September 15, 2011

From NEHJ: Bruins' 2011-12 outlook

The Bruins hope they have what it takes to capture the Cup again in 2011-12. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Here's a look at how the Bruins stack up at each position heading into the 2011-12 season.

GOALTENDERS

Barring an unexpected decline in play or an injury, the Bruins will be in good hands with reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas in net. If the 37-year-old star goalie can come even close to replicating his numbers of a year ago, the Bruins promise to be in every game in 2011-12 and will have a great shot at repeating as division champs.

It’ll be interesting to see how the veteran’s workload pans out, as Tuukka Rask — who led the league in both goals-against average and save percentage in 2009-10 — struggled mightily last season. The young, Finnish netminder underwent minor knee surgery over the summer and should be considerably sharper in the upcoming campaign.

Anton Khudobin, acquired from Minnesota in a February trade, re-signed for two years and likely will be the netminder recalled in the event of an injury.

DEFENSE

Captain Zdeno Chara will anchor the Bruins’ blue line again this season, fresh off of a stellar playoff run and a regular-season performance that earned him a nomination for the Norris Trophy. Dennis Seidenberg, who was equally as impressive on defense throughout the postseason, likely will find himself on the second pairing to start the season, flanked by either Johnny Boychuk or newcomer Joe Corvo.

Coach Claude Julien likely will round out his defensive corps with veteran Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid. Ference finally enjoyed a full, healthy season last year and shined in the playoffs. McQuaid, meanwhile, finished second on the club in plus-minus a year ago and has all but cemented a spot in the top six.

Steve Kampfer presumably will begin the season as the team’s seventh defenseman, but don’t be surprised to see the offensively-gifted defenseman get his share of time throughout the season. Matt Bartkowski and Yuri Alexandrov will be on call in Providence.

FORWARDS

With the retirement of Mark Recchi and the departure of Michael Ryder, the Bruins will have to do some slight tinkering up front. The ever-crafty David Krejci will center power forwards Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic on the Bruins’ top line, where they’ll look to build on the success they had in their first season together as a trio.

Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (contract pending) likely will remain together on the second line, with the loss of Recchi opening up a spot on the right side. At present, the top candidates are speedy veteran Rich Peverley, newcomer Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Seguin — whom the team hopes can take his game to the next level after a modest rookie season.

Whoever doesn’t grab that spot will join Chris Kelly on the third line, while the combo of defensive-minded forward Dan Paille, versatile center Greg Campbell and tough guy Shawn Thornton will stick together on the fourth line.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Without playmaker Marc Savard for most of the season, the Bruins’ power play was embarrassingly bad for prolonged stretches last season. Boston finished the year ranked 20th in the league with a 16.2 percent success rate, struggling mightily on the man-advantage sans No. 91 setting up on the half-wall.

Tomas Kaberle was supposed to cure those woes upon arriving from Toronto, but the puck-moving defenseman never proved to be the answer throughout the remainder of the regular season or in the playoffs. Corvo could offer the top unit a different look, as his style is wildly different than the pass-first mentality of Kaberle, but Julien still needs to go back to the drawing board and find a way to best utilize the talent he has. Additionally, some added production from the likes of both Bergeron and Krejci (four power-play goals combined) on the man-advantage would be a big boost.

To his credit, Julien’s reworking of the penalty kill in the playoffs paid huge dividends. After finishing in the middle of the pack during the regular season (82.6 percent), the Bruins bench boss gave his offensive stars such as Krejci and — to a lesser extent — Bergeron a reprieve and relied on the likes of Paille, Campbell and Kelly heavily.
Doing so again this season would be a wise move. Allowing both Bergeron and Krejci to focus on producing goals worked wonders in the playoffs.

KEEP AN EYE ON

While the Bruins’ roster appears all but set in stone, don’t be surprised if a few younger players make a serious push during camp. Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner headline the list of hopefuls, as the two OHL stars — though not eligible to play in the AHL — could force a few tough decisions after shining in camp a year ago.

Bartkowski had a few brief call-ups to the big club last season after being the last player cut from camp in September. While he didn’t stand out by any means during his few stints, expect him to impress again if his development continues as planned.

Jordan Caron enjoyed a more extended stay with the team last season, breaking camp with the club before being sent down to Providence after 20-plus games. Not yet 21, the former QMJHL stud has as good a chance as any of pushing out one of the team’s current holdovers.

Don’t forget about Zach Hamill, either. While the former eighth overall pick has been a disappointment to date, it’s now-or-never time for the young center, as he’ll turn 23 in September. Hamill’s entry-level deal is up at the end of the season. If he wants to prove to the Bruins that he’s worth keeping, a stellar camp would go a long way toward doing so.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com