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New-look Bruins defense thrown to wolves early without Zdeno Chara

10.08.15 at 12:36 pm ET
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Torey Krug might be the Bruins' No. 1 defenseman Thursday. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Torey Krug will likely be a top-pair defenseman for the Bruins on Thursday. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Claude Julien, his healthy defensemen and Tuukka Rask will have their work cut out for them Thursday night as they open the season without three of their top-four defensemen from last season.

With Dougie Hamilton in Calgary, Dennis Seidenberg rehabbing from back surgery and Zdeno Chara officially out for Thursday night’€™s meeting with the Jets due to an upper-body, the Bruins’€™ top defensive pairing is now Torey Krug with Adam McQuaid.

If that sounds alarming, it’€™s because that has never been a top pairing before. Though both guys have played on Chara’€™s right at times over the years, trying to shut down Winnipeg‘€™s top forwards by themselves will be a challenge.

“I don’€™t really know what to expect, but I’€™ll obviously be prepared for that,” McQuaid said of potentially playing top-pairing minutes. “Whether we’€™ll have a definitive 1-2-3 pairings, I’€™m not quite sure. I think we’€™re all pretty capable of playing. I think it’€™s a pretty solid three pairings. We’€™ll be prepared to play against anyone.”

Boston’€™s three pairings for Thursday are expected to be Krug-McQuaid, Joe Morrow-Kevan Miller and Matt Irwin-Zach Trotman. Colin Miller is expected to be a healthy scratch on defense.

This season figured to be difficult for the Bruins defensively even before Seidenberg and Chara got hurt. The loss of Hamilton made a team that struggled on the back end last season even worse, and though the B’s had ample bodies with the additions of Matt Irwin and Colin Miller, the blue line figured to be a work in progress, at best. Without Chara, the getting-to-know-you period for guys like Irwin and new full-timers in Trotman and Morrow will be harder than expected.

Where the Bruins benefit (if you can call it that) is that they have last change at home for the first three games of the season. It’€™s unknown how much longer Chara will be kept out, but Julien will at least have an easier time getting the matchups he want while the games are at TD Garden.

That means that Winnipeg‘€™s top line of Bryan Little between Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler can probably expect a healthy dose of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson on Thursday night. Playing against the Bergeron line is never easy, but it’€™s easier when Chara isn’€™t out there, too.

A former Bruin who was sent to Atlanta in the 2011 Rich Peverley trade, Wheeler likely would have seen plenty of Chara given that their positions match up (Wheeler’€™s a right wing; Chara’€™s a left D). Wheeler was matched against Seidenberg and Kevan Miller when the teams met last Nov. 28, but he faced Chara and Hamilton in a Dec. 19 meeting that saw his line go without a point and struggle with possession.

“You want to see Zee back on the ice as soon as possible, but it’€™s never that much fun playing against him with that said,’€ Wheeler said after Winnipeg‘€™s morning skate. “I mean that as a compliment. He’€™s one of the more intimidating tough guys to play against in the NHL. He’€™s a big hole to fill for sure.”

Julien answered a question about his defense Thursday by noting that the Bruins have “dealt with it before” and “dealt with it last year.” Of course, the Bruins had Hamilton then, while Boston’€™s other D’€™s assignments didn’€™t change too drastically. This will be more difficult, however long it lasts.

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Zdeno Chara (upper-body injury) out for Bruins season-opener

10.08.15 at 10:46 am ET
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Claude Julien confirmed what Thursday’s morning skate suggested when he revealed the Bruins will take the cautious route with Zdeno Chara and hold him out of Thursday’€™s season-opener against the Jets.

The Bruins paired Chara with Colin Miller in Thursday’€™s morning skate, an indication that he’d be out after Miller did not participate in power play work Wednesday. Chara has been out since Sept. 24 with an upper-body injury.

Chara still cannot take slap shots, as he’s been doing them lightly since Wednesday. Given that he is clearly not at 100 percent, the B’s are wise to hold him out, even if it means icing a potentially porous defense for the time being.

