B's expect to be better as they chase greatness

B's expect to be better as they chase greatness
October 3, 2013, 2:45 pm
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The one thing Bruins fans could hang their Black and Gold toques on was the constant consistency of the franchise over the previous six years.

It was the same group of players with the very same personalities that built things up into a winner these years, and a potential puck dynasty in the making with two Stanley Cup Final appearances in the last three years. Sure some of the lesser names changed over the last few years and Tim Thomas famously went off the B’s reservation after the White House incident, but GM Peter Chiarelli was quoted often about “keeping the band together.”

Chiarelli managed to do that while squeezing one last Cup Final run out of the nucleus this past June, but “change is the new constant” for the Black and Gold. With a right side of the forward group that wasn’t providing enough consistency and a salary cap that was dropping coming out of the lockout, Chiarelli executed his offseason plan. As always the plan consisted of improving his team, and putting his hockey club in a position to surpass expectations that have reached mountainous heights in Boston.

“I think it goes to being an organization here for 90 years, and there are such deep roots in hockey and obviously the Bruins,” said B’s President Cam Neely. “I think the success we’ve had as an organization in the past five or six years, and -- not just winning, but -- putting competitive teams on the ice and giving our fans a really good team to watch, I think that’s renewed a lot of interest with some old fans. It’s brought in a lot of new fans.

“I love the buzz that our fans have created for us. They do push us as a management group, they push us as players to play better and to do a better job, and any time you get a full house as a player it’s a great place to play in.”

That full house should bring the best out of players that have been looking for that perfect blend of winning/fan base/organization throughout their hockey careers. It might not happen right out of the gate with Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson lighting things up on the scoreboard, but the Bruins expect that it will happen for them. The expectation is that the Bruins will also be a better team with Iginla and Eriksson this season than they were with Horton and Seguin last year.

“You got some guys that have come in and are extremely happy to join our team. They feel the same way we do, that we’re a team that’s going to hopefully compete at the end when it’s all said and done,” said Claude Julien. “So they’re excited to come in and it just adds some new life to our team.

“At the same time, to be able to do that you have to add some quality guys, which I think we’ve done. The [Jarome] Iginlas, the [Loui] Erikssons just to name a few, [Reilly] Smith who’s here and our young D’s that did such a good job for us last year in the playoffs when called upon. I think there are a lot of areas there that have changed, but more than likely for the better.”

To Julien’s point, both Horton and Seguin were a little too unpredictable and streaky for the tastes of some, and the consistency provided by the new right wings is something the Bruins can count on every night.

“We’re trying to build a winner, and those are where our expectations are. We’ve added some new bodies, we’ve incorporated some youth. The new bodies, they’re finding their way with their lines. On the right side, [we have] the top three right wingers. Chemistry takes some time to develop and over the course of the camp I’m seeing it develop.

“But it still takes time, it takes them being worked into the room and them getting adjusted to or familiar with our coaches. Then you’ve got your younger D that I think they all have had good camps. Each has their own strengths, and each has their own weaknesses. There are still questions for me that have to be answered, but I like what I’m seeing so far. Whenever you can bring in new faces and young faces, it helps the outlook of the room. I feel it energizes [the team]. I’m anxious to see us get going. I think we’re going to generate some heat from the back end with our guys. We’ve got some good, real competitive guys that we’ve added on the right side, so I expect good things.”

The main operations within the offseason improvement plan were allowing Andrew Ference to walk away as a free agent, and dealing 21-year-old Tyler Seguin in a move that left slack-jawed Bruins “tween” fans strewn across the New England landscape.

The departure of Nathan Horton to the Columbus Blue Jackets was a shock that the B’s front office didn’t see coming, but the consistent, accomplished Iginla is something of an upgrade as a 36-year-old.

In fact the addition of Iginla, Eriksson along with full seasons from Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton should lift the B’s power play to levels it hasn’t reached since Marc Savard was orchestrating things from the half-wall. Boston scored four power play goals right out of the preseason gate against Montreal, and looked much improved on the PP throughout the preseason.

Iginla was heavily involved with those four PP goals, and has averaged 12 power play goals a season over the last 12 full years. To put it in perspective, Zdeno Chara (eight power play goals in 2010-11) and Tyler Seguin/Brad Marchand (four power play goals in 2011-12) led Boston’s special teams units in each of the last two years. But with Krug and David Krejci running the point on the top unit with Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic down low, teams had a tough time dealing with them in the preseason. ‘

There’s no reason to think that can’t extend into the regular season.

“I think we can have a really good power play," Iginla said. "There are at least a couple of units that can get chances for both minutes that we’re out there. Loui Eriksson is great on the power play . . . great hands, crafty and can shoot. Big Zee, if he’s going to be in front of the net, I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s bigger and stronger than he is. He’s got good hands and a good reach to win puck battles in the corner, and get set up [in the offensive zone].

“You’ve got [Lucic] battling with Zee down low. Would you want to take on those two in the corner? Then Krejci and Krug are back there [at the point] setting things up. I haven’t played with a Krug a long time, but you get to see him up close, and see his confidence the way he moves the puck. I knew his one-timer because we saw that in the [Eastern Conference Finals], but [I’ve noticed] the way he moves it and how quick he is. There are a lot of tools here for a really good power play. We’re going to keep working at it.”

Another area the B’s will be in better right away?

Those young defensemen that Chiarelli alluded to: Krug, Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski are all speedy, offense-minded blueliners with the ability to kick-start the transition game into instant offense. The speedy transition game and improved power play means the Bruins won’t have to work so ridiculously hard to score goals, and things should come a little easier for them.

Inject truth serum into Julien and he’d surely tell you that he’s going to have to “coach the young guys up” defensively with so much responsibility on the shoulders of an NHL defenseman. Hamilton absolutely struggled last season as time wore on, and the learning curve will in effect again this season.

But the ceiling for the B’s defensemen crew has also been raised substantially over the last two years.

It won’t be too easy, of course, because this is the Bruins we’re talking about. They prefer to do things the hard way, and that was proven once again last spring when they needed a three goal outburst in the miracle third period to advance past the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And Chara will be there cracking the whip either way.

“Expectations are high. Every team is going to give us their best, so we have to be ready for that. That’s only good,” said Chara, who struggled with a hip pointer at the end of last season’s Cup run. “It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. You can look at that, but we did a lot of good things last year. The most important thing is that we’re going to get up, and go for it again this year. Hopefully we can do great things again.”

That’s where the Bruins success comes from: the management, coaches and player leadership group that won’t settle for less after touching greatness, and have some unfinished business after falling two wins short of that greatness once again last season.

The puck drops Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning to open the regular season, but a Cup-driven Bruins club has miles to go before they sleep.