At long last, hockey season has arrived! We are a mere two days away from opening night and the Boston Bruins have solidified their roster. On Monday, they announced Peter Cehlarik has been placed on waivers and Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Maxime Legace, Jakub Zboril and Cameron Hughes have been assigned to the Providence Bruins.
There aren’t many surprises in the lineup, for the most part. Assuming that David Krejci is healthy, the Bruins will be going into Thursday with all of their forwards ready to go and sidelining utility forward Joakim Nordstrom (foot) and defensemen Kevan Miller (kneecap) and John Moore (shoulder).
Top Line Remains the Same
The first line will consist of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Despite some talk about Pastrnak dropping down to the second line to boost point production alongside David Krejci, there doesn’t seem to be any desire to make the move. With a line that combined for 106 goals, 154 assists and 260 points last season, why would you want to change it? Brad Marchand accounted for almost half of those points last season, having his first career 100-point season and is expected to be one of the NHL’s top 10 players this year, coming in at No. 7.
It should be noted that his linemates were also listed as top players in the NHL, with Bergeron ranking #14 and Pastrnak at #25.
Bergeron suited up for Saturday afternoon’s match against the Blackhawks after missing all prior preseason games due to a lingering groin injury. Afterwards, he mentioned he felt pretty good, stating: “It felt good to get the first one underway,” said Bergeron. “It’s always good to get your legs underneath you, and to get your timing and rhythm back. It was what I was expecting and it was fine. I’m excited to get into the battle with the guys and going through the ups and downs of a regular season.”
Second Line Takes Shape
Perhaps the biggest discussion of this preseason has been who will be alongside David Krejci on the second line. Who would the Bruins decide to place there for more point production? The answer: Karson Kuhlman.
Kuhlman has been a breath of fresh air since his debut with the Bruins last season. He’s a strong puck mover and a consistent two-way player. While he doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience under his belt, he has had a great training camp and has worked hard during the offseason to prepare for a shot at the second line.
I worked a lot at being around the net more to get my scoring touch down, just shooting more pucks and getting to the net and being better around there. If you’re open [Krejci] is going to find you and he’s one of the best at it. I just don’t want to let him down and not put the puck in the net. I want to be at 100 percent just playing my game.NBC Sports Boston
Coach Bruce Cassidy has mentioned that he liked what he has seen from Kuhlman thus far and how he plays with Krejci, even though he wasn’t able to explore the option in training camp. It is likely we will see Kuhlman start out at the second line until someone with a stronger veteran presence can fill the role like Marcus Johansson did last season. Although, outshooting opponents 82-59and outscoring them 11-4 in 126:59 of five-on-five time between the regular and postseason last year as a combined line, speaks for itself.
For now, Kuhlman has a golden opportunity to develop even more as a top-six player.
Despite some rumors and hype surrounding Charlie Coyle moving up to the second line, Cassidy has been pretty clear, stating that he wants the center to stay at his natural spot for some solid depth. Coyle is expected to have Danton Heinen and David Backes on either side of him.
David Backes has been a hot topic throughout the offseason with Boston fans ready to trade him away or put him on a shelf and never look back. After a lackluster performance last season that had him watching from the rafters through the postseason, Backes used the summer to make some improvements. He worked with a skating coach and has been making his presence known throughout the preseason.
“I put the work in and you’re seeing the results. It’s probably a circle of seeing more results, wanting to put more work in type of scenario, and again this is early, it’s a couple steps but it’s steps in the right direction. And I like where we’re at at the moment,” said Backes after he practiced on a line with Heinen and Coyle on Monday.
The fourth line will consist of either Par Lindholm or Brett Ritchie alongside Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. It makes the most sense to put Lindholm at the center position, Wagner on the right wing and bump Kuraly to the left, leaving Ritchie to be the healthy scratch. However, Ritchie did practice with the line Monday with Lindholm filling in for Krejci. With two days to go until opening day, this is one line combination that will likely be up in the air until game time.
Defending the Zone
With the re-signing of Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, there really aren’t any defensive pairing changes. McAvoy will stay alongside Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug will be paired with Carlo. Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton are the only “new” pairing, at least until the veterans (Miller and Moore) are back to full health. Steven Kampfer could potentially be thrown into the mix, but it is more likely that we see him as a healthy scratch for opening night.
The Bruins are fortunate to have as much depth as they do and it’s something that sets them apart from other teams. Despite having veteran players that are on injured reserve to start the season, there are enough young players ready to go and get more experience.
Between the pipes they will again put their faith in Tuukka Rask. The netminder is coming off of one of his best seasons to date, where he proved he was worth the $7 million he makes each year. Rask has always been the Bruins’ scapegoat for years and, unfortunately, will likely continue to be after their Game 7 loss to the Blues. However, his numbers from the postseason speak for themselves with a .942 save percentage and 1.84 goals against average. He gets the job done and has stepped up since Tim Thomas departed. He’s clearly left the days of throwing milk crates out on the ice behind him.
Jaroslav Halak will be backing him up, providing some respite as well as his own highlight reel of saves, including his stellar save against the Flyers’ Morgan Frost. Arguably, Halak performed as well as — and in some instances better than — Rask last season and we hope to see more of that this year.
With the roster squared away, the Bruins can focus on strengthening their plays and special teams units to gear up for their season opener against the Dallas Stars. Two more days people, who’s ready?