The Boston Bruins open up defense of their Stanley Cup championship tomorrow night with basically the same team that left the ice with sport’s most valued trophy on June 15. That, however, does not guarantee anything for the 2011-12 season. Like every team, the Bruins are facing a long battle as the regular season starts/ Here are a few areas in which the Bruins must improve if they are to stay on top with the entire league gunning for them:
1. The Power Play: The Bruins won the Stanley Cup despite scoring on just 11.4 percent of their power play chances (10 for 88) – an abysmal number that included 0-for-21 against Montreal, 2-for-16 against Philadelphia, and 3-for-24 against Tampa Bay. It improved in the finals, as Boston went 5-for-27 against Vancouver.
The Bruins were not much better in the regular season, ranking 20th in percentage (16.2) and 26th in power play goals (43).
The addition of Joe Corvo might help, as he, unlike Tomas Kaberle, is not afraid to fire a shot from the point. However, Boston’s issues went much deeper than Kaberle and guys like Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci need to perform better if the power play is to improve.
2. Tyler Seguin: Claude Julien spent much of the 2010-11 season teaching Seguin to learn how to take responsibility on face-offs, in the neutral zone, and in the defensive zone. Though he can still be a liability at times, Seguin did improve at taking care of business without the puck, and with 10 more pounds of muscle on his frame this year, one would expect him to be more physical.
The Bruins also need Seguin to establish himself as an offensive threat, He showed flashes of it throughout the season and in a couple games against Tampa Bay. But the Bruins did not sleect Seguin second overall to be another Michael Ryder (without the defense); they picked him to be a star. Time to start making progress toward that potential.
3. Stanley Cup hangover: Like it or not, there is such a thing as the Stanley Cup hangover. Admittedly, it usually affects both teams in the final, and the Bruins will feel some effect. Many of the Bruins spent a large part of the summer in party mode (deservedly so) and the off-season was already shortened for the players.
The biggest factor won’t be the conditioning, though, it will be the fact that it is impossible to match the intensity of three seven-game series and a Stanley Cup final. There is no way a January game with Ottawa (or even perennially the hated Vancouver Canucks will ever compare to even Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs with Montreal. Getting up for these games will be a challenge, but if the Bruins want to be somewhere near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, they need to find a way to play their best in the majority of those games.