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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:

Read More: Zdeno Chara,
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,
Bruins loan Jeremy Smith to Iowa Wild 10.06.15 at 7:46 pm ET
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Claude Julien wouldn’t say Tuesday morning whether the Bruins would send recently waived goaltender Jeremy Smith to Providence. He would only say that Smith wouldn’t be with the Boston club.

His phrasing made a little more sense Tuesday evening, as the B’s announced that they had loaned Smith to the Iowa Wild, the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild.

Though it’s been a surprising few days for Smith, who was expected to be Tuukka Rask‘s backup this season, his assignment to another AHL team under this week’s circumstances makes sense given that Boston already has Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre in Providence. Jonas Gustavsson, who came to Bruins camp on a tryout, was signed to a one-year, $700,000 contract on Sunday.

The 26-year-old Smith was signed to a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 at the NHL level this summer after a strong performance in Providence last season. He was placed on waivers Monday and went unclaimed, allowing Boston to assign him to the AHL.

Read More: Jeremy Smith,
Tyler Randell’s push to NHL could push Max Talbot off Bruins roster 10.06.15 at 2:36 pm ET
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Tyler Randell

Tyler Randell

Tyler Randell’s good news was Max Talbot’s bad news this week. Now both players await more clarity on their respective situations.

Having gone unclaimed on waivers on waivers, the 31-year-old Talbot is still with the Bruins, having practiced on Tuesday with the team before learning that another team hadn’t picked him up. With Talbot still on Boston’s roster, the B’s have the maximum of 23 players ahead of Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, though he could be removed from the roster once Zdeno Chara is ready to play. That means that Randell, an enforcer who scored 11 goals for Providence last season, appears to have made Boston’s roster for the time being.

It isn’t clear when Chara will be ready and it’s not clear whether Talbot will be sent to Providence. Talbot said that he’ll do whatever the Bruins ask him to — including play in the AHL — but for now he is staying positive as he waits for answers.

“As people know me, I’ve always got the glass half-full type of mentality and I’m not going to change,” Talbot said after practicing with the Bruins Tuesday. “I’ve still got a beautiful wife, a healthy kid at home and expecting a second one. I’m playing hockey here for a living, so I’ve got that going for me. That’s pretty important in life.

“As for the situation, I’m here. It’s about having a good attitude, coming here and being a good teammate. That’s what I’m planning on doing.”

Talbot entered camp as one of many players pushing for a fourth-line job. The emergence of Joonas Kemppainen, who could very well be the team’s fourth-line center, hurt his chances. It appears the Bruins are set to play Zac Rinaldo or Randell on Kemppainen’s right, with Chris Kelly serving as the fourth-line left wing.

“You don’t come into camp thinking about [losing a job], but as the camp got going and you saw guys playing well — Kemppainen and Randell and Zac coming in here — you’re no fool,” Talbot said. ‘You look around and you know the situation and what’s going on. Like I said, it’s not something I was planning on, obviously, but it’s in the situation I’m in right now.”

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Read More: Max Talbot, Tyler Randell,
Zdeno Chara takes light contact, still not taking slap shots 10.06.15 at 1:18 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara is not quite his normal self, and it showed during his first practice back with the Bruins on Tuesday.

Typically, when it isn’t Chara’s turn in 3-on-3 battle drills, the captain spends his breathers taking slap shots the length of the ice. On Tuesday, Chara took light contact in the drills and instead spent his breaks stickhandling and flinging the occasional wrist shot. It was progress as Chara continued to work his way back from an upper-body injury suffered on Sept. 24, but it was a sign that he remains a work in progress.

“His first day, it would be normal that it was light contact,” Claude Julien said after the practice. “He got into traffic, he got into different things, but he wasn’€™t going to be out there throwing his weight around. That’€™s his first day, when he’€™s told to be that way. The last thing we need right now is a setback.”

The Bruins will practice again Wednesday in their final tuneup before Thursday night’€™s season-opener against the Jets. Chara, who skated on a pairing with Colin Miller in Tuesday’€™s practice, would not discuss his chances of playing Thursday, instead taking a Belichickian approach.

“I’€™m not looking at Thursday. I’€™m looking at tomorrow,” Chara said. “It’€™s day-to-day and I’€™m looking forward to tomorrow’€™s practice. My goal is to be better than I was today.”

If Chara were unable to play early in the season, the Bruins would be looking at Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid as the team’€™s first pair, something that could be helped by the fact that Boston has last change at home, but it would be far from ideal. Then again, if Chara rushes back and gets hurt again, having Boston’€™s potentially shaky defense go a long time without his services would be much worse.

“We need everybody. It’€™s not just one guy,” Chara said. “Obviously, I’€™m going to do whatever I can to be out there and playing, but I think that right now, at this point of the season when we have so many guys available, it’€™s a big plus that you have so many varieties and options that you can use.”

Chara remains on injured reserve, which is retroactive to the date he was injured. The Bruins can take him off and play him at any point, but keeping him on IR allows the team to carry the group it has. Including Max Talbot and not counting Jeremy Smith, Boston’s roster is currently at the maximum of 23 players. The B’s could send Talbot to Providence once they activate Chara.

The Bruins lines in practice Tuesday were as follows:

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

Morrow-Kevan Miller
Chara-Colin Miller

Rask, Gustavsson

Read More: Zdeno Chara,
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