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Boston Bruins Season Preview: Bergeron's Team

Mark Blinch. Getty Images.

"Different", that's what Charlie McAvoy called the first day of training camp. "Different". Without Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug no doubt this is a different Boston Bruins team. A disappointing loss to the eventual Cup Champs in last year's bubble playoffs should fuel them as they truly have only 1 (maybe 2) year(s) left for a Cup run with this core. Tuukka Rask and David Krejci are UFA's at year end. There is certainly a "different" look to this team, but they were still President's Trophy winners last year, and with an outstanding goaltending tandem anything can happen. Whether they go for one last kick at the can or punt on the season is up to the players and Don Sweeney. With just 56 total games this season, it's important to get off on the right foot. 

It all starts tonight.

FORWARDS

Marchand - Bergeron - Studnicka/Pastrnak

DeBrusk - Krejci - Kase

Ritchie - Coyle - Smith

Bjork/Frederic - Kuraly - Wagner

Above is the projected opening night roster..

- Let's talk about the top line. David Pastrnak will not begin the season, but he isn't far away. Both him (hip) and Marchand (sports hernia) had surgery this offseason. Marchand said he had been playing at about 80% for the last 2 years and feels way better after the surgery. Bruce Cassidy says he's a game time decision tonight, but expects him to play.

David Pastrnak has been skating but won't make the road trip. Bruce Cassidy says he's ahead of schedule (target date was Mid-Feb). That means Jack Studnicka will start the year on the 1st line with 37+63. Studnicka had an awesome playoffs last season, he's a natural center but with the B's loaded down the middle right now, he's too good to not be in the NHL, and hopefully he'll be a suitable winger until Pastrnak's return. 

- Speaking of Pasta, there's a meatball on the way! The future Dad and his girlfriend announced they are having a boy! All the best to them. But 56 game season, Pasta already on the shelf at the beginning, I suspect it won't take him long to get back to his usual goal scoring self once he returns. It's crucial for the Bruins to start off on the right foot tonight until 88 can return.

How many goals do you think the average joe could put up playing 1st line minutes with Marchand and Bergeron? Feitelberg and I actually talked about this on my podcast. I feel like at least 10/15 goals right? Some easy tap ins? It's interesting to think about.

- With Zdeno Chara's departure to DC, Patrice Bergeron was named the 20th Captain in B's history. What an honor for him. I know he was considered "co-captain" by everyone in the locker room. But it's his team now. Bergy didn't have any offseason surgeries or anything so he should be good to go tonight. All gas no brakes. It's his team now and with the window rapidly closing he's going to have to get the best out of everyone this year. Truly could be the last time this core makes a run. He will lead by example and it starts with helping his new line mate Jack Studnicka succeed.

- DeBrusk - Krejci - Kase round out the 2nd line. David Krejci is a UFA at year's end, so it's a big year to say the least. I have no doubts about his abilities and what he brings to the table. I'm looking for more consistency this year from this line. Jake DeBrusk just got a new 2 year bridge deal from the B's, so this line is definitely a "prove it to me" line. On paper they should click, but we'll see how they look on the ice. Can DeBrusk take them to the next level? 

- I think a lot of fans are soured at Ondrej Kase (4 assists/11 games) after his playoff performance last year. Just felt like he was due every single game. All flash but no finish which was certainly infuriating. Hopefully a full camp will benefit him. He'll continue to gain chemistry with Krejci and hopefully, just hopefully he is the answer as 2RW (the optimist in me says yes). I would preach patience with this line, sometimes it takes them a while to get going. Especially without a preseason. But if Kase doesn't succeed I expect the new guy to get some shifts alongside Krejci and DeBrusk…

- The biggest signing of the offseason for the Bruins was Craig Smith. As a volume shooter he's going to look great next to Charlie Coyle. Smith had 18 goals, 13 assists (31 points) in 69 games last year (nice). He's had 5 seasons with AT LEAST 21 goals. I think he's perfect for this line. Word from camp is that the 3rd line looks new and improved, hopefully that duo can find some chemistry with Nick Ritchie. Heavy line, I'm excited to see the damage they can do. If they can provide some secondary scoring, then watch out. One of the biggest weaknesses for the Bruins in the playoffs last year was their lack of secondary scoring and their 3rd line. Should be a noticeable difference this year. Will Ritchie have the foot speed to keep up with these guys is the question. There are plenty of players they can plug in if Ritchie can't keep up.

