Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Boston Bruins.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Boston Bruins
The 2018-19 Boston Bruins will look to make it back to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. They have made a few moves to help their offensive depth and keep a strong defensive lineup. In Bruce Cassidy‘s second full year as head coach, the team will have plenty of talent to work with and it seems for sure that a Stanley Cup is an attainable goal for the Bruins.
After making the playoffs for the first time in three years, the Bruins entered the 2017-18 season looking to re-establish themselves in their first full season under Cassidy. Boston opened the season with a 4-3 win against the defending Western Conference champions Nashville Predators. The next three starts that Tuukka Rask had ended in losses, and it was up to Anton Khudobin to bail the team out early.
Khudobin won his first four starts while Rask battled an injury. But when Rask came back and went 8-1-1 in his first 10 starts back from his concussion, it was clear that he would reclaim the spot as the team’s top goaltender.
Where the Bruins have recently struggled is during the month of March. Under Claude Julien, that was when the team slowed its pace and went quiet when they needed wins to secure a playoff spot.
Cassidy’s team went 11-2-3 that month and launched themselves into a spot to take the top spot in Atlantic Division. It wasn’t until the final game of the season that the first-place spot was lost following a 4-2 defeat to the Florida Panthers.
In typical Bruins fashion, the team only made a few moves to add to their team. On the first day of free agency, the Bruins signed Jaroslav Halak to be their backup goaltender after Khudobin signed with the Dallas Stars.
Boston also added John Moore on a five-year deal worth $13.75 million as well as signing Axel Andersson, their second-round draft pick, to a three-year deal. The team also picked up Joakim Nordstrom, Cody Goloubef, and Chris Wagner.
As the Bruins signed a few key players, they lost many. Tim Schaller signed with the Vancouver Canucks, Riley Nash went to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Khudobin left for the Stars and Austin Czarnik signed with the Calgary Flames. Rick Nash remains a free agent.
The top line was one of the most dangerous lines in the entire league last year. Pastrnak (35), Marchand (34) and Bergeron (300) were the team’s top goal scorers on the season. Out of the team’s 270 goals for, the top offensive line accounted for 37 percent of them.
Krejci scored the fourth-most goals with 17 and will be entering his 12th year in the league. Where he really shined last year was in the playoffs. He scored three goals and tallied 10 points in the two rounds the Bruins played in.
After a few years of a young, struggling defence, the Bruins have a core lineup to start the season. Chara will be entering a one-year deal, which likely means it will be his last, as he has reached 41 years of age.
McAvoy fits nicely alongside Chara and with 32 points in his first regular season, has proven to be a game changer for the Bruins. In 18 playoff games, McAvoy has eight points – five coming from the two most recent series.
Last season, John Moore played 81 games for the Devils, a career high, and recorded 18 points. He only managed a 48.4 percent Corsi (+0.4 relative Corsi) on the ice, which raises some concerns for his presence while on the ice. Over his nine-year career in the NHL, his highest Corsi is 52.2 percent, that also came with a -1.9 relative Corsi and heavy offensive zone starts. He put up these numbers in the 2013-14 season with the New York Rangers.
Where Moore excels is when he uses his 210-pound frame. The 6-foot-2 defenseman recorded a career-high 135 hits and another career-high 105 blocked shots last season. While these numbers do not exceed some of the top defensemen for Boston like Chara and Miller, he will be valuable as a veteran and can mesh well with younger players if McQuaid is injured again.
Rask’s 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff performance was less than impressive in certain games. He will likely be the starter for Boston, but the addition of Halak puts pressure on Rask to perform at the level he is expected to play at. Halak, who is used to carrying the weight of a starting goaltender, was added following his four seasons with the New York Islanders. This past season, he recorded a tough 3.19 goals-against average and 0.908 save percentage in 54 games.
Players To Watch
Donato debuted for the Bruins in March and in his 12 games, logged five goals and four assists. In the playoffs, he was only used for three games and failed to make an impact statistically. This season, expect Donato to make his way into the lineup as a regular left winger.
After playing 70 games in his first season with the Bruins, DeBrusk posted 16 goals and 27 assists. The 21-year-old impressed Bruins fans with his willingness to work hard every single shift. The Edmonton, Alberta native became a fan favourite in Boston after scoring six times in the playoffs, including the game-winner against the Maple Leafs in Game 7.
Forsbacka-Karlsson, known in the league as “JFK” played 58 games for Boston’s affiliate Providence Bruins last season and recorded 32 points. This summer, he has worked toward becoming an NHL-ready center. With Riley Nash no longer locking up the third-line spot, it is a place JFK could land if he shows that he’s ready to carry that weight.
Wagner is entering his first season in Boston after playing with both the Islanders and Anaheim Ducks last year. In 79 total games the previous season, Wagner only managed seven goals and nine assists. But while his point production is not stellar, Wagner plays with a physical edge that Boston has traditionally enforced in their lineup. With 253 hits last year, he topped the Bruin with the highest hit total, Kevan Miller, by 89. Projected to be a fourth-line bruiser, Wagner may be called upon to set the tone of an important game.
Last year was a successful season for the Bruins and while they lost in five games to the Lightning, there isn’t a whole lot to change. Their goaltending duo is strong with Rask and Halak. The defence is finally where they should be as the younger players are solidifying and the top line of the offence will continue to produce.
The Lightning will likely reclaim the top spot late in the season as they have made some key moves this off-season. The Maple Leafs will be the Bruins toughest competition this year, as the newly acquired John Tavares will help them greatly. The Panthers missed the playoffs by a narrow margin and will fight to get back to that spot, which makes the race for the Atlantic Division even tighter.
It would truly be shocking if the Bruins were unable to make a third consecutive playoff appearance as the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are not close to being a championship-contending team and the Panthers made very few moves to get better this off-season. It is looking like a third-place finish in the Atlantic will be their final place come playoff time, but of course, the Bruins may have some surprises.
Main Photo: BOSTON, MA – MAY 4: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with Brad Marchand #63 and Torey Krug #47 after scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 4, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)