Season Preview: Boston Bruins

Season Preview: Boston Bruins

Boston Pasta Party

The Bruins continue to be a contender, boasting one of the best top lines in the NHL. If a healthy David Krejci can provide some secondary scoring, they’ll be an even tougher team to beat.  The big question facing the Bruins is if the Tuukka Rask-Jaroslav Halak tandem in goal will be good enough to compete with other elite teams in the league.

Report Card:

This team was exceptional in every facet but one – goaltending. Tuukka Rask was inconsistent at best – below average at worst. Yes, his numbers were good but as seen above, the Bruins allowed very few high-danger shots relative to the rest of the league. In fact, Boston ranked 2nd in inner slot shots against and 1st in expected goals against, yet 25th in goals saved above average.

What went right:

Boston started the year slowly, going 11-8-4 in the first couple of months of the season, but turned it around big-time in December. The Bruins led the NHL in wins, points, and goals-for from December onwards. They finished the year with one of the stingiest defenses in the NHL, ranking 6th in goals against, 1st in slot shots against and 2nd in inner slot shots against. Their special teams were indeed special, with the 4th best powerplay and 7th best penalty kill. Boston’s first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak simply tore through the opposition, with each member of the line scoring at least 30 goals.

What Went Wrong:

The blueprint to beat the Bruins in the playoffs seemed pretty simple: neutralize their top line. In five playoff wins, Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak combined for a staggering 12 goals. In Boston’s 7 losses, however, they only found the back of the net four times, with three of those coming in the same game. That problem isn’t limited to the postseason either. During the regular season, none of their forwards outside of the Big Three crossed the 20 goals or 50 point thresholds.

Offseason moves

Key Additions: John Moore, Jaroslav Halak, Steven Kampfer

Key Departures: Anton Khudobin, Rick Nash, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller, Nick Holden

Other Key moves: Re-signed Sean Kuraly, Extended Matt Grzelcyk, PTO for Mark Fayne, Lee Stempniak, Daniel Winnik, Marcel Noebels

The Bruins were one of several teams to express interest in John Tavares but weren’t able to land the coveted free agent, who signed with his hometown Maple Leafs. While they made a mostly lateral move from Khudobin to Halak and added a solid defenceman in John Moore, they lost depth up front. Both Nash’s are gone and so is Tim Schaller, one-third of their 50’s 4th line. Boston, meanwhile, hasn’t brought in any notable players to take their places. Rick Nash is still out there, but questions still surround whether or not he will play at all next year as he ponders retirement. This means their already lacking secondary scoring will get even thinner next year, leaving the B’s to rely on improvements from youngsters like Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk as well as better health and/or bounce back seasons from veterans like David Krejci and David Backes.

Next season preview

What could go right?

Boston’s core comes back mostly intact and should be performing at a high level once again. Tuukka Rask has bouts of inconsistency but is still capable of elite stretches of play and the Bruins have most of the pieces from last year’s top-tier defense. Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak are still going to be very dangerous. They also have a lot of youth that should only get better. Charlie McAvoy already plays like a top pairing defenseman at only 20 years old, finishing 2nd to Zdeno Chara in successful defensive plays and led all Bruins defensemen in possession driving plays while shouldering first-pairing minutes. What makes this more impressive is that McAvoy missed 19 games and still ranked highly amongst all Bruins defensemen in these categories. Heinen and Debrusk both scored 16 goals and, outside of the first line, have the two highest expected goals-for numbers among returning Bruins. Combined with (knock on wood) better health for Krejci, they could provide a boost to Boston’s secondary scoring. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three reach 50 points.

What could go wrong?

Chara was their most used defenceman last season and is still a top defender in the league but, at 41, there are signs of decline in his game. His turnover rate, which measures how often you turn the puck over relative to how often you have it on your stick, went from 16.1% to 19.5%, a drop equivalent to the gap between Niklas Kronwall, who led the league at 12.2%, and Karl Alzner in 79th place. Backes, Krejci, and Bergeron are all getting deeper into their 30s and have faced various injuries lately. If injuries hit again and the youngsters can’t take the next step or fall into a sophomore slump, Boston could regress, although missing the playoffs seems unlikely.

The Point Consensus 2018-19 Prediction: 3rd in Atlantic Division, 4th in Eastern Conference.