With the 2008-'09 NHL season approaching, do the Boston Bruins have what it takes to be a Stanley Cup contender?
After a surprising first round playoff appearance last season, the Bruins are looking to make the playoffs for two consecutive years for the first time since they did it in the 2003-'04 season.
Last season, coach Claude Julien's defensive style helped the gritty Bruins to squeak into the eighth seed eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins have high hopes after losing in seven games to the heavily favored Montreal Canadians. The Bruins played a strong season, and were able to make the playoffs, but will their luck continue?
In net, the Bruins got solid goaltending from Tim Thomas, who posted a .921 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA. Thomas started 53 games for the Bruins, in which he posted a 28-19-6 record. Manny Fernandez only appeared in four games due to a knee injury. He hopes to post better numbers this year. He had a 2-2 record, an .832 save percentage and 3.93 GAA.
Tuukka Rask came up for a short stint with the Bruins before Alex Auld came over from Phoenix to secure the backup job. Auld was outstanding for the Bruins, putting up a .907 save percentage and only a 2.68 GAA.
The goaltending situation looks to be Thomas and Fernandez competing for the starting role, while Tuukka Rask develops in the minor leagues. Goaltending is a key point to this Bruins' team, and if they want to be in the playoffs, they're going to need sharp goaltending.
In the defensive end, the Bruins were solid last season. With Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara and puck moving defenseman Dennis Wideman. Aaron Ward was a puck blocking machine, and was a very dependable defenseman. Andrew Ference was Ward's defensive partner, and was solid at the blue line. He also put up a goal and 14 assists, three better than the league average.
On the third line, Andrew Alberts delivered bone crushing hits while Mark Stuart did the same. Shane Hnidy came over from Anaheim when Alberts had concussions. He played solid and was a physical presence on the rink for the Bruins. Bobby Allen was a healthy scratch for most of the year.
For the 2008-'09 season, the Bruins have "Big Z" or Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman. Dennis Wideman is going to arbitration, and will play for the B's unless either side is unhappy with the arrangement. On the second line, the Bruins will have Aaron Ward and possibly Andrew Ference or Mark Stuart. Most likely Ference. On the third line, Mark Stuart and Andrew Alberts will grind it out. Shane Hnidy will be a competing with the third liners for playing time.
The Bruins have made it clear that they will part ways with Bobby Allen. The defense hasn't changed much, and should do well since they all already can play Julien's defensive system.
On offense last season the Bruins put up hideous numbers. They finished 24th in goals scored and assists with only 206 goals and 353 assists. They earned the 20th spot in shots on goal with 2339.
Marco Sturm and Chuck Kobasew were the only two Bruins to reach the 20 goal plateau. Marc Savard led the team in points with 78.
This upcoming season, the Bruins will have Patrice Bergeron back and Michael Ryder coming in. Bergeron missed 72 games last season due to a concussion courtesy of Randy Jones. Bergeron recorded three goals and four assists in ten games. Michael Ryder had a horrid season with 14 goals and 17 assists. He will look to bounce back into 30 goal form, under the watchful eye of Claude Julien.
With these two players back, the Bruins' offense already looks to be improved. David Krejci, Vladmir Sobotka, Milan Lucic, and Pettri Nokkelinen are some of their prospects that will be competing for playing time. Here is a preview of what the lines could be:
Milan Lucic Marc Savard Michael Ryder
Marco Sturm Patrice Bergeron Chuck Kobasew
P.J. Axelsson David Krejci Phil Kessel
Peter Schaefer Vladimir Sobotka Shawn Thornton
The Bruins have solid goaltending. They have reliable defense, and an offense that looks dangerous. With good coaching from Claude Julien, the Bruins are looking to make the playoffs, and maybe be a Cup contender.