Joe Haggerty's 2011-12 NHL preview

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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.

B's determined to 'keep it going' during good offensive run

B's determined to 'keep it going' during good offensive run

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- The Bruins are going through a nice, little bountiful stretch of offense right now after a half-season of struggle.

The Bruins are averaging more than three goals per game in their last 12 contests, and have scored a whopping 22 goals in their last six games including dropping six scores on the Flyers Saturday afternoon at TD Garden. Combine that with the 7-for-25 performance on the power play during the month of January, and things are finally starting to catch up with a Bruins team that was all shoot/no score for months of frustrating hockey this season.

“If you want sustained success then you have to be good defensively, but you also have to score some goals. That’s definitely part of it and we have to keep it going,” said Patrice Bergeron, who has four goals and eight points in his last nine games after struggling out of the starting gate. “You’re not going to get rewarded every night like we did [against the Flyers], but you have to find that consistency where you’re close to having that every night.”

One thing nobody should expect out of the B’s, however, is to get outside of what they do well now that they’ve started slapping some numbers up on the board. Instead the Bruins are intent on their bedrock of disciplined defense and sensational goaltending with the added offense just making it much tougher to beat them these days.

“I don’t know if we can stand here and say we’re going to sustain that we’re scoring lots of goals. I think what we need to sustain here is winning more games than we lose,” said Claude Julien. “That’s what we’ve got to sustain. Whether it’s a 1-0 or 2-1 game, or it’s a 5-2 or 5-3 game it doesn’t really matter. It’s about winning hockey games much more than it’s about how much you scored, and how much you don’t score.

“Overall when I look at the scoring chances we’re giving up per game, that doesn’t seem to have changed. Goals allowed may have changed a little bit lately, but overall I think we’ve been very steady in that area [of defense].”

So now the Bruins will again be looking for that ideal balance of offense/defense when they take the ice against the Islanders on Monday afternoon for their second straight matinee at TD Garden. 

Morrow has 'confident feeling' as he readies to jump into B's lineup

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Morrow has 'confident feeling' as he readies to jump into B's lineup

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It’s been a long month of bag skates and lonely practices for Bruins defenseman Joe Morrow.

That’s about to change thanks to injuries to both Kevan Miller and Colin Miller, who are both not expected to be able to play against the New York Islanders on Monday afternoon at TD Garden. That means Morrow will be in the B’s lineup for the first time since a Dec. 12 win over the Montreal Canadiens, a span of 16 consecutive B’s games that the 24-year-old has been watching from the press box.

Morrow skated in a pairing with John-Michael Liles in Sunday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena prior to Monday’smatinee, and obviously he’s looking forward to getting back into games given this season’s sporadic practice schedule.

“[Playing well after sitting for long stretches] isn’t necessarily something you want to be good at, but if you are good at then it’s a good tool to have in your bag. It’s a confident feeling that I’ll be able to come in [and play well],” said Morrow, who has an assist and a minus-3 rating in 13 games for the Black and Gold this season. “I’ve stayed in good shape and worked hard in practice, and that’s all I can do up until this point.

“Put simply, [this year’s compacted schedule] is exhausting. Countless times I’ve skated by myself, and anybody would tell you there’s nothing harder than skating by yourself on a sheet of ice. Mentally and physically it’s just exhausting. There haven’t been many practices and there haven’t been many game-type situations in the practices we do have. Skating with the whole team is almost like a pregame skate scenario. But you’re still skating every day, so it’s putting it upon yourself to go out there and stay ready for things.”

The one issue for Morrow, a former first round pick, over the last couple of seasons has been maintaining a high level of play once he draws his way into the lineup. It feels like there’s a drop-off in his play once he’s played a few games in a row whether it’s physical mistakes or mental lapses in his play, and that’s something he wants to avoid when given an opportunity to suit up.

“I feel like when I have played this year that I’ve been quite consistent and that I’ve played well,” said Morrow, the last remaining part of the 2013 Tyler Seguin trade still in a Bruins uniform. “I’m just in a situation that the cards are playing out the way that they are, so it depends on how many games I get whether it’s one, two, 30 or however many games are left [in the season]. It’s realistically entirely up to me. If I can shake the rust out in the first couple of shifts and start from there, it’s going to be a big positive in my book. It’s the really the only option I have left now.”

Given that Colin Miller began skating on his own on Sunday morning, it might not be a very big window for Morrow to impress upon the coaches just how badly he wants to play. But one would expect he’s going to bring his best on Monday against the Isles with the hopes that it will be somebody else sitting up in the press box when it once again becomes a D-man numbers game for the 7-8 players for six lineup spots.