2011-2012 season preview: Boston Bruins

2010-11 record: 46-25-11, 103 points; 1st in Northeast, 3rd in East

Playoffs: Defeated Montreal 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals, defeated Philadelphia 4-0 in Eastern semifinals, defeated Tampa Bay 4-3 in Eastern finals, defeated Vancouver 4-3 in Stanley Cup finals

Sure, Boston sports fans are spoiled. The Bruins became the fourth regional professional team to win a championship in just seven years, which should prohibit griping from any New England area sports fan for about four decades. (Chances are they’re already spilling clam chowder about that Boston Red Sox collapse, though.)

That being said, the Bruins likely won over quite a few observers during the championship round. To some, it was a result of Aaron Rome’s villainous hit on Nathan Horton or Alex Burrows’ finger-chewing shenanigans. More positive folks might instead emphasize the underdog-turned-superstar story of Tim Thomas or a team trying to claim the Stanley Cup for the first time since the days of Bobby Orr. Either way, the B’s managed to survive three Game 7s and Marc Savard’s absence to earn a surprising championship.

Offense

The Bruins scored 246 goals last season, good for third in the Eastern Conference. That might seem surprising since David Krejci and Milan Lucic tied for the team lead with just 62 points, but the B’s get things done with an impressive varied attack. (That will be especially true if the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line carries over their great work from the playoffs, when Krejci earned the postseason scoring title with 23 points.)

For a Cup winner, the Bruins’ offense is largely unchanged, aside from Mark Recchi’s retirement and Michael Ryder’s free agent departure. Injecting more of their own young blood could help close those gaps, though. Obviously there’s the often-hinted-upon ascent of 19-year-old Tyler Seguin, but people forget how young Krejci (25) and Patrice Bergeron (26) are as well. Maybe the Bruins’ attack lacks the sexiness of the Lightning or Penguins, but their depth could make them difficult to handle.

As far as additions, Benoit Pouliot strikes me as a poor – and older – man’s Brad Marchand to boot.

Defense

The Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy for the seventh time in June, but the decision should have come down to the other finalists: the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara and the Predators’ Shea Weber. Chara continues to be a do-everything defensive force, combining stout own-zone play and a roaring slap shot that helped him score 14 goals and 44 points last season. Dennis Seidenberg emerged in the playoffs as an ideal top pairing mate with Chara, but we’ll see if Claude Julien keeps them together during the regular season.

Despite that great top pairing and another bright spot here and there, the Bruins’ overall defense might not be as good as it seems. They allowed 32.7 shots per game last season, the second highest total in the NHL.

Tomas Kaberle was a square peg in a round hole after a trade deadline deal, so it won’t be tough for Joe Corvo to make a better impression. He’ll need to keep his turnovers down to stay out of Julien’s doghouse, though.

Goalies

The Bruins might just have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. Tim Thomas’ 2010-11 season and playoffs might not be matched for a long, long time (Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy, Vezina Trophy). If he starts to show his age (or is unable to sustain his record-breaking numbers), the team can lean on super-backup Tuukka Rask. The Finnish netminder carried the load in 2009-10 and is more than capable of keeping Thomas fresh or even stealing the job back from him.

Coach

Julien might not be fancy (and bares a striking resemblance to Bill from King of the Hill), but he gets the job done with a tight defensive style. Some will criticize him for handcuffing offensive players, but that also allows him to reduce the risks that come with those flights of fancy.

Breakout candidate

It’s a bit much to expect Seguin to have a Steven Stamkos-like second season, but he should at least inherit many of Recchi’s power-play opportunities. That alone could help their squalid man advantage and boost the sophomore’s numbers.

Best-case scenario

A relatively healthy defending championship team rides an easy early season to a cushy playoff spot, uses solid cap space to add that “missing piece” during the trade deadline and rides Thomas’ MVP bid to back-to-back championships.

Reality

Buffalo’s depth and Montreal’s favorable schedule could make it difficult for the Bruins to repeat as division champions. That being said, the Bruins are hockey’s answer to a Swiss Army knife; they can beat you up, light up the scoreboard or grind out 1-0 and 2-1 wins with equal precision. They still might not be a sexy choice for the Cup, but they absolutely deserve to be in the conversation.

