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Bruins will be without Chara in season opener


The Boston Bruins just have to hope their fortune changes quickly because luck certainly hasn’t been on their side thus far.

They announced this morning that captain Zdeno Chara won’t be available for tonight’s season opener against the Winnipeg Jets. That’s on top of missing Dennis Seidenberg (lower body) after their defense had already been weakened by trading Dougie Hamilton over the summer.

The result is that the Bruins are going into the season with some very unflattering defensive pairings:

None of the Bruins’ six blueliners averaged 20 minutes or more last season. Two of them (Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow) have less than 30 games worth of NHL experience while Kevan Miller has fewer than 100 games under his belt.

Boston is trying to bounce back after missing the playoffs last season and coach Claude Julien is seen as someone who is on the hot streak before Boston’s season even starts.

Mike Smith seeing benefit from sports psychologist

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Mike Smith was “kind of offended” when it was first recommended that he see a sports psychologist, but that’s not where he stands anymore.

After a terrible start last season while he was in a “bad place mentally,” he started consulting a sports psychologist after the All-Star break and went from recording a 3.51 GAA and .887 save percentage before the break to a 2.81 GAA and .920 save percentage afterwards.

“Whether it’s a good experience or you’re coming out of the game not feeling too good about yourself, I think it’s important to have someone that’s not involved in the team and doesn’t have anything to do with hockey or our team that you can throw ideas off of,” Smith told the Arizona Republic. “That’s very important.”

He plans to continue to speak regularly with the psychologist throughout the 2015-16 campaign. If it helps, then Smith could end up being the Coyotes’ silver lining this season. He was the key factor in them reaching the Western Conference Final in 2012 and his decline is part of the reason why Arizona hasn’t made the playoff since.

This is likely to be a rebuilding season for the Coyotes regardless, but with Smith signed through 2018-19 at an annual cap hit of roughly $5.7 million, they need him to be part of the long-term solution.

Kris Russell: Canucks ’embarrassed us in our home-opener’


It was just one game, but it was a pretty bad one.

The Calgary Flames’ quest to prove that their rise to the second round was something they can build off of began with a 5-1 loss to Vancouver.

“They out-executed us, outworked us. Truthfully, they embarrassed us in our home-opener,” Flames defenceman Kris Russell bluntly put it, per the Calgary Sun.

“We’ve gotta realize it was a bit of a joke the way we came out. If we want to be anywhere near the team we were last year, we can’t even be coming close to the effort we put in tonight. We were built on hard work. We were built on a committee effort.

“We didn’t have too many guys going, and we’re not a team built on one or two lines. We’ve got a few days to figure it out. Obviously, it’s one game but every game is important, especially against the division. To play like that it doesn’t feel too good.”

This loss could be shrugged off pretty quickly if Calgary comes out strong in its rematch against Vancouver on Saturday, but it does still speak to a larger narrative about the team. Calgary was one of the worst squads in the league last season in terms of Corsi and the steep disconnect between that puck possession indicator and the team’s record could suggest that the Flames overperformed and are due for a decline like the Colorado Avalanche suffered from 2013-14 to 2014-15.

That’s not to say that the Flames are destined to fall, only that there are potential warning signs. They can still go on to have a great season, but they’re going to want to use this defeat as a wake-up call.

Video: Pavelski, Sharks believe they’re close


It’s easy to be optimistic at the start of a new campaign and earning a decisive 5-1 victory against your chief rival, as the Sharks did last night with their 5-1 win over Los Angeles, only adds to that.

New Sharks captain Joe Pavelski demonstrated as much above as he talked about the team’s “different energy” and that the Sharks “understand we’re close.” Is that optimism justified though?

Certainly you can point to reasons why this season might be different for San Jose. With Pavelski wearing the ‘C’ and Peter DeBoer now behind the bench, the Sharks might have a different culture, which Logan Couture classified in April as “not great.”

They also bolstered their defense over the summer by inking Paul Martin while newcomer Martin Jones had a solid Sharks debut between the pipes. If the latter in particular has a strong season then it will go a long way towards making San Jose a serious contender again.

That being said, nothing has been proven yet. San Jose started the 2014-15 campaign with back-to-back shutouts and three straight wins, but still missed the playoffs. One decisive win against Los Angeles doesn’t necessarily mean much of anything. The Sharks in particular know that all too well given how their 2014 first round series went.

NHL on NBCSN: Wild, Avs enter season with plenty to prove

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the Minnesota Wild at 8:00 p.m. ET.

If there’s a common thread between the Avalanche and Wild, it’s how much each club has on the line this season. The reason for their heightened stakes is where the differences start to become apparent.

The Avalanche surprised pundits by taking the Central Division in 2014, but at the same time attracted calls that they overperformed based on their unflattering fancy statistics. So when they fell short on the playoffs last season, it not only was expected by some, but interpreted as confirmation that they were never as good as their 2013-14 showing suggested.

It’s up to Colorado now to show that GM Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy are leading this franchise in the right direction after those two polar opposite campaigns. The potential for them to do just that is there, especially if Nathan MacKinnon can rebound from his rough sophomore season and firmly join Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson, and Semyon Varlamov as one of the cornerstones of this franchise.

Minnesota didn’t have nearly as rough a campaign, but there was a time when it seemed like the Wild would miss the playoffs as well. When they acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14, the Wild were eight points out of a playoff spot. Had he not posted an unreal 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 39 starts following the trade, their season would have likely ended very differently.

Which begs the question: Can Dubnyk maintain anything close to that level of play going forward? And if he can’t, what does that mean for the Wild?

On top of that, simply being able to tread water might not be seen as much of a victory in Minnesota. Since the Wild acquired Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, they have made the playoffs in three straight campaigns, but have failed to get past the second round. The obvious hope after signing two elite players to massive contracts was that the move would help the Wild capture the Stanley Cup. If Year Four of their tenure comes and goes without any tangible progress then it will be reasonable to ask if they’re on the right course.

In short, a poor showing by either franchise in 2015-16 could lead to substantial changes. But both have an opportunity to prevent that, starting today.