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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    With Kucherov day-to-day, Lightning recall Conacher

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Nikita Kucherov is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury after Thursday’s unfortunate spill.

    (You can see that crash in the video above.)

    That’s a bummer, no doubt, especially if there are a lot of “days” missed. On the bright side, the Lightning have some reasonable depth to help stem the tide; in this case, that means recalling familiar face Cory Conacher.

    The 26-year-old has been bouncing around hockey a bit lately, playing in the Swiss league last season. He’s something of an AHL/NHL ‘tweener at this point, but Bolts fans can look back fondly at him scoring 24 points in 35 games with the Bolts back in 2012-13, a span that inspired enough interest in Conacher that he was the main piece Ottawa received in the Ben Bishop trade.

    So, hey, if you’re a Bolts fan feeling sad about Kucherov … just take a look at Conacher. It will probably remind you that you have, you know, one of the best GMs in hockey.

    Get this: Bruins aren’t happy with Pastrnak’s suspension


    You’re not going to believe this, but the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers don’t see eye-to-eye on David Pastrnak‘s two-game suspension for a hit on Dan Girardi.

    In discussing the decision, the NHL provided the following explanation:

    “Rather than staying low and hitting through his opponent’s body, Pastrnak unnecessarily extends up and into this hit, picking the head and making it the main point of contact,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

    Claude Julien provided the Bruins’ side of the argument, as CSNNE.com reports.

    “To me I see a guy [in David Pastrnak] whose feet are still on the ice,” Julien said. “I just think that was an attempt to finish his check, but certainly not to injure.”

    Julien insists that Pastrnak didn’t go “full-tilt.”

    The Rangers, meanwhile, believe that it is the sort of check that needs to be eliminated.

    “Initially when watching it, we didn’t feel it was the type of hit that the game wants, and the league took a stand,” Alain Vigneault said, according to Newsday’s Steve Zipay.

    Now, if the roles were reversed, would we see Vigneault griping about a suspension and Julien backing it up? Perhaps.

    Ultimately, what we know for sure is that the top-heavy Bruins will be without a red-hot performer in Pastrnak for two games.

    Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

    ORCHARD PARK , NY - JANUARY 01:  Photo 210 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
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    It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

    From USA Hockey:

    The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

    The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

    This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

    The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.

    Help on the way? Rask practices, could return during Bruins road trip

    DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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    BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins have been outscored 14-4 during their current three-game losing streak. Help might be on the way just in time for the Bruins to start a difficult road trip against three Atlantic Division rivals.

    Goaltender Tuukka Rask practiced with the Bruins on Friday and should be available to at least serve as the backup against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Rask hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates because of an undisclosed injury since he made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 20.

    Rask isn’t completely healed so he and the Bruins are trying to strike a balance between being able to play and not risking further damage.

    “That’s the thing we’re kind of talking about, we talked about last week, risk/reward, what it is and how should be proceed,” Rask said. “It feels good enough now that I can comfortably practice.”

    Coach Claude Julien saw enough Friday to have confidence Rask could dress against the Red Wings and be in consideration to start. The Bruins were expected to send one of their other goaltenders, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban, to Providence of the American Hockey League before departing for Detroit.

    “If he’s great, and he practiced well today, and if he’s good (Saturday) and there’s no issues there (he can play),” Julien said. “He looked good to me today. So we’ll make that decision but I think we’ve gone this far, we’re going to make sure we make the right decision, not the reckless one.”

    Rask started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in his career and had a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. But he was hardly healthy. The injury began to bother him on opening night in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Two nights later he didn’t start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Rask said he felt fine when made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 17. But he had to battle through the injury against the Devils three nights later.

    “The Jersey game was the toughest one. It wasn’t too tough. It’s just nagging, painful sometimes, but I didn’t feel like I hurt anything,” he said.

    With forward David Backes still out after elbow surgery and forward David Pastrnak suspended two games for an illegal check to the head in the 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Bruins needed some positive news before leaving for their road trip, which continues against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) after Detroit.

    “I’m excited to get back out on the road with this team,” Julien said. “You control what you can and we can control our enthusiasm, our commitment and everything else. And then go about our business that way and I think that’s all we can do right now.”