By now you know that the Boston Bruins open up their season against the Dallas Stars Thursday night. In similar fashion, the Stars were eliminated from the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues and are also looking to put the loss behind them and move forward. The question is, what team is most prepared?
The Dallas Stars made some headway with their offseason signings, but there are quite a few players that will not be returning to the green and white. Forwards Mats Zuccarello, Brett Ritchie, Ryan Hartman, Tyler Pitlick and defenseman Ben Lovejoy all have parted ways.
Mats Zuccarello is perhaps the biggest loss for the team. After acquiring him from the New York Rangers for two draft picks near the 2019 trade deadline, he was a breath of fresh air. He possessed an offensive mind and generated great chemistry with his teammates. The hope was that he would help round out the top-six forward group and generate more point production for the Stars, but the dream was cut short when he broke his arm and sat out for the rest of the season. Despite contract negotiations, the two sides were unable to come to an agreement during the offseason and were forced to look elsewhere to fill the void.
Enter Joe Pavelski.
If you’re a Stars fan, you’re looking at this season and probably feeling pretty good. The Dallas Stars were one of the few teams to capitalize and upgrade their offense during the offseason by signing San Jose Sharks’ former captain Joe Pavelski to a three-year, $21-million deal. He has always been a key player when it comes to special teams, specifically the power play unit and should prove to be a significant help for the Stars. Last season, 12 of his 38 goals came while on the power play.
In addition, the Stars also bought out Corey Perry’s contract, but it will be a bit before Dallas truly knows his worth as he is sidelined for two weeks with a fracture in his foot.
The Focus: Shut Down the Top-Six
The Stars’ top line consisting of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Pavelski is going to be the key for the Bruins to shut down as they are going to come out with something to prove. Last season, CEO Jim Lites publicly called out the star forwards (Seguin and Benn) for “terrible play.” The CEO went on to say that if the two didn’t lead, the team would not be successful.
Benn is coming off his worst season since signing with Dallas in 2009-10, tallying a mere 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists) in 78 games. While less point production is expected when ice time is cut and a player gets pulled off the special teams, he could have been better. With their top-six fully equipped, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Benn come out Thursday night more motivated than ever.
“Expectations are always high for every team going into a fresh season,” said Benn. “With the additions that we made, we know what we have in this locker room this year. We know what we can do out there on the ice and we built some confidence last year even with the ending that we did have. We’ve learned from it and hopefully we can build off of that.”Blackout Dallas
Finishing out the top-six forwards is the Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz and Alexander Radulov. Hintz is the key for the second line that the Bruins defense need to keep on their radar. He has speed and a big body that enables him to make solid plays along the boards. He possesses a strong forecheck and has no problem setting the pace. The Bruins will need to stay strong in the neutral zone to contain him, otherwise they may be in some trouble.
The Challenge: Beating Ben Bishop
Ben Bishop was the man to beat last season literally and figuratively. He finished the season with a .934 save percentage, 1.98 goals against average and 7 shutouts in 46 appearances. He was also a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy. Coming off of a career-best season with a faltering offense, he will be tough to beat. He’s a determined goaltender who will be entering the game with high expectations. After flirting with so many high and prestigious honors, the only thing left is to go out, play and attain them.
Backing up Bishop is former Bruin Anton Khudobin who, much like Jaroslav Halak, provides the necessary respite for Bishop. He’s a solid back up that the Stars can rely on when their starter needs rest, a key ingredient if the Stars intend on making their first back-to-back playoff run since 2008.
Former Star Brett Ritchie Ready to Shine
During the offseason, the Bruins signed Brett Ritchie to a one-year deal. The former Dallas Star is expected to make his debut against his former team Thursday evening and he’s excited for the fresh start and is willing to play wherever the Bruins need him.
“This is a team that is very deep. They roll four lines and they play six D and that’s what makes them good. So I think wherever any of the guys are slotted in on a given night they have a chance to succeed, so whether that’s on the first line, second line, third line, fourth line, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. I’m pretty confident whatever centerman, whatever left winger I get, it’s going to be a good line and we can make something happen.”NESN
The Bruins are going to have their work cut out for them if they intend on coming out on top against the Stars. They are fortunate to have solid depth with all four of their offensive lines, which should help tremendously should David Krejci not be ready to go. As of right now he is listed as a game-time decision following Wednesday’s practice. Focusing on shutting down the top lines for Dallas and staying strong through the neutral zone should provide Boston with the edge they’ll need to come out on top.