NHL Opening Night: 5 Players to Watch in Boston Bruins Opener

William PenfieldCorrespondent IIOctober 6, 2011

NHL Opening Night: 5 Players to Watch in Boston Bruins Opener

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    At 7 p.m. tonight, the 2011-12 NHL season gets underway when the Boston Bruins raise the Stanley Cup Championship banner at the TD Garden in Boston.

    The Bruins have been living on the high of their Game 7 victory in Vancouver in June for the past three months but it is time to get back to business.

    Last season, many key players stepped up to help the Bruins capture their sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history.

    Here are five key players to watch in the Boston Bruins opener against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight in Boston.

Nathan Horton

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    In the 2011 postseason, Nathan Horton was knocked out in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a concussion and could not return until this season. 

    With the season opening tonight, Horton will be a player to watch to see how he reacts to playing full contact, competitive hockey for this first time since his injury.

    According to Horton, he is back to 100 percent from his concussion and the Bruins will need him in order to make another run at the Stanley Cup in the 2011-12 season. 

    Keep an eye on Horton tonight to see how he reacts after he takes the first big hit on the ice in his return from the concussion. 

Tim Thomas

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    Tim Thomas was the focal point of the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup run winning both the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy.

    He broke the NHL record for save percentage by knocking off Domink Hasek by 0.001 points with a .938 save percentage. He also broke the record for fewest goals allowed in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final by allowing just seven.

    Despite Claude Julien saying the Bruins have two No. 1 goalies, the team will go as far as Thomas takes them as he is likely to see more playing time than his battery mate, Tuuka Rask. 

    Don't get worried if Thomas allows a few goals tonight, as it is early in the season, but either way it will be exciting to see the best goalie in the NHL, back in net.

Brad Marchand

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    Brad Marchand came out of nowhere last season to being one of the key contributors to the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship.

    He was a great story last year, a rookie, who plays bigger than he actually is, with miles and miles of heart.

    Despite his small stature, Marchand was able to score 21 goals last season to go along with 20 assists but he may be best remembered for punching Daniel Sedin repeatedly in the face without retaliation.

    He recently signed a new deal and with a new deal comes new expectations. Marchand will be a player to watch all season as he needs to prove he was not a one-year wonder.

    Marchand is a guy who I wouldn't be surprised to see come out guns blazing and score a goal on opening night.  

Tyler Seguin

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    At just 19 years old, Tyler Seguin scored 11 goals in 2011 as well as three key goals in the postseason when the Bruins seemed down and out.

    Without playing a game in the first round of the playoffs, Seguin was able to step in against the Tampa Bay Lightning and score three goals in the first two games to provide a much needed spark for the Bruins.

    The 2011-12 season will be big for Seguin as he needs to show improvement in his development towards becoming an elite scorer in the NHL.

    Like Marchand, he will be a guy to keep an eye on tonight to possibly come out and score a goal to show he means business.

    He will likely see more time this season, as he is set to play right wing on the Bruins third line tonight, and he needs to show Claude Julien that he deserves that playing time. 

Benoit Pouliot

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    A new addition to the Boston Bruins, all eyes will be on Benoit Pouliot as he plays in his first game for the team after coming over from hated rival, Montreal.

    The former first round pick, fourth overall, will look to begin a new page in his career when he takes the ice on the third line tonight with Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin.

    In 72 games last season, the left-winger only scored 13 goals. He will need to improve on that total if he wants to keep his spot on the third line for the duration of the 2011-12 season.

    If he gets off to a rough start, Pouliot could be chastised by the Boston fans as he was the enemy last season and dropped the gloves with David Krecji.

    Keep an eye on Pouliot tonight to see how he adjusts to playing in Boston and fans who hated him with a passion just last year