The reason Julien might hold Colin Miller out figures to be because of Boston’s need to defend without the ultimate shutdown defenseman. With Chara out, all three remaining left-shot defensemen are offensive-minded defenders in Torey Krug, Joe Morrow and Matt Irwin. As such, it’s hard to fault Julien for sitting the right-handed Miller in favor of better defensive players in Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and Zach Trotman.

Boston’€™s roster is currently at 23 players with Chara on injured reserve. If they are to take him off IR in the coming days, they would need to remove a player from the roster.

Boston’€™s lineup in morning skate was as follows:

(Tyler Randell, Max Talbot)

Morrow-Kevan Miller
(Chara-Colin Miller)


Read More: Colin Miller, Zdeno Chara,

Bruins live chat at 2 p.m.

10.08.15 at 10:09 am ET
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Discuss the start of the Bruins season and everything else with DJ Bean at 2 p.m. In the meantime, here’s some required reading:

2015-16 season preview
Is Jonas Gustavsson below average? (Yes)
What can the Bruins expect from David Krejci’s line?

Live Blog Bruins chat

Barry Melrose on D&C: ‘It’s going to be a tough year for the Bruins’

10.08.15 at 9:39 am ET
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Barry Melrose

Barry Melrose

ESPN NHL hockey analyst Barry Melrose joined Dennis, Callahan & Minihane on Thursday morning to look ahead to the 2015-16 NHL season. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

With the Bruins’ disappointing season last year, he feels coach Claude Julien is under pressure right away.

“I think he is. I don’t think he should be,” Melrose said. “I think Claude is a heck of a coach, won a Stanley Cup in Boston. They had a long drought, there was no Stanley Cup winners and he comes in and gets the job done and the team is good every year. I think he’s under pressure. Boston is a team that expects to win. They expect the Red Sox to win, the Patriots to win, the Celtics to win and they expect Boston to win. It’s going to be a tough year for the Bruins. They are not the dominant Bruins they once were. Everybody got a little bit better in the East and it is going to take Claude’s best coaching job he’s ever done in his life to make this a playoff team and give them a chance of winning.”

This past offseason the team lost a number of key players, including Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic. Melrose says their margin for error is very small.

“Are they as good today as they were last year? I don’t think so,” he said. “I think what has to happen for the Bruins now is they don’t have any margin anymore. The Bruins used to be able to overcome an injury or overcome maybe a struggling player here or there, but I don’t think they can anymore. I think the Bruins have to get plays from their kids, they have to get great games from [Patrice] Bergeron, [David] Krejci and [Zdeno] Chara. They can’t afford any injuries to key players. Tuukka Rask probably has to play the best he’s ever played and they just don’t have any margin for error anymore with their lineup.

“If all those things happen they are a playoff team, but if all of a sudden Bergeron misses six weeks or Krejci, who has been hurt a lot lately, misses six weeks, Chara is already starting the year hurt, [Dennis] Seidenberg is already gone for two months, so that’s going to be tough. They’ve been able to overcome those before, I don’t know if they will be able to overcome those now.”

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Read More: Barry Melrose, Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara,

Zdeno Chara (upper-body injury) mum on opening night status

10.07.15 at 12:45 pm ET
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As the Bruins held their final practice in anticipation of the 2015-16 season Wednesday at TD Garden, Zdeno Chara may have taken a step closer to being game-ready.

Chara was present as the Bruins practiced the power play prior to practice, switching off with Zach Trotman on the point of Boston’s second unit. During one of the first unit’s turns, Chara took a pair of light slap shots against the boards, marking the first time he’d been seen taking slap shots since suffering his upper-body injury on Sept. 24. Overall, the day was another step in the right direction for the Bruins and their captain as the B’s prepare to open the season against the Jets on Thursday.

“I was just focusing on having a good practice today,” Chara said. “That went well, so again, we’re going to be looking towards tomorrow to have a better feeling and better knowledge.”

Chara danced around the subject when asked about his comfort with slap shots, responding that he was “just doing the drills that we had been told to do.” He was also somewhat equivocal on the subject of whether he still needs to be medically cleared to play.

