Bruins training camp preview: It could be a really bumpy ride this season

Bruins training camp preview: It could be a really bumpy ride this season

Optimism in the hockey world is usually never higher than it is on the first day of NHL training camp.

That’s as it should be with players rested and at their peak health after a summer of healing and recharging the batteries. Certainly the Boston Bruins should feel good after hitting the playoffs for the third straight season last spring and then marching all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final before falling painfully short of their ultimate goal. 

Given all of that, expectations will be high for the Black and Gold as NHL training camp gets underway on Thursday with fitness testing and physicals. There will be expectations of another deep run into the postseason and another great year from players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

But the reality headed into this NHL training camp is that it could be a rough few months, if not a difficult entire season, for the Bruins hot on the heels of a bitterly disappointing postseason. It’s all setting up to a challenging training camp with unsigned restricted RFA defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo both holding out to start.

On top of that, fellow defensemen Kevan Miller (fractured kneecap) and John Moore (shoulder surgery) are busy recovering from last season’s injury aftermath. That means there’s a realistic scenario that Connor Clifton, Steve Kampfer and a youngster like Urho Vaakanainen could be the entire right side of Boston’s defense to start the season.

That’s a massive cause for concern.

Then there’s 42-year-old Zdeno Chara and 34-year-old Patrice Bergeron still recovering from lingering health issues related to last spring’s Stanley Cup Final run as well.

Even some of the healthy players have their own issues to deal with. Playmaking D-man Torey Krug is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but has questions in his mind about his future in Boston when he hasn’t had any contract extension discussions entering the final year of his deal. David Backes is an influential, important person in the Bruins dressing room, and the 34-year-old was a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former St. Louis Blues team followed by a summer of uncertainty.

These are all significant loose ends to be tied up to start this season, and it doesn’t even mention the Stanley Cup Final hangover or the big time competition in the form of rivals Toronto and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division. It’s all primed to be a challenging start to the season for the Bruins that will start with them shaking off last season’s bitter end.

That’s something Bruce Cassidy wants to put to bed early.

“We talked about [Game 7] today. It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to move on,” said Bruce Cassidy, on the first day of B’s training camp. “I hope they feel the same way. You look at our veteran group. We’ve got Stanley Cup champs, we’ve got gold medalists and guys that have been captains in the NHL. [We have] future Hall of Famers.

“We have very good hockey players and we know what’s at stake when the puck drops. There were a lot of good things last year, but we didn’t reach our ultimate goal. So we’re no different than St. Louis or Ottawa if you take both ends of the spectrum. It’s a new year and every team is starting from scratch and we’re no different. We’ve got a lot of good returning players with some new guys added to the mix, and some young guys that will hopefully push [for jobs]. That’s what we’re focused on to get into the same position as last year.”

It remains to be seen how all of these factors are going to play out for the Bruins.

But B’s fans might want to express some patience with a Bruins hockey club that broke their collective hearts just a couple of months ago. It looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride to start for the Black and Gold with injuries, salary cap issues and heightened expectations all conspiring to make things difficult for them.

The hope has to be that enough of the loose ends can be tied up by the middle of the season, and that the Bruins aren’t too far behind their usual pace in an Atlantic Division that’s getting better and better each season. 

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Plenty of encouraging developments for Bruins in OT loss to Maple Leafs

Plenty of encouraging developments for Bruins in OT loss to Maple Leafs

TORONTO – The Bruins ended up on the losing side of Saturday night’s Atlantic Division showdown even if they picked up the overtime point.

There’s some consolation they didn’t come away empty-handed in a showdown with the Maple Leafs and have come away with points in each of the last two games against Toronto and Tampa Bay though they haven’t won either of them.

But it’s also a clear indicator the Bruins have some things to work on that may have been masked a bit by their 5-1-0 start to the regular season when they didn’t face anybody of consequence outside of a road game in Las Vegas. The scoring imbalance, the looseness defensively and the inconsistency in focus, execution and effort from period to period have been problematic at times even as the B’s have jumped out to a pretty good start.

The good news in all of this is that they are starting to trend in the right direction. After mulling AHL call-ups and going through a six-game stretch where nobody outside of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak scored for the Bruins, the B’s finally received some secondary scoring outside of their Perfection Line.

