The Boston Bruins, fresh off their first playoff berth since 2004, are setting high expectations for themselves in 2008-09. Despite being without # 2 center Patrice Bergeron for most of the season and losing Manny Fernandez to injury, the Bruins were able to fight their way to a 8th place finish in the East (15th overall). Coach Claude Julien is looking to build on that success with another strong campaign. The Bruins bought out aging winger Glen Murray and signed one-time 30 goal man Michael Ryder, in the hopes that they could improve on their goals for total of 212 (2nd worst in the East). With a full, healthy lineup and another year of experience for their younger players, the Bruins figure to be in the mix in the East this season.
The Bruins feature what may be an underrated group of forwards. Led by playmaker Marc Savard, the Bruins feature what could be a break out cast of forwards. Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Marco Sturm and Chuck Kobasew should all figure prominently in the Bruins offense this year, and Patrice Bergeron’s return should revive a moribund power play. Michael Ryder (who has shined when coached by Claude Julien) hopes to have a bounce back season playing with Savard and/or Bergeron. Lucic, the new fan favorite in Boston, plays a gritty game that endears him to the Boston faithful. He may also be able to improve on his goals total. Peter Schaefer, a disappointing addition last year, plays a rough and tumble game as well. Once you get passed him and Lucic, the Bruins are a relatively small group up front. The Bruins, who have the ingredients for a solid top two lines, should improve their total offense and take some pressure away from the defense and goaltenders. Look for Blake Wheeler to crack the lineup as well.
Its Zdeno Chara and, ummmm, 5 other guys? An unheralded defense was able to put in a strong performance for Claude Julien last season. Chara and the recently resigned Dennis Wideman provide the offense from the point, and are backed up by stay at home types Andrew Ference, Andrew Alberts, the emerging Mark Stuart and Aaron Ward. Shane Hnidy figures to be the 7th defenseman. Though not an overly offensive bunch, the Bruins defenders are nevertheless effective rearguards in that they are adept at actually playing defense. They block shots, shut down passing lanes and play the man with aplomb. They were not strong on the penalty kill last year, but look for that to improve after a full season with Coach Julien. Rookie Matt Lashoff may contend for a job if he has a strong camp.
Tim Thomas, an All-Star last season, took the number one job after Manny Fernandez was slowed by injuries. Thomas was stellar most of the year as he kept the offense-starved Bruins in a lot of games and gave them a chance to win on many nights that they didn’t deserve the chance. Fernandez is in the final year of his contract (so it Thomas) and will look to re-establish himself as a premiere netminder in the NHL. Look for this intense competition to produce results for the Bruins. Tuuka Rask is expected to remain in the AHL for the season, unless one of the goalies are traded.
If all the pieces fall into place and the offense clicks, 4th in the Eastern Conference.
If they are beset by injuries, 11th in the East.