Joe Haggerty's 2011-12 NHL preview

191545.jpg

Joe Haggerty's 2011-12 NHL preview

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

It wont be nearly as wide open for the Bruins in the Eastern Conference this time around.

The Bruins return 18 players (16 skaters and two goaltenders) to this seasons team from last years Cup champions, and have a young nucleus paired with a solid defensive philosophy and elite goaltenders. But theyre also stepping into a Northeast Division thats much improved from top to bottom, and an Eastern Conference that saw the Flyers, Rangers and Capitals make big upgrades to teams that were already playoff caliber.

Not only that, but Sidney Crosby is expected to return at some point during the season after last years concussion issues, and that makes the Penguins the prohibitive favorites with the best hockey player in the world.

Itll be a testing battleground for the Bruins for all 82 games, coming off a year that saw them play 107 games (regular season and playoffs) and log an extra two months of hockey when other players were off golfing. Coach Claude Julien was only speaking about the goaltenders the Bruins will have to face with regularity, but one got the impression he knows exactly what his team is in for this season.

We're in a conference -- and even a division -- that has some pretty good goaltenders, so it's not like we're going into the unknown here, said Julien. Ryan Miller in Buffalo Sabres and Carey Price with Montreal Canadiens, who had a great season last year. Craig Anderson's played well for Ottawa. This is only in our division.

I think the way goaltending in Toronto is this season they seem pretty confident there too. When youve got Martin Brodeur in New Jersey and so-on-and-so-forth, this is the challenge you have almost every night. A lot of teams say the same thing about our team and about our goaltending. So it's just one of the pieces of the puzzle that you have to solve, and there's not a million ways to solve that.

There arent a million ways to solve it, but the Bruins came across a few last season that are probably going to do them some good again this year. Here is the CSNNE.com NHL preview with Bostons final predicted place within the final painting (and for the record I predicted the Bruins losing to the Wings in the Cup Finals last season before the year got going).

Eastern ConferenceNortheast Division
1. Boston Bruins The Bruins barely hang on in a much tougher division despite returning cast.
2. Buffalo Sabres The new owner, energy and attitude help when it comes with good players for the Sabres.
3. Montreal Canadiens Guys like Subban, Price and Plekanec are only going to get better this season.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs Could this be the year that Toronto makes it back to the postseason? This writer is betting the answer is yes.
5. Ottawa Senators Craig Anderson will need to stand on his head, and that could happen on any given night.

Atlantic Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins The belief here is that Sidney Crosby is back sooner rather than later, and that makes the Pens everybodys favorite.
2. Philadelphia Flyers It may take some time for the new pieces to gel, but Bryzgalov is a huge regular season upgrade at goalie.
3. New York Rangers Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik could be deadly in Gotham.
4. New York Islanders The return of Mark Streit gives the young Isles enough talent to throw scares in other teams.
5. New Jersey Devils This is a difficult team to figure out, but Martin Brodeurs swan song may be a sad one.

Southeast Division
1. Washington Capitals The best team in the East that nobody is talking about got much better with Tomas Vokoun.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning There may be a small dip in Tampa Bays performance, but this Bolts team is playoff-hardened and talent-blessed.
3. Winnipeg Jets The move to Canada agrees with a star-crossed franchise, and talented players like Byfuglien, Kane and Pavelec get the Jets back into the postseason.
4. Carolina Hurricanes Staal and Co. are young and formidable, but they still dont seem to have enough depth to truly challenge.
5. Florida Panthers Hockey purgatory remains firmly in place in Sunrise, Florida. A series of embarrassing signings this summer mean they deserve what they get.

The Washington Capitals over the Boston Bruins in the second round.
The Pittsburgh Penguins over the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.

Caps over the Pens in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Western Conference

Central Division
1. Chicago Blackhawks Kane and Toews show becomes must see hockey TV once again this season free of Cup hangover.
2. Detroit Red Wings The Wings have started to show their age, but theyve still got some sting left before flying East.
3. Nashville Predators The Preds proved last year that theyre for real, and Rinne can beat just about anybody.
4. St. Louis Blues The Blues would have much better chances if their division wasnt so talented and dangerous.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets On paper the Blue Jackets should be much better with Jeff Carter and Rich Nash. On paper that is.

Northwest Division
1. Vancouver Canucks The Sedins have proven they bounce back up when theyre mercilessly driven to the ice. This season will confirm that.
2. Edmonton Oilers The growing pains were many last season, but the young and restless Oilers are ready to ride Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Co. to the playoffs.
3. Calgary Flames Things could go awfully wrong with so much reliance on NHL graybeards like Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff.
4. Colorado Avalanche Theres plenty of talent to climb up the rankings for the Avs, but Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov will have to come ready to play.
5. Minnesota Wild Dany Heatley brings his sniping skills to the Wild, but theres a long way to go.

