Tuesday, October 07, 2008
BRUINS SEASON PREVIEW
Just because you're not hearing anything about it doesn't mean it won't happen. The Bruins start regular season play Thursday night in Denver against the Avalanche.
The B's are coming off a somewhat successful 07-08 campaign, which saw a first round playoff exit, but only after giving Montreal a run for their fake looking play money. Considering most of the season was played without star center Patrice Bergeron, it was a good year for us dozen or so Bruins fans.
The biggest off-season acquisition was signing winger Michael Ryder, formerly of the Canadiens. Not exactly like the Celtics getting KG a year ago, or the Patriots getting Moss, or the Sox getting Schilling.
HOWEVER, the Bruins will have a healthy Patrice Bergeron this season.
The Bruins lacked explosive scoring potential last year. They scored by grinding out possessions, playing good defense, forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, and cleaning up the garbage in front of the net. But Bergeron is a playmaker. He can create space and generate offensive pressure with the best of them.
I think the B's will build on their moderate success of last year's season, get a decent playoff seeding (4th or 5th), and make a deep run in the postseason. They might even make the Stanley Cup Finals. But whoever wins the East will be demolished by the monstrous Red Wings.
Here's a position-by-position preview:
Tim Thomas stepped up and became the clear #1 last season when Manny Fernandez went down with an injury. Neither Thomas nor Fernandez are the kind of goalies that will stand on their heads and steal games on their own. But they don't screw up, and if the defense in front of them is solid, they'll keep the Bruins in position to win almost every game.
Captain Zdeno Chara leads a defense full of familiar faces. The Bruins didn't make any changes to their blue-liners. Chara had career highs in goals, assists, and points. He'll be paired with Dennis Wideman. The 25 year old excelled on the powerplay and was a force on the ice with Chara.
24 year old Mark Stuart will probably pair with 13 year veteran Aaron Ward. The 3rd defensive pairing of Andrew Alberts and Andrew Ference is significantly weaker than the top two, and could be a liability. But the top two groups spend enough time on the ice against the better forwards that it shouldn't be a major problem.
The Bruins will roll two very talented lines, a 3rd line with the potential to score, and a hard grinding 4th line. Marc Savard was 3rd in the NHL in assists last year. He'll team up with Michael Ryder and PJ Axelsson. Axellsson is best known for his defense. Ryder was once a legitimate scorer, but his last season with Montreal was a failure. Being with Savard should help him return to quality. But if he doesn't, Savard's passing and playmaking will be wasted.
Bergeron, Marco Sturm, and Phil Kessel will be one of the most exciting lines in the NHL. Bergeron has 90 point potential, Sturm has solidly gotten over 25 goals consistently in his career and has the potential for 30+, and 21 year old Kessel has the speed and skill sets to be a top forward in the NHL.
The Bruins power play was a disappointment last season, but it doesn't look like it will be in 08-09. Bergeron, Sturm, Savard, Ryder, and Chara can be put on the ice with a man advantage. That's a lot of firepower there.
The Bruins have a number of young forwards that showed sparks last year. Milan Lucic became a star in the postseason. He's PJ Stock only bigger, much better defensively, and a better scorer.
David Krejci came out of nowhere and amassed 27 points in 56 games.
Chuck Kobasew was 2nd on the team with 22 goals last year.
The enforcer Shawn Thornton averaged a penalty minute about every 6 minutes of ice time he got.
The important thing about this team is that it has character. We saw that in the Montreal series last year, in the overtime win, and the classic 5-4 Game 6 victory. It's not going to be pretty European style hockey like the Canadiens play. It won't be star-studded offensive onslaughts like the Red Wings. It won't be cheap shot goonery like the Flyers. It will be a healthy mix of scrappy, determined physical play with offensive firepower, and stingy defense.
I - for one - am more excited for this season than any Bruins season in recent memory.
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez