Bruins Won’t Be ‘Taking Nights Off’ With Eye On Returning To Playoffs

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Contrary to popular belief, Boston does have a professional ice hockey team.

The Bruins may have understandably slipped your mind, what with the Patriots playing four games without Tom Brady then getting him back while the Red Sox went on a playoff run at the end of the season only to fall flat. There’s also that whole thing about the Bruins missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the past two seasons.

Believe it or not, the puck is about to drop for the 2016-17 season, and the Bruins may appear to be bringing back the same exact team as last season. But a few key changes on the coaching staff and infusions of younger talent could make this year’s Bruins look much differently from last season.

The question marks on the Bruins begin and end on the blue line. Despite the notion that the Bruins are bringing back exactly the same group as last season, there are some subtle changes. Dennis Seidenberg is gone. Borderline NHL defensemen like Zach Trotman and Matt Irwin aren’t invading the lineup. Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller are under contract but appear to be starting the season on injured reserve with consistent roster spots far from secure.

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

It’s important that the Bruins play actual defense this season after playing poorly around their own net for most of the 2015-16 season, but the Bruins coaching staff believes some changes to the system will also allow them to move the puck better and break the puck out of their own zone more effectively, which has also been a consistent issue under Claude Julien. The head coach believes their tweaks and infusion of younger defensemen like Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara, will improve the play of the defense as a unit.

“The play of a lot of these [younger] guys here has really impressed us,” Claude told reporters at Bruins Media Day Tuesday, echoing the sentiments of GM Don Sweeney. “On the other hand we’ve also, as a coaching staff, tried to implement some things that are going to make us better as a team, which will make our defensive game and our defense be more efficient.

“I think it’s shown so far in these preseason games. The puck is moving a lot better and there are reasons for that. Everyone’s kind of taking some responsibility in making some adjustments and some new players are stepping in and showing us that they can help us out.”

Some of that responsibility for adjustment falls on Julien himself, whose coaching style has never really been predicated on having a strong transition game with mobile defensemen. Part of the team’s defensive improvement will hinge on their ability to handle the puck in their own end and get it out of the zone more efficiently. But ultimately, they will also need to do a better job clearing out the front of the net in front of Tuukka Rask.

Goalie Zane McIntyre and defenseman Brandon Carlo of the Boston Bruins defend a shot from the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period of the preseason game at TD Garden on September 26, 2016. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Goalie Zane McIntyre and defenseman Brandon Carlo of the Boston Bruins defend a shot from the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period of the preseason game at TD Garden on September 26, 2016. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Enter new faces Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara. The two hulking defensemen (6-foot-5 and 6-foot-4, respectively) will each be making their NHL debuts if and when they make the NHL roster, which appears to be the case – at least as long as Miller and McQuaid are sidelined. Both of them obviously have no NHL experience to speak of, but O’Gara at 23 years old is certainly not too young to get a chance, while Carlo has the physical tools to be an effective defenseman in his own end.

Torey Krug, who was paired with O’Gara in Tuesday’s morning practice, believes the new faces on the defense bode well for the team’s prospects of playing better at that end of the ice – and also improve off of it.

“Any time you add new faces, especially young guys, they become high-energy guys in the locker room,” Krug told reporters Tuesday. “It’s definitely a different feel, but it’s something that we need. It’s refreshing to see those young legs working out on the ice and the creativity that a lot of these guys have. It brings a different element to this team that, maybe, we haven’t had in a while. So, definitely exciting times for us inside this locker room, and hopefully for the fans, it will be fun for them to watch.”

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 1:  Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his goal with Zdeno Chara #33 against the Edmonton Oilers in the 3rd period at TD Garden on February 1, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 1: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his goal with Zdeno Chara #33 against the Edmonton Oilers in the 3rd period at TD Garden on February 1, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

It may seem odd that the Bruins are still aiming to make a run at the Stanley Cup since they haven’t played in a postseason game since May of 2014, but that’s still the goal and it comes from the top. Jeremy Jacobs said on Tuesday that he expects the Bruins to not just make it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season but to “get deep in the playoffs.” It seems like a tall order with much of the same team returning, especially on defense, but for a team that barely missed a playoff spot, perhaps a handful of minor changes is what the team needs to get over the hump.

“There’s pressure every year to make the playoffs. We expect to make the playoffs every year,” said Krug. “We haven’t done it the past two years and it’s disappointing and it leaves is hungry, but we have to use it as a learning experience and make sure we’re not taking nights off this year. It’s something we’ve talked about and we’ll just make sure to take advantage of opportunities when we can.”

The new guys don’t necessarily have anything to learn as far as showing up every night, but perhaps they will be more dependable in that regard. One thing’s for certain, the Bruins gave far from a complete effort every night last season, especially down the stretch before the playoffs. If they plan to make it back and go for a deep run in April and beyond, they’ll have to hope that those attitudinal changes and handful of minor tweaks to the roster are all they need to get there.

Torey Krug also joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand in the studio to discuss the upcoming Bruins season. Listen below:

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

Comments

One Comment

  1. hammerhead says:

    some teams build with hopes of winning the cup the bruins just hope to make the playoffs thats why a cup may only come around once in a lifetime, the Jacobs family has and will continue to have a stangle hold on this team

  2. Jake Cote says:

    I think this team has the potential to be a lot better this season. C.Miller could take a big step forward. I think Krug will return to offensive form and improve on his defensive play(which was better than his reputation implies). I think Carlo is going to be a really good addition and O’Gara could push some of the older guys to step up their games. I also think that the offense is going to be pretty dynamic with the additions via free agency and internally.
    On the other side of the coin Chara really needs to focus to make the right decisions this year. Even if he has times where he feels a bit slower he can still be effective if his decision making is on point. I’m sure there will be ups and downs. Hayes needs to bounce back and have a better season too. He needs to keep up with the play(first and foremost) and he needs to add some physicality to his game(6’5″ 215lbs you’ve gotta use that). We also need to see better play out of K.Miller and Mcquaid if they end up in the line up. There are guys to replace them now so if they don’t step up they’re going to be gone. And lastly(and arguable the most important thing) the Bruins staff needs to make the right decisions regarding personnel. They need to stick with the younger guys if they are playing well(and better than the veterans) and they can’t sit on a sub par.4th line(or 3rd line for that matter) if it’s not working out(As they did until the last 20 games of last season).
    It remains to be seen, but I really like what I see. I think that this team will be able to play with anyone and will play more consistently if players show up and pan out.

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