By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – Depending on when you’re reading this the Bruins are 48 hours or less from opening the season in Columbus.
General Manager Don Sweeney hasn’t acquired a stud No. 2 defenseman and the Bruins will start the season with two of their veteran defensemen on injured reserve. There’s still a chance, though, that the Bruins, who finished 20th in goals allowed last season, will be better in their own end.
“I think that the play of a lot of guys here has really impressed us,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday. “On the other hand, we’ve also as a coaching staff tried to implement some things that can make us better as a team, which will make our defensive game and our team defense even more efficient. So I think it shows so far in these preseason games, the puck is moving a lot better and there’s reasons for that. Everybody’s kind of taking some responsibility.”
With Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid starting the season the injured list, rookies Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara seemed poised to step into the top six. What they might lack in brute strength and experience, they make up for in mobility, length and uncharacteristic (for their size) poise. With just a few weeks of AHL experience between them, there’s no guarantee they’re both going to successfully make the jump to become full-time NHLers.
Odds are, in fact, at least one of them will be riding buses by the end of this month. But they both fared well during preseason games. Carlo looks like he’ll get the benefit of playing with captain Zdeno Chara, a spot that helped make Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton into formidable high-end defensemen. O’Gara might not get the same bump from his partner, the Bruins have similar faith in his abilities.
The Bruins defense corps should benefit from a revitalized Tuukka Rask, who looked sharp after returning from the World Cup of Hockey 2016. The addition of David Backes, Dominic Moore and Riley Nash should help the forward corps, which already included Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, support the defense more. And then there’s the more aggressive approach to the defensive game, which Rask believes will help defensemen young and old.
The Bruins are trying to limit opponents’ plays down low and around the net by attacking the puck carrier more. If the Bruins execute properly we should see less of those point-blank chances in front with a Bruins defenseman flailing or sliding toward the puck a second or two too late. That will make Rask’s life easier and make it easier for defensemen to know their assignments.
“We always try to talk about when you go out there you don’t have to think, you just have to play,” Rask said. “Now when they tell the D to jump the walls and jump, jump, jump and cut those plays off, I think that’s even better for them because they don’t have to think and look for their man. So I think that will help play to our advantage.”
A lot of talk around the Bruins involves getting back into the playoffs after two years of failing to qualify. When you consider they missed the playoffs by three points combined in the past two seasons, there’s not that large of a gap to close. The Bruins won’t challenge for the Stanley Cup until they have at least two more high-end defensemen in their prime years. But you have to credit the Bruins right now for aiding Carlo and O’Gara’s rapid development and for devising new ways to play that will limit everyone’s exposure and might make the difference in earning that extra point or two this season in the standings.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.