BOSTON (CBS) — Last year is officially in the past, and it’s now time for the 2013-14 season to begin for the Boston Bruins.
Though it’s no easy task to come back strong after a crushing loss in the Stanley Cup Final and a very short summer to follow, the Bruins have shown no signs that they’re entering the season haggard or worn out.
Collectively, the Bruins entered camp with plenty of energy and optimism. An infusion of new players by Peter Chiarelli helped ensure that spirits and competition levels would remain high, and the team has displayed the confidence that comes from being a top team in the league.
The preseason is only that — the preseason — but still, a 6-1-0 record is an impressive showing. That the Bruins’ only loss came when 19-year-old Malcolm Subban got the start in net against the Red Wings makes the record stand out that much more. The Bruins outscored opponents 21-9 in the six wins and 23-17 overall, an encouraging sign as the puck is set to drop on the regular season on Thursday night.
But before the season starts, it’s time to sneak in a few bold predictions about what we’ll see this season from the Bruins.
1. B’s Will Finish In The Top Three In Goals Scored
In the Claude Julien era and under Zdeno Chara’s captaincy, the Bruins have earned the reputation of being a defensive-focused team. While it’s true that each and every player to wear a Spoked B must take his defensive responsibilities seriously — else he may end up playing in, say, Dallas — the idea that the Bruins are only about defense is a bit misguided. And that will show this season.
The top two lines, to put it simply, are the real deal. On the top line, the addition of Jarome Iginla instantly negates the loss of Nathan Horton, and that line may prove to be more consistent from start to finish. Consider that Iginla, though 36 years old, has 255 points in his last 290 games, whereas Horton has 209 points in his last 301 games, and it’s clear that Iginla will help more — at least in the regular season.
And though Tyler Seguin may very well develop into the scorer he’s supposed to be, the fact is that Loui Eriksson is a more complete player at this very moment. The 28-year-old should be a perfect addition on the second line with Brad Marchand on the left wing and Patrice Bergeron at center.
The Bruins finished 13th in the league in goals scored per game last season, and it was good enough to get them to Game 6 of the Cup Final. This year, they will finish in the top three in goals scored, just like they did two years ago.
2. Tuukka Rask Will Finish Just Outside Of Vezina Consideration
The Bruins’ netminder had a lot on the line last signing, after signing a one-year pact for $3.5 million. He had to prove he could be a No. 1, and he surely did that. He finished second in goals-against average and second in save percentage among goalies with at least 30 games played, and he posted better number in the postseason (1.88 GAA, .940 save percentage) than Tim Thomas did in 2011 (1.98 GAA, .940 save percentage).
Rask was rewarded in a big way with a monster contract — eight years for $56 million — and now there is no doubt as to who will be the man between the pipes for years to come for Boston. It’s expected that he’ll be at the top of the league in most goaltending categories for many of those years, but will he be there this year? Not quite.
As great as Rask is (and a 2.57 GAA and .927 save percentage is pretty darn good), he’s still never been through the rigors of an 82-game season as a starting goalie. Last year was a good intro course for him, as he started 34 games in the shortened season before starting all 22 postseason games. It was no doubt a grind, but this year, he’ll be starting about the same number of games he started last year in the regular season and playoffs combined, and then he’ll need to gear up for the postseason.
It’s going to be a new challenge for Rask, who’s never started 40 games in his career. That’s not to say he’s going to struggle mightily, but the adjustment to the marathon of the season might set his numbers back just enough to keep him out of the top five or so goalies in terms of statistics.
3. Loui Eriksson Will Lead The Team In Scoring
Tyler Seguin was a good, if inconsistent, player, and at 21 years old, he’s going to get better. Somewhere down the line, he may make the Bruins regret their decision to ship him to Dallas.
Yet, right now, in 2013, Loui Eriksson is a more polished player, and it will show in the winger’s point total this year.
Eriksson topped the 70-point mark in the three years before last year’s shortened season, when he had 29 points. Seguin approached the 70-point mark two years ago, finishing with 67, and he finished last year with 32 points.
Now we’ll see how much of Seguin’s success had to do with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and we’ll also see the boost it gives Eriksson. As long as he stays healthy, he has the talent around him to set a career high in points and lead the team.
4. The Bruins Won’t Win The Stanley Cup
Considering that only one out of 30 teams will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup next June, I suppose this isn’t that bold of a prediction. But many preseason prognostications have the Bruins winning it all this year, and that’s simply a tall task.
For one, history has not been kind to the loser of the Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins were able to win in 2009 after losing the year before, but that hadn’t happened since the Oilers did it in 1984. It’s rare. On top of that, as easy as it is to envision the Bruins riding the momentum of last season to a division title and a top seed in the playoffs, the fact remains that the team had a short summer. It’s a challenge to get back to work after winning the Cup, but it’s doubly so after losing the Cup.
Add in the change of pace to being a part of an 82-game season again, and as good as the Bruins are, it’s hard to see them being one of the last two teams standing come next June. If they can pull that off, then we may be looking at a truly special team.