Under Pressure: Kevin Hayes

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It was not that long ago — less than two years, in fact — that Kevin Hayes received a scathing critique from his head coach, Alain Vigneault.

“In Kevin’s case, I think we made it clear our expectations about him and what we felt he could do were very high,” Vigneault said in December of 2015, per the New York Post. “Obviously, he hasn’t lived up to that. Did we overestimate his possibilities? I don’t know, time will tell. But I do know that what I’m seeing now, and what we’re seeing now, is not good enough.”

It has been quite a turnaround for Hayes ever since. Now 25 years old, he’s coming off a career-high 49 points in 2016-17. And after the trading of Derek Stepan to Arizona, he’s considered the top candidate to center the Rangers’ second line next season.

Oh, and did we mention this is a contract year for Hayes? He can become a restricted free agent next summer, and he’s already seen Mika Zibanejad get paid.

Now, it goes without saying that second-line center is a tough job in the NHL. Often, it’s used against the opposition’s top players, and it still comes with the responsibility to produce some offense.

So, is Hayes up to the challenge?

That’s a tough question to answer, because Hayes was already given a tougher defensive role last season, starting many of his shifts in the defensive zone while also facing quality competition.

But his possession numbers were worrisome, as you can see below:

After crunching the numbers, here’s what GothamSN writer Brandon Fitzpatrick concluded:

Basically, Hayes got tough minutes from Vigneault last season, and despite registering career-highs in assists and points, the underlying numbers weren’t favorable to him. Much of Hayes’ point totals can be attributed to Michael Grabner’s extraordinary 27 goal season where he shot a career-high 16.7%, well above his 12.7% career average.

There’s no doubt the Rangers want to see if Hayes can be a top-six center before committing to him long-term next summer, but if he’s not ready, the Rangers are going to suffer big time.

In addition to trading Stepan, the Rangers also lost Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in the expansion draft. And while they did sign veteran David Desharnais, the center position is going to be under a big microscope next season.

If Hayes is up for the job, it should go a long way towards making the Rangers a competitive team, while also helping him financially.

If not, all bets are off.

Related: Lias Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers

Looking to make the leap: Anthony DeAngelo

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

He’s only 21 and already Anthony DeAngelo has been traded twice.

First he went from Tampa Bay, which drafted him 19th overall in 2014, to Arizona. That trade went down last summer. Then, just a year later, the Coyotes sent the talented defenseman to the Rangers as part of the Derek Stepan blockbuster.

Upon joining the Blueshirts, it looked like DeAngelo may get a great chance to prove his worth. But then Kevin Shattenkirk signed and it wasn’t quite as clear where DeAngelo, whose game has similarities to Shattenkirk’s, might fit.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is excited nonetheless to see what the youngster can do.

“I only saw him once last year but everything that I’m hearing … everybody seems to think this guy is legit and he’s ready to take the next step,” Vigneault said, per NHL.com. “I have not talked to anyone who has told me differently. Everybody I speak to says the same thing, that he’s going to help us as far as our quick north/south transition game, and that he’s going to help on the power play.”

DeAngelo appeared in 39 games for the Coyotes last season and finished with a respectable five goals and nine assists. The catch is that eight of his 14 points came on the power play, and with Shattenkirk in New York now, it remains to be seen how much quality PP time will be left for DeAngelo.

Barring injuries, there is plenty of competition that DeAngelo will need to beat out in order to play in the NHL next season. Assuming the Rangers’ top four is set with Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei, that leaves Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk, and DeAngelo to battle for the two spots on the bottom pairing.

From the New York Post:

Clouding the issue is a believed contractual out-clause that would allow the 23-year-old Bereglazov to return to the KHL rather than accept an assignment to the AHL. The Rangers are unlikely to allow that to happen.

The Rangers likely acquired the 21-year-old DeAngelo from the Coyotes in the Derek Stepan deal in order to play him on the right side rather than have him sit around as a spare.

But the Blueshirts also believe that Pionk, the righty signed in May out of the University of Minnesota Duluth who will turn 22 next week, is NHL-ready.

Thus, Pionk and DeAngelo presumably will be in direct competition for a spot, with the saving grace being that both are exempt from having to go through waivers.

