Given the lack of roster turnover from last year’s Bruins squad, I was tempted to just cut-and-paste last year’s preview while subbing Dougie Hamilton for Joe Corvo, Chris Bourque for Benoit Pouliot, and Tuukka Rask for Tim Thomas and seeing if anyone noticed. But there’s a one huge difference between last year’s edition and this year’s—the 2013 Bruins won’t be entering the season exhausted and hungover after 25 playoff games then a raucous summer of celebration 39 years in the making.

Overcoming a stumble out of the gate last season, the Bs were firing on all cylinders this time last year but when the post-season dance began, they weren’t sharp and didn’t always match Washington’s intensity. So they didn’t last long. Like the hockey players the are, the Bruins were too proud to make any excuses for their surprising first round departure. So I’ll make it for them: they were fucking spent.

Though no player expressly said it, there were a couple of quotes that gave an indication just how drained they were—Shawn Thornton comparing the last two seasons to a baseball season and Greg Campbell noting that it felt like one long season with a small break in the summer. They played a shitload of hockey and when they playoffs rolled around, they had little left in the tank after 189 games in the previous 19 months. They tried. But they were gassed.

 

After the Game 7 loss, the locker room felt like a giant exhale, like now they can catch their breath. They had a short yet proud reign that they can hold their heads high about. They’ll look to start their second one in three seasons starting tomorrow night at the Garden when the Rangers come to town. The ridiculously crammed 48 game season essentially means the playoff chase starts before Groundhog Day so the Bs will need to avoid a slow start so they’re not playing catch-up for three months.

But there’s no reason to expect this team to falter. More than half the team played overseas so they’re in mid-season form as far as conditioning. They still sport one of the deepest rosters in the league. They’re still favorites to win the Northeast Division and a top four playoff seeding should be the minimum expectation for the Boston Bruins. I think they’re game for another Cup run. A closer look…

Forwards

Claude appears to be going with the same top line of the last two years to start the season, David Krejci centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. Each guy will be answering their own question: How will Horton look in his first action since his last concussion? How long will it take for Lucic to catch up with his teammates’ conditioning? Will the criticism and fake trade rumors light a fire under Krejci’s ass after a what many considered an off year?

When this line is working, it’s one of the more potent in the league. When it’s not, it can be painful to watch. Claude needs to have a quick trigger finger with such a short season. If somebody isn’t getting it done or can’t keep up, drop him down a line or two and plug that kid Tyler Seguin in his place.

Seguin will once again be playing with Selke winner Patrice Bergeron and the impish 28-goal scorer Brad Marchand. This speedy line shows remarkable cohesion a lot of the time and combined to score nearly 80 goals last year. Expect the still underage Seguin to come out flying after tearing up his Swiss league and looking to take the next step toward NHL superstardom. At times last year, this was the de facto #1 line and given the chemistry these three have shown, don’t be surprised to see it outscore the Krejci line.

Right now, Bourque appears to have a firm grip on the last forward hole to plug, nestling in with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley on a checking unit with its share of offensive capability. The offensively gifted son of the Bs legendary defenseman will need to focus on his two-way game to stick on this line. Peverley and Kelly are good enough to play on most teams’ second line and epitomize the Bs depth at forward.

Once again, Dan Paille, Greg Campbell, and Shawn Thornton will make up one of the most effective fourth lines in the league, though they did hit a few bumps in the road last year. Still, this unit does a great job of hemming the puck in the offensive zone to wear down whatever line they’re facing. Paille is also one of the team’s best penalty killers. Expect a bit of a bounce-back from this trio after last year’s sub-par campaign.

Burlington native Jay Pandolfo, who was a premiere penalty killer with the Devils for years, looks to have the inside track on the 13th forward spot. But that’s only a pulled hammy or shitty game from skating 15 minutes a night.

Defenseman

The giant Slovakian captain Zdeno Chara will once again anchor a bruising back-end corps that is perhaps better suited for the defensive aspects of the job than the offensive ones. After Big Z’s 12-40–52 last year, Andrew Ference is the 2nd highest scoring D-man returning with 6-18–24 totals. But all eyes are going to be on 19-year-old Hamilton, who is expected to make his pro debut Saturday night.

Hamilton, of course, was part of the bounty Peter Chiarelli pilfered from the recently canned Toronto GM Brian Burke in exchange for Phil Kessel. He has been paired with German machine Dennis Seidenberg, who can provide a solid veteran presence to help out the youngster in his own end. But eventually, the 9th overall pick in the ‘11 draft will be looked on to provide the offensive punch the unit is lacking. The 6’5” rookie averaged over a point per game his last two seasons of juniors. Seidenberg will provide his typical fierce yet steady game that has made him a fan favorite the last couple years. One of PC’s best acquisitions ever.

Johnny Boychuk, Ference, and Adam McQuaid each play a hard-nosed game, stick up for teammates, and chip in offensively. McQuaid has quickly and quietly established himself around the league as a guy you better think twice about scrapping with because he’s a tough bastard. This will be just the fourth full season for the 28-year-old Boychuk though it seems like he’s been here much longer. Ference is in the last year of his deal and is scheduled to be unrestricted free agent this summer. I’d like to see the front office lock him up for another two years at reasonable money if they can. The affable vet has been a great addition and took a little of the stink off the shit pie that was the Joe Thornton trade.

Journeyman Aaron Johnson, acquired over the summer, is the projected #7 defenseman unless one of the P-Bruins bumps him out. The Bruins are his 6th team since joining the NHL in 2003-04.

Goalies

Six-and-a-half years after Toronto traded his rights to Boston (thanks again, guys) for future journeyman Andrew Raycroft, Rask will take over where Thomas left off and try to replicate the success he had two seasons ago when he posted league best numbers in save percentage and goals against average (.931, 1.97). However, he did falter a bit as the Philly choke job dragged on. He’ll need to be much better this spring if the Bruins are to make a serious run. Tuukka finally has the crease all to himself. Let’s see if he takes advantage. If he struggles early, it’ll be interesting to see how quick Claude goes to back-up Anton Khudobin, who just might surprise a few people this year when he does get his opportunities. The Bs may well be sitting on two #1 goalies again. Still, all eyes will be on the lanky Finn.

A few buds for your season opening bowl…

*Congratulations to Milan & Brittany Lucic on the birth of their daughter. Best wishes.

*Claude will decide on the second ‘A’ this weekend. On a veteran team like this, there’s no shortage of candidates. I’d expect he does something similar to last year with rotating ‘A’s at home and on the road.

*17 games in March? Holy shit. Good luck with that.

*At The Harp’s Hockey Resurrection party on Thursday, Thornton addressed the crowd with “thanks for putting up with the bullshit”. No flies on 22.

*12/1 were the best Cup odds I saw for Bs. Pretty good price for a team that won it all just two seasons ago. I’ll be making the obligatory/annual wager. Paid off two years ago.

*The Bs need to fix their woeful power play. This can be done by putting #19 on PP1.

*Key dates: April 3rd is the trade deadline. Season ends on April 27th, playoffs start on the 30th. June 30th is the draft. Free agency starts on July 5th.

 

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