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.

Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: More offside drama had Sabres coach Phil Housley up in arms

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Just hours after the NHL admitted to an offside challenge error, there was another controversy during the Sabres-Canucks game on Friday.

Vancouver appeared to take the lead on a Daniel Sedin goal. However, Buffalo coach Phil Housley challenged the play for offside, after replays showed Jake Virtanen may not have had complete control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line.

The following challenge resulted in a brutally long review. For Buffalo, it was also unsuccessful as, surprisingly, officials deemed Virtanen did have control of the puck as he entered the zone. The goal counted, Vancouver took the lead.

Housley was not happy about it.

Not only was the challenge unsuccessful, but the Sabres were penalized for delay of game as a result.

From the NHL:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, NHL Hockey Operations staff confirmed that Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had possession and control of the puck as he entered the attacking zone prior to the goal. According to Rule 83.1, “a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”

Therefore the original call stands – good goal Vancouver Canucks.

It took 4:27 to come to a decision, too.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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