By SportsDirect Inc.
The Boston Bruins faded badly down the stretch in 2015-16, culminating with a lopsided loss at home that kept them out of the playoffs for the second straight season. Despite major questions marks surrounding their defense, the Bruins expect to contend for a postseason berth and will take the first step in Thursday’s season opener with a visit to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Starting on the road may not be a bad thing for Boston, which missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker after compiling a 25-13-3 away from home last season compared to a woeful 17-18-6 mark at TD Garden. Claude Julien enters his 10th season with the franchise — the longest tenure of any active coach in the NHL — but could be facing job security with a slow start by the Bruins, whose major offseason acquisition was former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes. The Blue Jackets are coming off a last-place finish in the Metropolitan Division, torpedoing their season by losing their first eight games. Columbus will pretty much have the same cast of characters from last season, including coach John Tortorella, who replaced Todd Richards seven games into the 2015-16 campaign.
ABOUT THE BRUINS (42-31-9, tie for 3rd in Atlantic Division): Boston ranked fifth in the league in scoring last season (2.88 goals per game), but that was negated by a defense that surrendering an average of 2.78 goals. Captain Zdeno Chara, the longtime leader of the blue-line corps, will turn 40 this season and the supporting cast hasn’t really changed with the exception of a pair of rookies in Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara. Goaltender Tuukka Rask claimed the Vezina Trophy in 2014 with a goals-against average of 2.04 and save percentage of .930 — numbers that dipped to 2.56 and .915 last season. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron combined for 69 goals last season and led Team Canada to a World Cup victory last month on Marchand’s game-winning tally.
ABOUT THE BLUE JACKETS (34-40-8), 8th in Metropolitan Division): Columbus also has a former Vezina Trophy winner who struggled last season in Sergei Bobrovsky, but there is reason for optimism after the netminder played magnificently in helping Russia to advance to the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey. The Blue Jackets lack a true No. 1 center but have plenty of offense with 30-goal scorers Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner supported by Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell. Columbus needs a bounce-back campaign from captain Nick Foligno, who managed only 12 goals in 2015-16, and continued growth from 2013 first-round pick Alexander Wennberg. There’s a lot of young talent on the defense in Ryan Murray, Seth Jones, David Savard and rookie Zach Werenski.
1. Bobrovsky is 8-18-0 with an .897 save percentage in October with Columbus.
2. The Bruins will be without C Bergeron and Ds Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller for the season opener,.
3. Blue Jackets C Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, was sent to Cape Breton on Wednesday.
Tune in to Thursday night’s season opener on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship station of the Boston Bruins. Pregame coverage with Dave Goucher and Bob Beers begins at 6:30pm!