The Bruins had eight defensemen practice Wednesday, seven of whom are on the active roster given that Chara is on injured reserve. Based on Wednesday’s practice, it would appear Colin Miller could be the odd man out if Chara doesn’t play. Miller, whose skill set makes him a potential power play specialist, did not practice on the power play and was paired with Chara in practice. The lines in Wednesday’s practice were as follows:

Hayes-Spooner-Connolly (Randell)
Kelly-Kemppainen-Rinaldo (Talbot)

Morrow-Kevan Miller
Chara-Colin Miller

The power play units looked as such:

First unit:

Second unit(s):


The Bruins roster currently stands at 23 players, not counting Chara. If the B’s are to activate him, they would need to send someone down. The Bruins roster, as announced by the NHL Wednesday, is as follows:

Matt Beleskey, Patrice Bergeron, Brett Connolly, Loui Eriksson, Jonas Gustafsson, Jimmy Hayes, Matt Irwin, Chris Kelly, Joonas Kemppainen, David Krejci, Torey Krug, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Tyler Randell, Tuukka Rask, Zac Rinaldo, Ryan Spooner, Maxime Talbot, Zach Trotman.

Injured: Zdeno Chara, Seth Griffith, Dennis Seidenberg.

Check out the latest Bruins Podcast, a 6-Pack of questions to preview the season, with DJ Bean and Ken Laird:

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Will 2015-16 Bruins score enough?

10.06.15 at 11:42 pm ET
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The Bruins led the NHL in goal differential in 2011-12 (plus-67) and 2013-14 (plus-84) and were second in 2010-11 (plus-51).

Last season, the B’s sank to 18th in the league in that category with a plus-2 mark and missed the playoffs for the first time with Claude Julien as their coach.

What happened?

While Boston’s goals allowed per game (2.45) still ranked a respectable eighth in the NHL last year, the goal scoring per game shrunk to 22nd (2.55), down from third the previous season (3.15).

In 40 contests last season, including 10 of the team’s final 15, the Bruins scored two goals or less, up from just 27 such games the previous year.

“We can talk about low scoring, but we were in the top five [in the league] in three of the last four years,” Julien said recently. “It was an issue maybe last year when you lose a guy like David Krejci who misses half the season, that takes a lot of it. [Jarome] Iginla [leaving] who had scored 30, I mean we can go on and on. That’s in the past.”

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Aiming for average: Jonas Gustavsson’s track record makes Bruins’ signing questionable

10.06.15 at 11:41 pm ET
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Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 10.51.21 PMThe confusion over the Bruins’ decision to sign Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year contract this weekend was twofold.

For starters (OK, backups), the Bruins seemingly already had their No. 2 goalie for the season in Jeremy Smith. That obviously changed when the B’s gave Gustavsson the keys and Smith a ticket to Iowa.

Equally as notable, however, is that Gustavsson being the backup isn’t a particularly safe play. The former Maple Leaf and Red Wing couldn’t stay healthy last season, but that isn’t the extent of his concerns. His .901 career save percentage wasn’t skewed by a bad season or two: In each of his six seasons in the NHL, he has been below the league average in save percentage. It would be optimistic to assume that will change playing behind what could be a rocky defense this season.

Meanwhile, the Bruins backups always were above the league average over the last six seasons, including the discarded Niklas Svedberg last season.

There was no sure thing in the Bruins’ backup goaltending battle. The choice was to either go with the inexperienced Smith (zero NHL games but a .933 save percentage in 39 AHL games last season) or put faith in Gustavsson’s experience despite that it hasn’t been particularly good experience.

“It wasn’t just because of experience,” Claude Julien said. “We looked at different things. At the end of the day we took that direction, and I’m saying this again: We had to make a decision and it could have gone either way, but we made that one based on how we felt. Maybe it’s a slight, slight edge but even we can be wrong and maybe you do get to see Smitty back here again. We’re not saying that this is it [and] this is what we’re going with for the whole season. We’re keeping our options open there as well.”

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Read More: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson,
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