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.

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Flyers survive early Mason mistake to upset Wild

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Insert the ‘It’s not how you start but how you finish’ cliche right here.

The Philadelphia Flyers fell behind the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, as Zach Parise was the beneficiary of a Steve Mason mistake just 2:07 into the first period.

Mason couldn’t control the deflection into the zone, coughing up a rebound in front. Eric Staal forced a loose puck to Parise and he buried it to open the scoring.

Yeah, not ideal for the Flyers, who are still clinging to the slimmest of playoff hopes.

But they responded with three unanswered goals, including this beauty from Sean Couturier.

Philadelphia took over for a 3-1 victory, with Mason making 24 saves on 25 shots, as Minnesota’s struggles continue. The Wild still sit second in the Central Division but have only two wins in their last 10 games and were unable to secure a playoff spot Thursday.