Pastrnak still came up with the big goal late in the third period that pushed things to OT against Toronto in the 4-3 loss, and we could spend an entire column on the right-winger currently being on pace for 93 goals and 154 points this season.

But the Bruins also got goals from a couple of young forwards they need more from offensively in Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, and that’s a development that will make the B’s a far better hockey club in the long run.

“It was nice. You don’t want to rely on the top guys every night. Obviously they’ve been on fire, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to chip in,” admitted Heinen, who scored his second goal of the season and his first since opening night in Dallas. “It was nice, but it would have been even better if it would have been a win.”

Even better, Charlie Coyle, Chris Wagner and Brett Ritchie dented the score sheet for the Black and Gold as well and the B’s got offense from second and third lines that have been MIA this season.

“We definitely had more focus in those aspects,” said DeBrusk, of getting secondary scoring, improving their second-period play and getting more quality five-on-five play against Toronto. “It was talked about and everything wanted to pitch in. I think we put over 40 shots on them, so give their goaltender credit. He gave them a chance to win, but I definitely thought it was a better 5-on-5 game from our side compared to Tampa Bay.”

Other notable players like Charlie McAvoy and Karson Kuhlman still haven’t caught fire, and the B’s fourth line really struggled on Saturday night, but the hope is that things will turn for them as they did for DeBrusk against the Leafs.

The signs of offensive life will quell the talk of making a trade or promoting red-hot Anders Bjork at least in the short term, but it’s a trend that’s going to need to continue with the Bruins.

Another piece of encouragement from the overtime loss?

The Bruins played arguably their best second period on the young season after struggling for the middle 20 minutes for much of the year. The Bruins outshot the Leafs 15-3, controlled play and missed on two separate, wide-open scoring chances on the backdoor when both DeBrusk and Bergeron simply missed the net.

That essentially turned out to be the difference in a one-goal loss in overtime, but the improvement in an area that’s dogged them all year was pretty notable.

“I didn’t like that stretch [in the first period] where we just weren’t competitive enough,” admitted Cassidy. “We were trading chances a bit and it wasn’t going our way, so we need to be harder on the puck. In the O-zone I thought we were one and done, but then as the game went along in the second and third period I thought we were harder on it. It started with Coyle’s play [setting up the DeBrusk goal] where he controlled possession.”

On its face, the Bruins have lost two games in a row and come up a wee bit short in their measuring stick games against their immediate divisional rivals.

But there are arguably more things to be encouraged about in Saturday night’s loss to the Maple Leafs than during many of the empty calorie wins that the Bruins piled up in the season’s first couple of weeks against some of the NHL’s tomato cans.

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Zdeno Chara blows up Brad Marchand with hilarious Instagram chirp

Zdeno Chara blows up Brad Marchand with hilarious Instagram chirp

Brad Marchand and Torey Krug have famously developed a chirpy relationship on social media over the last couple of years, but it looks like another Bruins player is getting into the act when it comes to poking fun at their small sizes.

After the official Boston Bruins social media accounts sent out a picture of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara donning a No. 88 Bruins T-shirt with Pastrnak’s name on the back during Saturday’s trip to Toronto, Brad Marchand took umbrage with Chara’s shirt choice and took to Instagram to discuss it with his towering captain.

First of all, it makes all the sense in the world for all the Bruins players to wear David Pastrnak gear as he leads the NHL with nine goals scored after potting the game-tying strike in Boston’s eventual 4-3 overtime loss to the Leafs on Saturday night.

But it was Chara’s response to the Marchand comment that was sudden, swift and “sweep the leg” vicious with the 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman stating that the diminutive winger’s shirts “only come in S and M sizes.”

Chara has developed a following on Instagram with his interesting social media posts that give fans a glimpse into his personal life and the legendary workouts that allow him to still remain in the NHL at 42 years old. But this is Chara’s first foray into having a little fun with Marchand, the most notorious social media poster on the Bruins roster, and hopefully not the last.

There’s nothing wrong with some good-natured chirps between Bruins teammates that clearly get along off the ice.

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