The early theme to the Boston Bruins season is already well underway.
After limping out of the gate with a 3-7 record last season as visions of Stanley Cup glory still dancing in their heads and maybe a few lingering headaches from a summer of triumphant toasts and beer-soaked celebrations it took two months of determined, energetic hockey just to insert them back into the playoff race.
With a shortened 48-game regular season on tap this time around, the Bruins cant afford a slow start with only 3 months of hockey determining their playoff worthiness.
You really cant afford to have even one bad month, said Johnny Boychuk. That could take you right out of things.
Bruins center Chris Kelly compared it to the NFL where every game will have meaning, and the normal dead period or two during an 82-game regular season will be kaput.
If you told us we had to play every day from now until June guys would be ready to play and happy to be back, said Kelly. It will be key to get off to a good start, continue playing well and get better with each game.
Instead it will be divisional grudge matches and conference showdowns right out of the chute to determine who is worthy and who will be outside the playoff scene in a year where their owners badly need the Stanley Cup postseason box office revenue.
The first game against the Rangers is going to feel a little like an exhibition game, said Lucic. It will be a new experience for all of us. But I think we always do a good job of keeping each other accountable.
The way I look at it, its not going to happen unless we make it happen. Last season it didnt start happening for us until we decided to go out and make it happen, and thats when we went on that incredible two-month run. The first 10 games we almost just expected it to happen just because were the champs.
That incredible two-month run included a 12-0-1 mark during the entire month of November, and going 23-3-1 in a period from Nov. 1 Jan. 5 that ended up being last years pinnacle moments for the Black and Gold.
So the expectation is that the Bruins are keenly aware of their own recent team history. Bs head coach Claude Julien will surely stress the importance of a strong start to the season, and team leaders like Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly, Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron
Weve played the same way for the last five years with Claude. He expects a lot out of us and we expect a lot out of him, said Lucic. I dont want to say we take it for granted, but I think we did take it for granted at the start of last season. That was obvious in the way that we started the season.
So its up to us to come out the right way, practice the right way and have a good start to the season. It brought back great memories when the Kings lifted the Cup, but it also light that fire in you again. You want to taste that again.
It will be a challenge, of course. Guys like Lucic and Tyler Seguin become friends with New England Patriots players like Dane Fletcher, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski over the last couple of years, and got the inside scoop on last years abbreviated NFL training camp from a players perspective. The bottom line: nagging hamstring and groin injuries could be a big issue affecting Bostons jump out of the gate if the players start doing too much, too quickly.
Talking to a bunch of the Patriots guys in their short training camp, a lot of them got hurt with pulled muscles. I was talking to offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer about it and he hurt his back last season, said Lucic. You need to pay really close attention to stretching before, stretching afterward, getting a massage, cold baths and all of that type of stuff. We need to focus on all of that and nutrition is going to be a big part as well.
With the Bruins there will be some built-in advantages allowing them to get off the mark quickly: with continuity and high participation in the European leagues as two of the key factors.
While other teams like the Calgary Flames are ushering in a new coaching staff along with key new players, and the New York Rangers are introducing a shiny new piece in Rick Nash, the Bruins are virtually the same. Its the same coaching staff with the same systems coaching 11 of the same 12 forward and five out of six defensemen along with both goaltenders. Tim Thomas is the biggest subtraction from the team mix, and the Bruins have had eight months to get used to that adjustment while Tuukka Rask readies for his big shot.
That doesnt even mention that the nucleus was good enough to a win a Stanley Cup two years ago and should be poised to do it again this season.
Couple all of those factors with the simple fact that the Black and Gold had 12 Bruins skaters playing overseas the most of any team in the NHL and training camp shouldnt be too much trouble for many key players like Chara, Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg among others.
The simple fact that so many Bruins keyed in on a strong start to the coming season rather than bursting into giddy celebration the NHL is back lets everybody know that the players are already into business mode. The first item on the Bs to do list is bursting out of the gate and making a loud, unmistakable statement to the other Eastern Conference teams theyll be battling with.
Then things should just get better from there before they once again take a quick breath in May prior to the playoffs.
But it's first things first for the Black and Gold, and that means crushing the months of January and February.