Pacific Division
1. Los Angeles Kings The dark horse for a Stanley Cup championship this season, Mike Richards adds a lot to an already talented bunch without a true, gritty leader.
2. San Jose Sharks The Sharks are obviously loaded once again, but there is growing that San Jose will ever get to Stanleys promise land.
3. Anaheim Ducks The talented core is still there with Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne, and a healthy Jonas Hiller makes them a team without many holes.
4. Phoenix Coyotes Should everyone take it as a bad omen that Kyle Turris refuses to sign a contract to play with the Desert Dogs?
5. Dallas Stars The loss of Brad Richards hurts the Stars, and toxic twins pairing of Michael RyderMike Ribeiro certainly doesnt help.

Vancouver Canucks over the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round
Los Angeles Kings over the San Jose Sharks in the second round
The Kings over the Canucks in the Western Conference Finals

2011-12 NHL Award Winners

Hart Trophy Alex Ovechkin
Vezina Trophy Carey Price
Norris Trophy Shea Weber
Art Ross Trophy Daniel Sedin
Calder Trophy Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Jack Adams Award Guy Boucher
Maurice Richard Trophy Steve Stamkos
Selke Trophy Patrice Bergeron

Stanley Cup Finals: The Kings over the Capitals in seven games to make the fourth straight Stanley Cup winner that began the season in Europe.
Conn Smythe Winner: Mike Richards

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

Julien: 'A lot of problematic things' in Bruins loss to Avalanche

Julien: 'A lot of problematic things' in Bruins loss to Avalanche

BOSTON – The Bruins simply weren’t ready to play on Thursday night when the puck was dropped against the Colorado Avalanche at TD Garden. 

They fell down quickly by a 2-0 score, had a couple of completely inept power plays in the first period that sucked all the game’s momentum away from them and received some subpar goaltending from Anton Khudobin on the way to a 4-2 loss to the lowly Avs. About the only B’s person above reproach in this one was David Pastrnak after scoring a pair of goals in the second period to get Boston back into the game, but it all fell short in a very frustrating, lackadaisical loss to a Western Conference team that isn’t very good. 

MORE: 

Needless to say B’s coach Claude Julien wasn’t too happy after a loss where the Bruins might have had more success with a smarter approach to holding the puck. 

“There were a lot of problematic things [in the loss]. No doubt that the power play could have helped us in the first period, and failed to do that. They’ve got to be better,” said Julien. “We needed some saves tonight, and we didn’t get them. [Anton Khudobin] has got to be better. 

“A lot of things here that we can be better at, and take responsibility [for]. But at the same time, you got to move on here.  It’s one of those nights that had we been smarter from the get go, we would have had a chance.”

Clearly it was about a lacking group effort when dissecting the loss, and the minus-3 for David Krejci on Thursday night marked back-to-back negative performances from the playmaking Czech center in big spots. The goaltending was shoddy with Anton Khudobin allowing four goals on 22 shots for Colorado, and unable to make plays on a couple of Colorado shots from outside the painted area that built up the Avs lead in the first place. 

But it was also very much about the inability of the Bruins to generate consistent offense outside of David Pastrnak’s offensive burst in the second period, and the complete breakdown of the Boston power play in the opening 20 minutes. The Bruins struggled to enter the zone in their first PP possession of the game, and then allowed a Nathan MacKinnon shorthanded goal after Torey Krug futilely dove at the blue line to try and keep the puck in the offensive zone. 

The Krug misplay at the offensive blue line gave MacKinnon a clear path the net, and he buried a wrist shot past Khudobin to get the one-sided loss rolling. Beyond the costly mistakes that ended up in the back of the net, the Bruins looked sloppy and slow-reacting in their breakouts and more than willing to settle for outside perimeter shots.

That doesn’t exactly make for a winning combo even when it comes against a flawed, underachieving team like Colorado, and especially when it comes less than 24 hours after a hard-fought road game in Washington DC. 

“I think we were still sleeping there early in the game and they were able to capitalize on their opportunities. We couldn’t claw our way back,” said Brad Marchand, who picked up an assist on David Pastrnak’s second goal of the night on a perfect dish for the one-timer. “I think it was definitely a mental [block]. You’re able to battle through that physical fatigue. It was more the mental mistakes and not being prepared right off the hop of the start of the game. Again, that’s kind of where we lost it.”

The sleepwalking Bruins lost Thursday night’s valuable two points as soon as the opening puck was dropped against the Avalanche, of course, and the Bruins never got out of lollygag mode at a time when intensity should have been automatic.