Boston Bruins: How Will They Match Up with the Northeast Division in 2012-13?
Each of the Boston Bruins’ divisional rivals has padded on a little brawn, a little firepower or a combination of the two via trades or free agency this summer. Conversely, the two-time Northeast Division champions are projecting to re-emerge for the coming season with nothing more than a couple of internal transactions, i.e. promotions through the system.
Barring any moves, forward Jordan Caron will have every chance to assimilate himself into a full-time role after splitting his first two professional campaigns between the NHL and AHL. The abrupt departure of goaltender Tim Thomas means backup Tuukka Rask and Providence starter Anton Khudobin each ascend one slot. Dougie Hamilton is the front-running candidate to fill the sixth spot on defense.
Other than that, head coach Claude Julien is working with the same basic group that went 19-4-1 against divisional adversaries last season.
The fact that each of the four opponents in question have proactively sought improvement and the mere notion that such dominance is hard to duplicate means the Bruins will be dealing with a stingier circuit in 2012-13.
Nonetheless, sustained doggedness from one of the regular season’s most prolific offenses and continued reliability on the part of towering captain Zdeno Chara should keep the general outlook status quo. Boston may grant Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto an average of one or two extra points apiece in the coming campaign, but has no reason not to win each season series again.
Based on how each team’s roster currently stands, here is a breakdown of the Bruins’ four divisional matchups.
Though not nearly as prolific as Roy when they are on top of their respective games, Ott is a respectable producer whose physicality speaks for itself. He has tallied double digits in both goals and assists in each of the last five seasons, but more importantly, has overwhelmingly eclipsed the final hit count of any Buffalo player the last three years.
In reverse chronological order, Ott has landed 278, 252 and 251 hits in his last three campaigns with Dallas. Conversely, Buffalo’s leaders in that span have been Robyn Regehr with 172 checks, Mike Weber with 158 and Patrick Kaleta with 148.
With that being said, the Sabres project to have the same problem as the Bruins in that Ott may be asked to be a to fill the sixth spot on defense when he is better suited as a third-liner. He should help to create room for his linemates, but can only embolden Buffalo’s output so much.
If Boston brings its best up front and Rask stays on his toes in up to six bouts with Ryan Miller (which he has done before), the 2012-13 season series should not stray too far from last year’s 4-1-1 results.
An even split of three wins apiece is not out of the question, but the Bruins should have little excuse for losing the majority of the games and points.
To say that the time-honored rivals are becoming mirror images would be an exaggeration, but not quite worthy of ridicule as it would have been in the past. The Canadiens have sprung for the likes of Rene Bourque, Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust, amounting to some similarities to Boston in the upper-middle and bottom of the depth chart.
Reading Bourque’s scouting report on thehockeynews.com evokes thoughts of Milan Lucic, namely that he can bring a fruitful physicality but somehow does not always bring it consistently.
A potential fourth line featuring both Armstrong and Prust should match the grit and extracurricular inclinations of the Gregory Campbell/Daniel Paille/Shawn Thornton troika. Both men are also capable of putting up decent points, as are the Bruins’ fourth-liners.
The Habs are somewhat thinner on the third line, but potentially as productive on the top line, if not more so than the Bruins. Carey Price is more seasoned in net than Rask, but until the latter’s game takes a substantive backward stride, there is no cause to lose faith.
The Bruins still hold a decisive edge on defense with Chara’s two-way talent and the burly likes of Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg.
To their credit, the Habs have PK Subban and Josh Gorges to percolate punishment in the depths of the defensive zone. But Montreal’s best hope for a productive point patroller is a healthy Andrei Markov or a burgeoning Subban.
As is the case with Miller and the Buffalo matchup, Rask will need to be poised to out-duel Price the way his predecessor Thomas often was. On the other hand, if his praetorian guards can do enough to curb the Canadiens’ top six, then whether or not the Boston strike force shows up will be the X-factor in the season series.
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Last year’s Senators finished fourth in the NHL in team offense, right behind the Bruins with 243 goals for an average of 2.96 per game. The kicker was that 96 (or 39.5 percent) of those goals came from the sticks of either Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek or Jason Spezza, while another 19 (7.8 percent) came via defenseman Erik Karlsson.
Not so coincidentally, the few moments when the Sens gave Boston any fits were usually when those four were clicking. Boston’s only loss in six meetings was a 1-0 drawback decided by a Karlsson goal with assists to Michalek and Spezza.
If midseason acquisition Kyle Turris can turn up the knob in his first full Ottawa season and second full NHL campaign, Ottawa ought to present a deeper, more challenging strike force. Free-agent import Guillaume Latendresse is perfectly capable of tallying double digits in both the goal and assist column as well.
In addition, the Sens are doubtlessly eager to see how much rising sophomore defenseman Jared Cowen has matured after playing the full 82-game slate with mixed results last year.
With almost a thoroughly unruffled roster, the Bruins will seek to have somewhat of an answer to Turris in Caron. Ultimately, though, it will be on everyone to bring more of the same from their better moments with the Senators, which should be enough to take four victories in six tries.
If it weren’t for his old team, Phil Kessel would have been in the plus/minus black and finished with a slightly better point-per-game average last season. In 76 games against teams other than the Bruins, he tallied a 36-43-79 scoring log and a plus-one rating.
His performance versus Boston―one goal, two assists and a minus-11 rating―was a microcosm of the Bruins’ six-game sweep of the Maple Leafs.
With James van Riemsdyk coming in a trade with Philadelphia, Toronto will now have more reliable reinforcement if Kessel continues to crumble in the face of his former friends and fans. Ditto if Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri and/or former Bruins’ prospect Joe Colborne graduate from the Marlies and make an immediate impact.
Assuming the goaltending guild stays as it is, the Bruins and Leafs will have a common thread in Rask and James Reimer each vying to cement their status as bona fide NHL starters. How their respective stables of skaters play in front of them will be pivotal.
No need to expect another clean sweep, but Boston should still get a substantially bigger half of the Leafs' wishbone. The Bruins still have their dense, seasoned selection of defensemen while Dion Phaneuf and company will have to step up to stymie the four rolling lines that tallied 36 goals over the 2011-12 season series.