The “defending champion” slogan need not apply this season, as it is no longer a part of the Boston Bruins' introduction. While most fans wish this were not the case, I, for one, am both glad and excited to see it go. Boston entered last season with a bit of a sluggish start, which most people attributed to a “honeymoon” phase, and ended the season early against the Capitals in what was a very poorly played playoff series.
But what can we expect from the Bruins this season?
Boston’s offense has a lot to prove this season. Last season, the Bruins ranked third in the league in goals per game but failed to score when they desperately needed to.
Besides Tyler Seguin, they lack a formidable goal scorer. Nobody knows how well Nathan Horton will perform after missing most of last season dealing with the effects of a concussion. Top-line players David Krejci and Milan Lucic could be wearing a different team's jersey come next season if they do not step up. Brad Marchand is on the last year of his contract and his output will decide if he stays or goes at the end of the season.
Most of Boston’s offensive certainty is spread out amongst their third and fourth lines.
Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Danielle Paille and Shawn Thornton will all continue to fill out their niche rolls. Rich Peverley, assuming he moves back down to the third line to make room for Horton on the top line, will be a scoring boost to go along with Kelly. Jordan Caron might finally be able to catch his big break and accept a full-time role and be able to produce some modest numbers throughout the season.
I believe that this is the position the Bruins have the least to worry about it.
The combination of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg is a major asset on the blue line, and the second unit of Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuck is big and bruising.
The only question the Bruins will have is the pairing of Adam McQuaid and Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins' ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Hamilton has been impressive in the OHL, putting up 72 points in 54 games and accumulating a plus/minus of plus-37 last season with the Niagara IceDogs. Hamilton is pegged to be the next great Bruins blueliner and has a lot to prove this season.
Waiting on the bubble are two players—Aaron Johnson and Matt Bartkowski. Johnson is an eighth-year defenseman the Bruins brought in from Columbus during the offseason and will most likely be sent down to their farm team in Providence. Bartkowski has shown promise in the Bruins' farm system and likely won’t be on Boston’s blue line until at least next season.
With Tim Thomas taking his leave of absence from the team to bunker down in anticipation of the impending doomsday that he believes is well on its way, the Bruins will be putting all of their trust in Tuukka Rask.
This is not the first time that Tuukka will carry a full-season load for Boston. He started 45 games in the 2009-10 season, winning 22 of them and while posting a solid GAA of 1.97. He helped lead the team to a playoff berth, where the Bruins would historically lose four straight games to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Backing up Rask will be Anton Khudobin. Khudobin has appeared in only one game for the Bruins, a 3-1 victory over the Senators this past April, but has been one of the few bright spots for their minor league affiliate in Providence since they acquired him from the Minnesota Wild in 2010.
While the Bruins' goaltending depth is not as solid as it was going into last season, it is still better then the majority of the teams in the league. Provided Rask remains healthy, I do not foresee any major issues between the pipes.
A lot of teams in the Eastern Conference improved this offseason while Boston appeared comfortable with essentially the same team they have put out for the last season-and-a-half.
With no “honeymoon” excuses this season, the Bruins are going to be expected to start the season strong and finish even stronger.