Ric Duarte The Hockey Writers
Curtain Rises on the Bruins 2017-18 Season
When last we left the Boston Bruins they were giving up an overtime goal to the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series. It was yet another disappointing end to a season in which they struggled to make the playoffs. Fast forward to October, and as the 2017-18 season begins there are as many questions now as there were on the April 23.
However, there are positives and chances are the B’s will still be competitive and if they remain healthy, they should be in the middle of the race for a playoff spot.
Final Bruins Roster….for Now!
General manager Don Sweeney and new head coach Bruce Cassidy have solidified the roster for the season opener keeping 23 players with the big club. Winger Anders Bjork, 21, has not only made the varsity squad but will be on the first line with perennial Frank Selke Award winner Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who led the Bruins in goals last season with 39; not a bad position for the youngster after finishing his college career at Notre Dame.
Jake DeBrusk will also be making his debut on the left side of David Krejci and newly signed David Pastrnak. DeBrusk made the team despite not scoring a point in the preseason, but his willingness to battle in front of the net made an impression on the coaching staff.
There’s hope that he will bring out the best in Krejci, who’s game has been less than inspiring over the past two seasons, with 17 and 23 goals in 72 and 82 games, respectively. The team needs more from their highest paid center.
Spooner, Beleskey Must Prove Themselves
The enigma known as Ryan Spooner, after avoiding arbitration by signing a one-year contract, seems to have the third-line center position sewn up. Since making the big club in 2015-16, Spooner has played in all but six games with 24 goals in 158 games. That is just not good enough yet, the Bruins have given him many opportunities to prove his worth.
Does he deserve his ice time? It’s difficult to say, but he will be on the ice on opening night centering Matt Beleskey on his left and David Backes on his right. Unless things change, I cannot see Spooner’s tenure in Boston continuing into next year, or even through this season.
Beleskey had a horrendous season last year. He was sidelined by a knee injury midseason and scored a mere three goals in 49 games. As a result, he was often a healthy scratch as the season wound down, even as the Bruins were scraping for a spot in the postseason.
The Bruins were hoping for more from Backes also. Last year’s big free agent signing was supposed to fill the vacancy left by Milan Lucic after he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings two years ago. But that didn’t happen. Lackadaisical play and only 17 goals in 74 games for the big winger was not exactly what the team had in mind. He will need to be better in order for the team to be successful.
Second-year left winger Riley Nash and Noel Acciari will hold down the right side on the fourth line with Tim Schaller at center. Last year, Frank Vatrano had hustled his way into the Bruins’ lineup midway through the year, but a preseason without any points likely leaves him on press row of the TD Garden.
The Bruins didn’t send him down to Providence because he would have had to clear waivers and the team isn’t ready to part with him for nothing, as they did with former number one pick, goaltender Malcolm Subban, earlier this week and who was promptly claimed by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
Bruins and Defense are Synonymous
On the blue line, Boston will continue to rely on Brandon Carlo and their 40-year-old captain, Zdeno Chara. Usually, as Chara goes, so does the defense. Even at his age, he is still tough to get by and it will all come down to managing his time on the ice. Carlo played all 82 games last year – his rookie season – with solid results for a youngster, scoring 6 goals. Playing with Chara again should make his learning curve steep and with a year under his belt, there should few problems.
Rookie Charlie McAvoy did not play a regular season game with the Bruins after his college career ended with Boston Universit before playing in all six playoff games against the Senators. He was solid and played beyond his years, looking more like a veteran than a fresh-faced 19-year-old. He will be paired with Kevan Miller.
Wrapping up the six defensemen, Torey Krug may not be available as he is still nursing a nondisplaced jaw fracture. So, skating with Adam Mcquaid could be Matt Grzelcyk, Robbie O’Gara, or offseason pickup from the Winnipeg Jets, Paul Postma.
Goaltending Not a Problem
Tuukka Rask is the number one goalie. Backing him up is Anton Khudobin, for now; the team has had a revolving door of backups recently.
The B’s won 44 games last year and Rask won 37 of those. With 63 starts and a few lower body injuries along the way in 2016-17, Rask should be able to play that amount of games again even though he’s now 30. Still, he and the Bruins will need a quality, competent backup. Based on his last seven starts at the end of last year, Khudobin should be able to hold that position. If not, well, the Bruins could be again struggling all the way to the last week of the season to lock up a precious playoff spot.
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