- Charlie Coyle is a puck possession monster. He'll also start on the 1st PP with David Pastrnak's absence. Good linemate for Coyle in Smith and top PP opportunity? Sign me up for a big season from the 3rd line center.

- Sean Kuraly at center or at wing? That is the question for Bruce Cassidy. Where is he best deployed? Joakim Nordstrom is now a Calgary Flame. Chris Wagner begins his new deal. There are a lot of question marks for the 4th line but Kuraly is a "one man cycle".. as Bruce Cassidy likes to call him. Looks like he'll start at Center with Anders Bjork coming in to play LW. Bjork would love to be playing in the top 9, but with the acquisition of Smith and the emergence of Studnicka he's sort of found himself trying to just stay in the lineup. Bjork is great because you can plug and play him anywhere. Hopefully he can bring an offensive game despite his 4th line role. If not, Trent Frederic is a heavier body waiting in the wings. 

Taxi squad: Trent Frederic, Greg McKegg

Players to watch: Jack Studnicka, Craig Smith, David Krejci

DEFENSE

Lauzon - McAvoy

Grzelcyk - Carlo

Zboril - Miller

Moore - Clifton

The most glaring hole in this Boston Bruins team is the defense. On the first day of free agency in October, Torey Krug signed a 7 year deal in St. Louis. The Bruins had pulled their offer from a year ago off the table. Pretty shitty thing for Don Sweeney to do, seeing as Krug signed a pretty much identical deal with STL. But that's neither here nor there. I wish Torey nothing but the best and I'm happy he got the bag.

Zdeno Chara was offered a contract a month ago, but did not sign. He said Sweeney wouldn't guarantee his spot in the lineup, he'd be more of a "reserve player" according to Chara. Thus, Zdeno took his ball and went home to DC where he felt like he had a bigger opportunity. They promised him nothing. He signed a 1 year deal worth less than $800k. Two big pieces of the D corps are now gone…

How are the Bruins going to spread Zdeno Chara's former 21 minutes a night? "By committee" of course. Word from Camp is that Jeremy Lauzon will start the year off with Charlie McAvoy, unlike Matt Grzeclyk as some had hoped (it's me, I wanted Gryz and McAvoy together). Speaking of Grzelcyk, he'll be getting PP1 opportunities, I think because of all the other situations the Bruins will deploy McAvoy in. But with Krug gone, it's Gryz's power play to lose. 

Chuckie Bright Lights: the lights have never been brighter for Charlie McAvoy. He's going to be asked to do everything for the defense. While he's just 23, it's his defense now. I know Bruce Cassidy said they don't want Charlie to play any differently, spoiler alert: he's going to have to. There is no Zdeno Chara to help kill penalties or scare opposing teammates with his reach. McAvoy will have to become a leader in his own right. I think he's gonna take strides this season, I really do. I think you'll see him take more offensive chances now that Chara's gone. 

Jeremy Lauzon will play alongside McAvoy on the top pairing. Lauzon I think has a lot of room to grow, but he's a guy that will throw his body around and will get angry. Sometimes you like a good bit of nasty, I think if he stays out of the box he will compliment McAvoy well. But I can also see Cassidy with a short leash, it is a 56 game season after all. It's Lauzon's spot to lose at the moment. I like the bite to his game.

Brandon Carlo is a guy I'm looking to this year to continue to take it to the next level, and like McAvoy, lead the D corps. Yes, McAvoy is your generational defenseman. But Carlo has been around for a little bit now, he's going to have to step up and be a leader as well. With Chara gone I think he'll eat a lot of those minutes. He'll be a staple on the PK. 

Jakub Zboril beat out the likes of John Moore for the 3rd pairing spot, playing with… Kevan Miller, who hasn't played in a year and a half (knee). This pairing worries me the most. Quite frankly I think they'll get eaten alive. It's nice knowing Moore, who has more NHL experience, is waiting in the wings. Suffice to say that this is the biggest weakness for the Bruins. Will the kids be able to step up and make the jump? Stay tuned. This is by far going to be the most challenging thing to watch as a Bruins fan this season, if the kids can't get it done does Don Sweeney make a trade? They have ample space to work with to bring someone in. There are going to be mistakes and mishaps and misreads, but Sweeney told Chara not to let the door hit him on the way out. This is the way.

