After a disappointing exit from the playoffs in the second round last season and finishing second in both the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins have much to be hopeful about for the 2018-19 season. The goal for the Bruins is to the playoffs for the third consecutive season. A vast majority of the core last season’s team is returning, the mainstays on offense being David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. On defense, they have veteran Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and young star Charlie McAvoy with Tuukka Rask returning in net. It is expected that these players will once again lead the Bruins to the postseason in April, but they need more players to step up if they want a better shot at hoisting the Cup.
The biggest problem that plagued the Bruins last season was lack of depth scoring. The offense lived and died with the production of the top line for the most part. If that top line of Pastrnak, Marchand and Bergeron were struggling to score the team was generally struggling to produce as well. The top line alone combined to score 99 out of the team’s 270 goals last season with each of them scoring at least 30 goals himself. The next highest goal scorer was David Krejci with 17. If the Bruins want to make a deep run they need other players to step up and pick up the slack. There is plenty of young talent on the team that coach Bruce Cassidy can rely on to take a bigger role. Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk are the likely candidates for playing a bigger role. Both finished last season tied for fifth on the team in goals with 16. They also both scored over 40 points and have the potential to reach 50 this season.
Rookie Ryan Donato is expected to play a much bigger role this season after a solid start to his professional hockey career. In 12 regular season games at the end of last season he posted 5 goals and 4 assists. It’s safe to assume he will see an increase in his time on the ice while being able to put up solid numbers. He will likely be a candidate for the Calder Trophy handed out to the top rookie. His growth as a professional player will be a great point of interest for the Bruins this season. Last year’s rookie sensation defenseman Charlie McAvoy will also be another big interest point. Will he continue to play the most minutes on the team? Will he be able to improve his defensive game? Or will he succumb to the infamous sophomore slump? If he plays anything like he did last season, coach Cassidy will continue to rely on McAvoy to play against opponents top players, especially with Torey Krug out for start of the season. He’s expected to miss about three weeks with an injured ankle. The B’s will certainly miss having him in the lineup.
The defensive core will mostly remain the same even with the departures of Nick Holden and Adam McQuaid. Holden was acquired at the trade deadline and played the remainder of the regular season but only made two appearances in the playoffs.He posted 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in the last 18 games of the season. He signed with the Vegas Golden Knights as an unrestricted free agent over the summer. McQuaid was traded to the New York Rangers just before the Bruins left to play in the China Games. He was limited to 38 games due to injuries last season. To compensate for these losses the Bruins signed defenseman John Moore and received Steven Kampfer in the trade with the Rangers. Kampfer will likely be the seventh defenseman, only coming in to cover for an injury as Moore will claim the final open defense slot.
Tuukka Rask will once again be a workhorse in goal for the Bruins. He played 54 out of 82 games last season and will likely start between 60-65 games this season to keep him fresh for the playoffs. With backup Anton Khudobin leaving to sign with the Dallas Stars, the Bruins brought in Jaroslav Halak from the New York Islanders to serve as Rask’s backup. He will be called upon to try and keep the team in games when Rask inevitably struggles for a period of time about halfway during the season. Halak has had some success as a starter but recently struggled with injuries, inconsistent play and the defensive nightmare the Islanders have had. If Rask can collect at least 30 wins for the sixth season in a row, and Halak gathers up some wins the Bruins would be in good shape to earn a playoff spot and home ice advantage.
As far as special teams go, the Bruins are still in very good shape. They got a lot of assistance from their powerplay and penalty kill. Last season they ranked fourth in powerplay conversion percent at 23.6 and their penalty kill was third best at 83.7 percent. Having good special teams is important because it can help shift the momentum of a game or even give a team the scoring edge. Under Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have done a great job killing off penalties and making opponents pay for giving them the man advantage. We can expect the percentages to be fairly similar to what they were last season give or take a few points.
Last season, the Bruins finished fourth overall in the NHL, second in the Eastern Conference and second in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins will likely be competing for second in the Atlantic again this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who finished third in the division last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning once again finishing on top. The Lightning made out well in their trade deadline deal with the New York Rangers by walking away with ex captain Ryan McDonagh, giving them one of the best top two defensive pairings in the league as well as getting J.T. Miller in the same deal. Miller found quick chemistry playing on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Toronto was able to land the prized free agent of the summer, John Tavares, after he decided not to resign with the Islanders. The addition of Tavares strengthens an already very competent top 6 forward group in Toronto and instantly makes them a strong contender for a deep playoff run.
The Bruins will have their work cut out for them if they want to have a successful season but its not unreasonable for another run to the conference semi finals again. The Atlantic is an extremely tough division nonetheless, and the Bruins have the talent to compete and have the potential to become a much more balanced scoring threat up and down the lineup. There have been rumors the B’s may want to split up the top line to even out the offense more. While it is a good idea to have scoring threats come from multiple lines, there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken, and that line surely isn’t broken. With the regular season currently underway, all of our predictions are ready to be put to the test. So sit back and enjoy some Bruins hockey.