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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

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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.

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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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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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