With opening night less than 24 hours away, the Boston Bruins prepare for their 90th season in the National Hockey League. And like the past few seasons, the Black and Gold are pegged by many pundits as one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup.
As part of realignment, this season marks the Bruins’ first in the eight-team Atlantic Division. Can they hold off the Detroit Red Wings in the new look division? Will an up and coming team like the Ottawa Senators overtake them? Will the short off-season affect the Black and Gold?
Those questions will take some time to answer, but for now let’s take a look at the top five Bruins’ questions entering the 2013-14 season.
Will the power play improve?
The Bruins’ power play has been a mystery since Marc Savard suffered his career-ending concussion. At times, they can light it up like they did against the Rangers in the second round last year. At other times, the man advantage can be powerless as seen against the Habs in 2011 when they didn’t score a single power play goal.
Having Torey Krug at the point should spread out the opponents’ penalty kill. New additions like Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson should give the Bruins an added boost up front on the man advantage. Moreover, with Zdeno Chara now playing up front, the B’s have several options they can use at the point, including Krug, Johnny Boychuk, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, just to name a few.
Will the power play be tops in the league? Maybe not. But finishing in the top 10 is a reasonable goal for head coach Claude Julien and company.
Will the new additions pan out?
Speaking of the new additions, the Bruins drew quite the buzz this off-season in adding Eriksson (in a trade with Dallas that sent Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Stars) and Iginla. Both of whom fill important voids with the Black and Gold.
With Nathan Horton signing with Columbus, Iginla is the natural fill in for the top line with Krejci and Milan Lucic. The former Calgary Flame and Pittsburgh Penguin provides the B’s with muscle and grit as a power forward, much like Horton did. Sure, the 36-year old is past his prime, but he is hungry for a Stanley Cup and he still has enough in the tank to deliver anywhere between 25 and 30 goals.
Eriksson, meanwhile, plays well on both ends of the ice – something his fellow linemates, Bergeron and Brad Marchand, aren’t used to having around them. And its something that compliments the two.
“He’s a very good player, a very good two-way player, and he can score a lot of goals,” Marchand said about his new linemate. “He’s very smart [with] a big body and he’s really good in front. It’s going to be fun playing with him.”
“They’re two great players to play with,” Eriksson said about playing with Bergeron and Marchand. “They have a lot of good qualities out there. We only played two games together so far, but the more games we play, the better we’re going to be as a unit.”
Iginla and Eriksson are by far the two biggest additions in Boston. But another newcomer, Reilly Smith – also acquired in the trade with Dallas – impressed B’s management to earn a spot on the team’s third line for the upcoming season.
So far the chemistry seems to be growing with the new additions, especially after a team bonding event up in Vermont earlier in the week.
“That’s the whole point of having that team bonding [event] and I think we got to know the new guys a little bit more,” Bergeron said. “Obviously we have a lot of guys coming back from the last few years, so it’s pretty easy to get to know them, and I think we have a great mix of guys right now.”
For some, a turnover in the roster could mean an adjustment period. For the Black and Gold, it just means that they are ready to reload.
How will the Bruins’ young defenseman fare in a full season?
With injuries to some of the defensive core during last year’s postseason, Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton were inserted into the lineup with a lot of weight on their shoulders. Fortunately for Bruins fans, the trio played quite well and gave the B’s some needed offense from the blue-line.
But after last year’s success, Krug, personally, has higher expectations entering the season.
“Obviously you want to come in and help the team win and that’s the first thing that you want to do,” said the former Michigan State Spartan. “For me, personally, I want to prove that I can be on this club full-time and that I can contribute to the winning ways of the team. And that’s the expectation that I have for myself and that’s what it is.”
The emergence of Krug, Hamilton and Bartkowski forced Andrew Ference out of town last year. This year, Dennis Seidenberg, who is on the last year of his current deal, could be out the door during the off-season if the young trio take another step forward.
Can Tuukka Rask stay healthy?
Last year, Tuukka erased all doubts by becoming the Bruins goaltender of the “now.” The Finnish netminder notched four shutouts during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and got the B’s within two games of winning their second Stanley Cup in three years.
There’s no denying that Rask inserted himself as one of the top goaltenders in the league during the lockout shortened season. But, can he sustain that over a full season?
Injury problems have plagued Tuukka in the past. Coming off a strong rookie season in 2009-10, Tuukka lost the starting job to Tim Thomas the next year due to performance and injury. He bounced back in 2011-12, but another injury late in the season set him back.
Despite the concerns during a full 82-game season, Julien is confident that his netminder can handle the workload.
“There’s no doubt he’s our No. 1 [goalie] and is going to play a good portion of the games,” said the seventh year Bruins’ bench boss. “Last year was a half season and he handled it extremely well. I have no doubt he’ll handle an 82-game schedule just as well, but I think I’m going to gage it as we get along.”
Rask is one of the favorites to start for Team Finland in this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, so perhaps Julien will lighten his workload prior to the February break. Either way, Tuukka should be one of the favorites to win the Vezina Trophy.
Can the B’s stay atop the Atlantic?
The Bruins were the class of the Northeast Division the last few years as the Canadiens, Sabres, Maple Leafs and Senators all took a backseat. They’ll all be joining the Atlantic Division as part of realignment along with the Red Wings – coming over from the West – Panthers and Lightning – from the old Southeast Division.
All 30 teams will have to adjust, but, even with the focus on divisional matchups, the B’s plan to stay atop the Atlantic – with Ottawa and Detroit as their biggest threats – and have another deep playoff run.
“I feel we’re in a good spot,” said GM Peter Chiarelli. “It’s new. I like the idea of playing within your division. I think we’re in our division, I think a lot of teams are good, but I think we play well within our division.”