So it should be an interesting training camp from that perspective. While it won’t be the end of the world if DeAngelo starts out in the AHL, he should be desperate to make a good impression nonetheless.

“He knows this is his third team in a real quick span,” said Vigneault, “so he’s got to make a name for himself.”

Poll: Is Henrik Lundqvist still an elite goalie?

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

The 2016-17 season was an interesting one for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. There were moments when he looked brilliant and other moments where he was clearly fighting the puck.

The 35-year-old opened the season with victories in seven of his first 10 games which is actually pretty good. He allowed two goals or less in six of those contests, and everything seemed to be fine.

In November and early December, he hit a significant rough patch. After dropping five of eight games between Nov. 18 and Dec. 6, the Rangers goalie sat for four consecutive games, as Antti Raanta took over between the pipes.

When he got back in goal, Lundqvist responded by winning three consecutive starts over Dallas, Nashville and New Jersey (he gave up just three goals in those three games). But the inconsistency was far from over at that point. A couple of weeks later, he dropped three straight decisions to Toronto (four goals allowed), Montreal (five goals allowed) and Dallas (seven goals allowed).

He then followed that poor stretch up with another three-game winning streak (I think you guys get the point).

He finished the season with a 31-20-4 record, a 2.74 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. Those are a far cry from the numbers we’re used to seeing him put up.

The Rangers finished the season in the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They ended up getting a first-round date with the Montreal Canadiens, who seemed to have Lundqvist’s number (especially at the Bell Center).

No one knew what to expect from Lundqvist going into the series, but he ended up being fantastic. He picked up a shut out on the road in Game 1. In Game 2, his team was leading 3-2 with less than a minute remaining when Montreal scored late and won in overtime.

The Habs took Game 3 at MSG by a score of 3-1, but that’s when Lundqivst got back into a groove. He allowed one goal in Game 4, two goals in Game 5 and one more goal in Game 6. The Rangers won all three games, and they were off to the second round to face Ottawa.

Despite losing to the Senators in six games, the Rangers netminder turned in another solid effort during the series. There were some blips on the radar (six goals allowed in Game 2 and five goals in Game 5), but he was still one of New York’s best players in the series.

He finished the playoffs with a 6-6 record, a 2.25 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

So, he had a very inconsistent regular season. Whenever he struggled, Raanta was there to step in and hold the fort while Lundqvist got back on track. This season, with Raanta off to Arizona, the Rangers signed Ondrej Pavelec to be their backup goalie. Anyone who’s followed his career knows that he’s as inconsistent as they come. If the starter falters this year, will the Rangers be able to count on Pavelec to bailed them out for a few games?

Of course, they won’t need him to bail them out if Lundqvist stays healthy and plays like he did during the playoffs. Is he still capable of playing at a high level over an 82-game season? Is he still up there with Carey Price, Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and others as an elite goalie in the NHL?

Alright, it’s your turn to vote in our Rangers poll question. Feel free to also leave your opinion in the comments section below.

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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After plodding their way to a frustrating series loss against the Penguins in 2015-16, Alain Vigneault changed the New York Rangers’ style, and it worked in 2016-17.

Sort of.

The Rangers’ experience ranks up there as maybe the most indicative of just how ridiculously stacked the Metropolitan Division was.

The Rangers were one of nine teams in the NHL to generate at least 100 standings poitns (in their case, 102), finishing just one behind the Montreal Canadiens, who won the Atlantic Division. Even so, they faced said Canadiens in the first round as a wild card.

After dispatching the Habs, the Rangers fell to the Senators, and now they prepare for what’s likely to be an even bigger set of changes in 2017-18.

The Rangers traded away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. The Dan Girardi era ended with a buyout. Ondrej Pavelec now serves as Henrik Lundqvist‘s backup, while the Rangers landed the biggest fish of free agency in Kevin Shattenkirk.

Mika Zibanejad got a new deal as he takes over the No. 1 center spot, while David Desharnais was added to try to limit some of the losses down the middle.

So, the Rangers continued their move toward a more modern system, as their transition game should be much stronger. On the other hand, last season’s deep offense looks quite a bit thinner.

The Rangers are quite the puzzle heading into next season, so enjoy as PHT tries to put the pieces together today.