With the season just five days away, the B’s are hitting the ice and ready to rock the Garden again. While the sum of their parts looks promising, there are still five big questions that remain heading into their first game.
Who’s in Shape? – There’s no doubt that the lockout takes a toll on everyone, no matter what team. That said, some guys are going to get hit harder than others. As a group, the B’s are still relatively young, so don’t fret too much about Father Time setting in. The bigger concern is for guys who haven’t seen much ice time. Rumors abound that Milan Lucic isn’t close to game shape yet. Not good news for a guy who’s looked questionable at times in past years. Nathan Horton hasn’t played in nearly a year thanks to concussions. In his case, the time off may be a blessing, allowing him to return with confidence. Adam Mcquaid went under the knife in the fall for a blood clot. While he and the mullet claim to be ready for game action, one has to wonder how the recovery time and meds affected his conditioning. Meanwhile, nearly half the team played overseas at some point in fall/early winter. Most notably, Tyler Seguin tore it up in the Swiss National League. The confidence he gained should help him shred up NHL goalies like stale cheese.
Can Dougie Hamilton Hang? – Fans are ready to anoint him the fourth member of the holy trinity: Shore, Orr, and Bourque, but Dougie still has allot to prove. While putting up consistent numbers for Niagra of the OHL and helping Canada to a bronze at the World Juniors, Hamilton still has a big leap to make to the pros. If the B’s can get off to a hot start and stay injury free, expect him to see time buried as the 6th defenseman, with the occasional healthy scratch. It’s a great opportunity for Hamilton to get some experience dealing with pressure filled, stretch-run hockey… without being the main fall guy.
Can the Goaltending Hold Up? – There’s no doubt that losing Tim Thomas hurts the B’s between the pipes. He’s been a stabilizing force in the crease for 8 seasons now, practically pack-muling the entire team on his back to the 2011 Stanley Cup. But, with his suspension Monday, those days have passed. It’s now officially Tuukka Time. While it’s hard to back anyone on a small sampling, Rask has shown the ability to take on the starter’s role before, playing the savior in 2010 when Thomas’ hip broke down in the second half. Some say Rask looked shell-shocked as the Bruins dropped a three game lead to the Flyers in the second round, but it’s difficult to lay the blame on one 23 year old (at the time) kid. Don’t forget, that series shifted when David Krejci went down and Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne returned. Behind Rask the Bruins have depth they can lean on in Anton Khudobin and Niklas Svedberg.
Who’ll Fill the 3rd Line Vacancy? – Benoit Pouliot’s skates aren’t exactly big ones to fill. Still, that hasn’t stopped a plethora of candidates from hoping to join Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly on the 3rd unit. Jordan Caron was the odds on favorite heading into the summer, but a slow start in Providence may have derailed that train before it even left the station. Caron was not among the Bruins recalled from Providence this week. Meanwhile, a strong start for new acquisition Chris Bourque caught the eye of Bruins brass. It’s now pretty much his spot to lose in the eyes of many. It may be the last chance for the about-to-be 27 year old Bourque to stick with a big league club. Peverley‘s speed and Kelly’s defensive instincts could be the right mesh for Bourque to finally find his niche. Also making a strong impression on the farm, Ryan Spooner earned himself a trip to camp. The offensive minded youngster Spooner and veteran Jay Pandolfo should add a competitive element in what’s essentially the only roster spot up for grabs.
Can the Bruins Compete for the Cup? – It’s nearly a given that, barring an outbreak of the injury bug, this team will make the playoffs. The true question is, what’s their destiny? Are they a one and done… or do they have what it takes? Familiarity and depth have been the Bruins calling card for years now. In a short season, that becomes all the more critical. While teams like the Rangers and Blackhawks will rely on one or two strong lines full of star power, the B’s spread things around and grind it out for a W. The depth is there, but health and goaltending come playoff time can come down to a coin toss. Expect Boston to be a top four finisher when all the dust settles. Anything else is a severe underachievement.