New-look D will be key to Bruins’ success
BRIGHTON — It won’t be just about new faces.
More about the plan for their success and how the defense has been retooled to improve the team’s standing after two years of missing the playoffs.
“The whole season ended question-mark wise,” GM Don Sweeney said at Tuesday morning’s press conference of brass then brawn. “[Defense is] not one area, that’s the whole area from top to bottom we want to try and address.”
Ok, but clearly the D-corps was a big core of the problem going forward last April.
“We recognize the fact we scored a lot of goals last year, and let in a lot as well” Rask said after when the locker room opened. “Playing these exhibition games we seem to be more aggressive and playing quicker in our end.”
No major worry in net where the B’s will sit tight the next six months with Rask and Anton Khudobin set for steady service.
Not much concern for up-front production with a knee-deep complement of seven centers starting with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, Ryan Spooner, Dominic Moore and Noel Acciari. That contingent complemented with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and some new kids in winger Danton Heinen and center Austin Czarnik making the varsity to bring some hopeful zip to the offense.
Yep, it’s the blue line that has most of the question marks. The long anticipated trade for a bona fide No. 1 or 2 defenseman did not take place. Maybe Tuesday morning’s comments told us why. And how the team expects to improve the back end with a different formula in Beantown.
With Christian Ehrhoff ditching a Bruins’ contract offer to return to his native Deutschland – and Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller dinged up – the 2016-17 Boston D-corps on opening night likely reads Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, John-Michael Liles, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow and rookies Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara.
“Having the versatility of multiple centermen that have the ability to be wings,” Sweeney said. “You saw that in Team Canada where 10 of their 12 players were centers with their awareness down low and comfort level. Nothing better than a defenseman knowing the presence of that in order to take or make the flat pass and help the breakout.”
Spooner and Backes have already shifted to wing. Look for Moore to follow suit.
“Claude’s implemented two different things to make us play a little bit faster and defend a little bit differently,” Sweeney said. “There’s a lot of value there and an area we can improve upon.”
Translation 1: The Bruins need to cut down on turnovers in their own end that too often resulted in backbreaking goals the past two seasons by playing the center in transition with the defensemen.
No. 2 – Use the speed of the wingers to get the puck into the offensive zone, while the center and D get into position in the other team’s end.
“We need to jump on the play in our end,” Rask said, “and get those plays off quickly and move to the offense. That plays into aggressive offense.
“As a coaching staff, we’ve tried to implement some things that are going to make us better as a team which is going to make our defensive game and our defense be more efficient,” Julien revealed. “So, I think it’s shown so far in these preseason games. The puck is moving a lot better and there’s reasons for that. Everybody has kind of taken some responsibility. The players, I think the coaching staff, are making some adjustments.
“And, obviously, some new players coming in and showing us that they can step in there and help us out.”
Enter Carlo and O’Gara.
Carlo put in 22 minutes-plus in Boston’s last preseason game Saturday night, a 1-0 overtime win over Philadelphia. The 6-foot-5, 202-pound 2015 Bruins’ 2015 draftee was paired with 39-year-old, 6-foot-9 Chara in Tuesday’s practice for what is likely the combined tallest blue-line tandem in NHL history. It appears that is a good place for Sweeney and Julien to develop Carlo into a desperately needed long-term presence for years to come on Causeway Street.
“That would be awesome,” Carlo said about potentially starting with Chara on Thursday. “I feel like I’m ready for whatever is thrown at me. Overall I feel I played strong [in the preseason] and moved the puck really well. I think they want to start integrating young guys. That’s something was on a lot of the media over the summer.”
“Both big guys with long sticks and very tough to play against,” said Acciari who made the NCAA jump to NHL play in one year – like O’Gara. “They’ll do well.”
“Absolutely ready,” a beaming O’Gara declared. “Absolutely surprised [about being at Yale last year and now starting in the NHL].”
He concurred about the Sweeney and Julien plan. “Absolutely about the centers. Having that talent, they are so smart and always in the right spot. They’ll be good in the defensive zone and the breakout. Playing fast is what we want to do and them help moving the puck up ice helps a lot.”
“The camp helped a lot to understand what the speed is like and how strong guys are. Being comfortable in that environment and play your game and not having your head spin [with so many talented opponents] coming down the wing. I think that’s how I’ll survive these opening weeks.”
“They had a good preseason and management and the coaching staff feels they belong to the lineup,” Chara said. “So I will try to help them but at the same time he needs to listen to coaching staff and the way they want him to develop. And focus on how we can be most effective together.”
One Bruin who made the jump in one year from Michigan State to No. 2 on the Bruins’ depth chart on defense is Krug. O’Gara’s path is already similar to Krug in one sense after Sweeney signed the former Yale Bulldog as an unrestricted free agent out of college.
“The key for [Carlo and O’Gara] is to think the game differently, Krug said. “In college not as much thinking – more go go go. You’re playing against the smartest players in the world. Even guys on the fourth line can out think the opposition. It’s about understanding how the game works and not just going out there to make plays.”
If Tuesday’s practice is a foreshadowing for pairings on defense Thursday night in Columbus, it looks like Chara and Carlo; Krug and O’Gara; John Michael Liles and Colin Miller with Joe Morrow as the swingman.
“The youth stood out, it popped for me,” team owner Jeremy Jacobs said Tuesday after watching the preseason games at TD Garden. “I think, among the entire management team, everybody in the group was hoping, but wasn’t certain, about what was going to arrive here. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many good, young, talented players come in and step up.”
That’s a long-awaited dynamic that seemed annually snuffed out by Julien’s long-time rumor of lacking patience with young players.
His response with several rookies now in his lineup for some time?
“I think it’s exciting, first of all,” Julien said with a slight blush. “Second of all, I’ve always had a lot of patience for those guys; you guys just don’t see it. So, I started coaching junior hockey where I had 20 of those young players, so I needed a lot of patience back then.”
He and Bruins’ fans will need even more now with a new look blue-line
“We feel like we’re on the path to do this in a way that’s going to give us success for a long period of time,” Bruins President Cam Neely summed.