The Boston Bruins have concluded the preseason and training camp schedule. The team finished with a 4-2-1 record in the seven exhibition games that were on the slate. Throughout this grueling process, the roster cuts were in abundance and some tough decisions were made.
At this point, we now know what the 2015-16 Bruins will look like heading into opening night.
Bruins president Cam Neely vehemently reiterated to the media this past Thursday that it is “unfair” for head coach Claude Julien to come into this season on the proverbial hot seat.
With all due respect to Neely, that should not be the scenario.
In case we all misremember, Julien was in jeopardy of losing his job this past April when the Bruins went through that ugly, late-season collapse in Florida. Boston missed the playoffs for the first time in over seven years. Once Peter Chiarelli was relieved of his duties as general manager, we here in Boston firmly believed that the writing on the wall was evident. Despite the minor overhaul that took place with this team throughout the summer, one of the aspects that remained constant was the fact that Julien and his staff would return for the 2015-16 season.
The Black and Gold finished the first month of the 2014-15 season with a 6-6-0 record. This time around, the roster has been upgraded and Julien has allegedly adjusted his system to produce more goals on offense. If the Bruins do not finish with a better record than that to begin the year, Julien will not last the month of November.
Some of the other big questions were regarding just how well the new acquisitions would mesh with the returning players. The answer is stellar.
As if there were any doubt, Matt Beleskey (the big-name free agent that came over after the trade of Milan Lucic) will start the year on the top line with David Krejci and David Pastrnak.
“They are both great players,” said Beleskey during the B’s annual media day. “The skill set on both of them is awesome, so I am really looking forward on seeing what is to come.”
The left-winger should produce at a high level with Boston considering that Krejci is more of a playmaking center than Ryan Kesler–Beleskey’s former linemate in Anaheim. He is coming off a stellar postseason, netting eight goals.
With the second line sorting out to be Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson, a line that had its ups and downs this past month, the third line of Jimmy Hayes-Ryan Spooner-Brett Connolly has looked unbelievable this preseason. Connolly recorded a pair of goals on September 30 against the New York Rangers while Spooner has been on point with his puck control and defensive game.
Arguably, the fourth line was completely up for battle heading into training camp. The names that were competing for the three spots were Chris Kelly Zac Rinaldo, Seth Griffith, Brian Ferlin, Max Talbot, and Joonas Kemppainen.
The fourth-line forwards would give the Bruins plenty of options with Kemppainen sorting out to be a really intriguing prospect for this season based on his size (6-foot-3, 223 pounds), face-off abilities, and talent at killing penalties. Kelly and Rinaldo will be the wingers as that rounds out a very solid fourth line that could produce in all three zones. Talbot was waived by the team on Monday morning.
Griffith lost some momentum when he suffered a sprained MCL in the team’s first exhibition game, sidelining him for a number of weeks. Tyler Randell emerged as a gritty tough guy that provides a spark, but the B’s do not necessarily need too many of those players to begin the year.
Coming into training camp, the obvious hole on this roster was the blue line. The defense took two other hits over the past month with injuries to Boston’s top-two defensemen. Dennis Seidenberg will be out of action for eight weeks after having back surgery to repair a herniated disc. As for the captain, Zdeno Chara was dinged up after taking a hit along the bench during a preseason game against the Rangers. He was listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
“Things are starting to feel better every day for me,” said Chara during media day. “I’m just going to keep skating and working hard on my own so I can put myself in a situation where I can jump right in to help the team.” We will certainly keep any on his status for opening night, but the young defensemen within the organization should keep themselves ready as they will be counted on during various times of the year.
Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid will have to live up to the new contracts that they each signed this offseason and play big minutes for the Bruins. Zach Trotman, Kevan Miller, and Matt Irwin should play consistent throughout the year, but a player like Colin Miller is a guy that the Bruins need desperately. He is a dynamic puck mover and a huge threat offensively. With Dougie Hamilton in Calgary, a player like C. Miller in the lineup is essential. The question becomes whether or not the team goes that route as the year progresses?
As for the goaltending battle, Jonas Gustavsson put everything on the line for this tryout opportunity. The 30-year-old veteran put forth a great showing this past Wednesday against the Rangers, stopping 24-of-27 shots in the 3-2 loss, as well as allowing zero goals in a split-duty performance early in September. His performance was good enough for him to earn the one-year contract of $700,000 to back up Tuukka Rask this year. He appeared in 148 NHL games, racking up a 60-55-21 record with a 2.89 goals against average and .901 save percentage. If he can start and produce quality results in 18-20 games this season, then hallelujah. Rask desperately needs a lighter load.
By the end of the season, the chemistry issues that were lacking last year should not resurface this season. As we may forget, the Bruins finished with 96 points at the end of 2014-15, a point total that set a record for highest number of points accumulated for a non-playoff team.
One thing we can expect is that the Bruins will not be the perceived push-over that they were considered last year, judging from the physical rough stuff we saw in the final preseason game against the Washington Capitals (four fighting majors and 68 penalty minutes). This time around, things will shake out in their favor. The Bruins should finish third in the division behind the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning, claiming a playoff spot that they missed out on one year ago.
Up first for the B’s is a three-game homestand. They will take on the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 8. Welcome back, NHL hockey.