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2016-17 NHL season preview: Boston Bruins

2016-17 NHL season preview: Boston Bruins

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Boston Bruins

How they did last season: 42-31-9 (93 points), 4th in the Atlantic, 9th in the Eastern Conference. Did not make the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: C David Backes, C Riley Nash, G Anton Khudobin

Notable departures: RW Brett Connolly, LW Loui Eriksson, G Jonas Gustavsson, C Chris Kelly, RW Lee Stempniak, D Dennis Seidenberg

When they will play the Caps: Dec. 7 in Washington; Feb. 1 in Washington; April 8 in Boston

RELATED: CAPS PHOTO JOURNAL: ALZNER WELCOMES BABY BOY

Analysis: After missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season, the Boston Bruins faced a choice: blow it up and rebuild or try to keep things together and boost the roster to try and reach the playoffs. The Bruins elected a little of both, signing David Backes out of St. Louis while also buying out Dennis Seidenberg and watching as Loui Eriksson sign with Vancouver. The result is a team that looks desperate to make the playoffs with no real plan in place to do so.

Backes is coming off a good season in which he scored 21 goals and 25 assists. As captain of the St. Louis Blues, he brings leadership as well as skill to Boston. The hope is that he will make up for the loss of Eriksson who was the team’s second leading scorer last season with 63 points.

The Bruins, however, did nothing to address the blue line apart from buying out Seidenberg even though defense is the much bigger concern. Boston finished 20th in the league in goals against last season with 2.78. With a struggling defense led by Zdeno Chara, who will turn 40 in March and is nowhere near the elite player he used to be, the result is a defense far too dependent on goalie Tuukka Rask.

Rask had a down year last season which greatly contributed to the team’s difficulties in keeping the puck out of the net. The team will try to lighten Rask's load with the signing of veteran backup Anton Khudobin. The hope is that more rest will result in better overall play for their star netminder.

Season prediction: The Bruins are determined to avoid a rebuild and instead are going to push for the playoffs, but they ultimately failed to improve what is the team biggest weakness. Rask is a great goalie and it’s fair to believe he can have a bounce-back season, but how much can Boston really rely on the defense? How much can they rely on Zdeno Chara who will turn 40 in March?

To further complicate matters is the fact that the Bruins are going to miss Eriksson this year. Backes is a good addition, but he is 32 and will account for $6 million in cap space for the next five seasons. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Boston may have narrowly missed the playoffs, but didn't get any better in the offseason. Does Backes really make up for the loss of Eriksson? Can Rask really carry the struggling defense by himself? I’m not so sure.

The ceiling for this team looks like a low playoff spot, but it’s much more likely that Boston misses out on the postseason yet again.

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS' GALIEV SWITCHES JERSEY NUMBERS

2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers 
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming soon)

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.