, Pittsburgh, or Columbus is guaranteed to be gone after the first round, and only one of those three can survive past the second round. The Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets are first, second, and third in the overall standings, respectively. Hence, the debate. (The Washington Post)

    — The Caps take on the Blue Jackets tonight in D.C., and Barry Trotz is looking forward to the fight for playoff positioning. The Caps, you’ll recall, coasted to first place in the Metro Division last season. But they can’t afford to coast now. “Having gone both routes now, I prefer this,” Trotz said. “Because it’s more meaningful. … It was in our hands too early last year, and I think it took a little edge off. You get too comfortable for too long, you get too soft.” (Washington Post)

    — Don’t expect the NBA’s controversial practice of resting star players to become a common problem for the NHL. Said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “I just think hockey’s a different kind of animal where I don’t think guys would want to do it. Guys are stubborn enough to probably fight it if they were asked and that’s how I would see that going down.” (Canadian Press)

    — Why Dave Hakstol won’t be fired, by Flyers beat reporter Dave Isaac, who writes: “It took multiple pleas to woo Hakstol from a much more comfortable college job at the University of North Dakota. To fire Hakstol this early would be an admission from Hextall that this part of his grand plan — hiring the coach that he thought would grow with the roster — was wrong.” (Courier-Post)

    William Nylander may sometimes get overshadowed in Toronto by fellow Maple Leafs rookies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. But with 20 goals in 70 games, what Nylander has done is still very impressive. (The Hockey News)

    Enjoy the games!

    Bowling Green goalie Nell leaves school, signs with Rangers

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    The Blueshirts added to their goaltending depth on Thursday, signing Bowling Green junior Chris Nell to an entry-level contract.

    Nell, 22, just wrapped his junior campaign at Bowling Green, going 17-14-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .916 save percentage. This year, he became the school’s all-time leader in career shutouts, this after a terrific sophomore campaign in which he finished with a sparking 1.31 GAA and .930 save percentage.

    An undrafted free agent, Nell now joins an organization with several young netminders in the mix. Mackenzie Skapski, a 2013 draftee, made his NHL debut two years ago but has struggled this season, splitting time between AHL Hartford and ECHL Greenville. Brandon Halverson, a second-rounder in ’14, has also split time between Hartford and Greenville, and was recently recalled to New York on an emergency basis.

    New York has also drafted Russian netminder Igor Shesterkin (fourth round, ’14), Slovak Adam Huska (seventh round, ’15) and UMass-Lowell product Tyler Wall (sixth round, ’16).

     

    On verge of missing playoffs, Red Wings aim to keep winning culture

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    The Detroit Red Wings have no intention of tearing their roster down and undertaking a painful rebuild, a la the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Why not, you ask?

    Because even though the Wings are going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and even though their leading scorer (Henrik Zetterberg) is 36 years old, they don’t want to lose the culture that made them so successful over the past quarter century.

    “There are organizations where they have lost culture,” said head coach Jeff Blashill, per the Detroit Free Press. “They have missed the playoffs, and they miss it 10 straight years. We don’t want to be in this position again. This isn’t OK. That is the approach we are taking every day.”

    We have heard other teams say similar things. For example, the Vancouver Canucks. (Which won’t make Wings fans feel great to hear.)

    While there’s nothing wrong with trying to maintain a winning culture, the biggest challenge the Wings have is a lack of talent — particularly on the back end.

    That’s up to GM Ken Holland to solve, and solve relatively quickly, given his lack of appetite for a lengthy rebuild.

    “We’re going to continue to try and be competitive, we’re going to continue to try and make the playoffs and our ultimate goal is to eventually be a Cup contender,” Holland said a few months ago.

    “To me, rebuild means eight to 10 years, and there are teams that have made the playoffs one year in 10 while rebuilding.”

    Related: It’s going to be a very different draft for the Red Wings

    Yeo more surprised than anyone to learn of Stastny injury

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    For the second time since taking over as head coach, Mike Yeo has lost the services Paul Stastny.

    This time, though, Yeo was caught off guard.

    “It may sound misleading, but it was a completely separate injury that kept him out of (Tuesday’s) game and one that we believed would have him possibly in the lineup for us tonight,” Yeo told the Post-Dispatch of Stastny’s lower-body ailment, which will keep him out week-to-week. “We were surprised to hear that this came about yesterday.

    “Believe me, I was probably more surprised than all the fans out there. So it’s a difficult one, but one that we’ll have to overcome.”

    Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious — and it very well may not haven been — but that’s irrelevant now, as an entirely new issue could potentially sideline Stastny for the remainder of the regular season.

    The Blues are in good shape for a playoff spot, up eight points on L.A., but are jockeying with Nashville for third spot in the Central Division (both head into tonight’s action with 83 points). St. Louis also has 10 games left.

    There’s no denying Stastny’s absence will be felt. Back when he missed four games in early February, Yeo noted how integral he was to the club.

    “He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

    Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny has still managed to score 18 goals — third-most on the team — and 40 points. He also averages a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.