Giphy Images.

Taxi squad: Urho Vaakanainen

Players to watch: Charlie McAvoy, Jakub Zboril, Kevan Miller

GOALTENDERS

If you still think Tuukka Rask made the wrong choice by leaving the bubble, you're an idiot. 

Rask is ready to go this season despite all the trade rumors this summer. He's a UFA at year's end but has expressed interest in returning, and wants to finish his career a Boston Bruin.

The Bruins truly do go as far as he goes, and with a 56 game season he'll play about 60% of the games. Rask was a Vezina finalist last year (.929 save %, 2.12 GAA, 26-8-6 record), and I have no doubts he'll rise to the occasion once again this year during a contract year. He's elite. He'll have his haters who will bash him for leaving the bubble when he loses a game this season, but the players in the locker room know what they're getting from Tuukka Rask and frankly that's all that matters. 

One of the biggest strengths this season for the B's is the goalie tandem with Jaro Halak. Especially in such an odd, shortened year, so it makes sense why the Bruins are trying to keep them separated to avoid a COVID outbreak. Rask will get the start in New Jersey, I imagine Halak will play Saturday afternoon.

Taxi squad: Dan Vladar

Players to watch: Contract Year Tuukka Rask


THE EAST DIVISION

Bruins, Flyers, Capitals, Penguins, Islanders, Rangers, Sabres, Devils

For the first time in Franchise History the Boston Bruins will not play the Montreal Canadiens. Pretty weird.

No Tampa Bay or Toronto in their division this year, but the Bruins will still see some great teams 8x. Rivalries will start to form and guys will fucking hate each other by the playoffs. B's just need a top 4 spot in their division to make the playoffs which is absolutely feasible. I think they will be a top 2 team in their division. How will they fare against a Holtby-less Capitals team? (seeing Zdeno Chara 8x this year will be weird). Everyone seems to be high on the Flyers to go far this year. What about the new look Rangers? It's anyone's guess how the Bruins will do against these teams in a shortened season. Here is who I have in the top four:

1) Bruins (I'm a homer, what do you expect) 

2) Flyers 

3) Capitals 

4) Penguins or Islanders 

---------------

6) Rangers 

7) Sabres 

8) Devils

Without a preseason it's tough to tell, on paper the Bruins are still a very good team. Once I see a few games under their belt it'll be easier to judge. The Bruins are the favorite in the East (According to the Barstool Sportsbook). 

The B's window feels like it is closing at a rapid pace. This may be the last true Stanley Cup run this core makes as Tuukka Rask and David Krejci are UFA's at season's end. 56 game season. Gotta get a good start and go from there. It's Bergeron's team now, I have no doubt he will have guys ready to go tonight. But the start is absolutely crucial. 

Will Don Sweeney preach patience if the defense stinks up the joint early in the season? We'll see. But with one last true year to make a run I think he should be doing anything and everything he can to improve this team this year. I think come the trade deadline the Bruins will acquire a top 4 defenseman. I'd love to go all in one more time for this core.

I had Frankie Borrelli on my podcast today to break down the New York Islanders and the East Division. Please download, rate and subscribe. Really does wonders for my podcast when you guys do that!

Click here for Apple Podcasts.



LOOKING FORWARD:

Willie O'Ree will have his number 22 retired by the Boston Bruins on February 18th!

"Willie's contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor." - Cam Neely

Well deserved. If you haven't seen it already, I urge you to watch his documentary "Willie". 


B's officially playing the Flyers at Lake Tahoe on Feb 21st:

Somehow, someway Feitelberg and I will be there. I need to be there. It sounds incredible. 

The rendering is insane.


GEAR UP:

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Puck drops at 7 pm tonight against the New Jersey Devils. Brad Marchand is a game time decision but Bruce Cassidy suspects he'll play. Craig Smith is also a game time decision (lower body). Greg McKegg and Urho Vaakanainen traveling as taxi squad members. Tuukka Rask in net. I'm fired up and might shed a tear when I see 37 lead the guys out on the ice with a C on his jersey. Boys are back. LFG. 

It's a great night to win a hockey game.