The Bruins launch their season tonight in Columbus, OH against the Blue Jackets, with (preposterously) high expectations set from team ownership and management. Fans all summer have had to deal with random phrases that frustrate, (make the playoffs, make a deep playoff run, we should be better on defense despite not adding anyone new) but fortunately tonight all the talking stops and the team has a chance to shut everyone up (or you know, make it 10 times worse).
Now normally when a team starts a season with 2 top 6 defensemen on the shelf, expectations should probably be tempered. Yet, I personally feel and sense it from the vibe of the fans so far, that the Bruins might have lucked into something here: being forced to start brand new, rookie defensemen with higher ceilings than either of the injured guys. While McQuaid and Miller are serviceable NHL D-Men, the B’s need upgrades badly. Healthy, McQuaid and Miller are barriers to the development of younger, more talented D and the B’s have to go to the well due to the injuries. The Brandon Carlo buzz has been growing from the time the B’s took him with their first second rounder in 2015 to the World Junior Championship last year, to his development camp, to his first NHL training camp. It’s entirely possible he starts the season skating alongside captain Zdeno Chara which is exciting but also poses a huge challenge as he’ll be taking on the best of the opposition in most situations. I’ve only seen him play against professional talent the few times the B’s were on TV so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but for a big guy he can skate. Truly, he cant beat guys into corners, he can skate out of trouble. For a typical shut down defenseman type he is comfortable with the puck (so far). Given his size I think there is room for him to step up physicality but really as long as he’s possessing the puck and making good first decisions to break out he’ll be just fine. The somewhat less well known Rob O’Gara flashed in training camp this September. O’Gara brings some more size to the back end, and, hopefully, some of his Yale smarts. After four years at Yale, O’Gara is a rookie in the sense that Torey Krug was a rookie in 2013. He’s 23 as opposed to 19, and has spent 4 years playing against college hockey’s best. The NHL will still be a shock, but he’s in a unique position to transition well for a rookie.
OK, with that out of the way we just have to work through one more injury: Patrice Bergeron. This thing seemed to come out of nowhere, but it doesn’t sound like it will be a huge deal. Still, no Patrice for game one. So what can we expect for lines? The B’s twitter account put this out at the B’s morning skate:
With a healthy Bergeron, the Bruins had been testing a Spooner-Krecji-Backes situation, so that will be exciting when it happens, but Backes is a natural center so he’ll slot in nicely there. Heinen getting to play in the top 6 will be fun to watch. He’s slotted to be the 4th line RW but he’s more talented than the type of 4th liner we’ve grown accustomed to and he’ll get a chance to prove it skating on the wing with Krecji. Beleskey-Czarnik-Hayes showed some promise in the pre-season. Czarnik was a long shot to make the team but his play in the preseason didn’t really give the organization a choice. He got his bell rung on Saturday by Radko Gudas, but is in the lineup tonight: hopefully he has fully recovered. Moore-Nash-Acciari will look similar to 4th lines past, but with a little bit more speed and actual energy. I don’t expect this line to chip in offensively much tonight.
The D Pairs for the morning skate looked like Morrow will be the odd man out.
Krug skating with O’Gara could be huge. Krug’s minutes increased significantly last season, and though his points went down (torn labrum in his shoulder) he handled the role relatively well. He played with Seidenberg a lot last season, and O’Gara’s game reminds me a bit of (younger) Seidenberg. He even looks a bit like him with his 44 jersey. Liles and Colin Miller together gives me some pause, however. Colin Miller is the Bruins defenseman I’d like to see excel this season, and I’m not sure being the 6th D-man skating with JML will do it. Wearing Dennis Wideman’s number 6 isn’t helping to calm my nerves either.
Rask will be in net tonight, with our boy Dobby backing him up.
What to expect from Columbus:
They somehow under perform modest expectations every year, but have given the B’s fits in the past. Coach John Tortorella’s terrible showing at the World Cup of Hockey aside, the Blue Jackets have talent to work with and should be a good first test for Boston.
Who to watch:
Scott Hartnell-Bruins Killer
Sam Gagner- The name alone should scare you
Zach Werenski- Former US World Juniors D Partner of Carlo, making NHL debut
Seth Jones- Major get for Columbus but hasn’t found his stride yet. I expect big things from him
Sergei Bobrovsky- he can be incredible, and will need to be to propel CBJ into playoff contention