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Pierre McGuire on OM&F: ‘Really, really critical’ Bruins get off to good start 10.08.15 at 1:06 pm ET
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Pierre McGuire

Pierre McGuire

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire made his weekly appearance on Ordway, Merloni and Fauria on Thursday to preview the Bruins’ season. To hear the interview, go to the OM&F audio on demand page.

McGuire said with so many players being added to the team in the offseason, patience is going to be key for coach Claude Julien, as well as getting off to a hot start.

“Well, he’s going to have to be because that’s patience is going to be part of his job to make sure these players learn how to play,” McGuire said. “Dougie Houda, the other assistant coach who works mostly with the defense, he’s going to have to do some pretty patient work with those young players as well on defense. The expectation in Boston is so high, obviously, and it should be. It is a strong franchise and an original six franchise. I love the intensity. The fan base is obviously rapid.

“It’s an important franchise in the league, but it’s really, really critical that they get off to a good start because this is the kind of thing that confidence is going to be a premium. If they get off to a bad start, the confidence starts to wain, it would be a tough year.”

With the team already dealing with a number of injuries to open the year, health is a concern.

“They will have to start getting some people healthy, especially Big Z (Zdeno Chara) No. 1, and No. 2 [Dennis] Seidenberg injury sets them back a little bit,” McGuire said. “They also have Kevan Miller and Colin Miller with Colin Miller coming over in the [Milan] Lucic trade, who can really step up his game. I thought there was some moments in preseason where he was very good. The Bruins clearly know him well from his days in Manchester and his days at [Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds]. They have to hope he can get it going and obviously Torey Krug takes another step forward.

“This is going to be interesting. It is going to be interesting to watch. The one thing I would caution Bruins fans on is I would never bet against a team that has Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara in their leadership core. I never would just because I respect those guys so much.”

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Read More: David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Pierre McGuire, Zdeno Chara
New-look Bruins defense thrown to wolves early without Zdeno Chara 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 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:

Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson
Beleskey-Krejci-Pastrnak
Hayes-Spooner-Connolly
Kelly-Kemppainen-Rinaldo
(Tyler Randell, Max Talbot)

Krug-McQuaid
Morrow-Kevan Miller
Irwin-Trotman
(Chara-Colin Miller)

Rask
(Gustavsson)

Read More: Colin Miller, Zdeno Chara,
Barry Melrose on D&C: ‘It’s going to be a tough year for the Bruins’ 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:

Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson
Beleskey-Krejci-Pastrnak
Hayes-Spooner-Connolly (Randell)
Kelly-Kemppainen-Rinaldo (Talbot)

Krug-McQuaid
Morrow-Kevan Miller
Irwin-Trotman
Chara-Colin Miller

The power play units looked as such:

First unit:
Krug-Krejci
Bergeron-Spooner
Eriksson

Second unit(s):

Irwin-Trotman/Chara
Beleskey/Marchand-Connolly
Hayes

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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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:

Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson
Beleskey-Krejci-Pastrnak
Hayes-Spooner-Connolly (Randell)
Kelly-Kemppainen-Rinaldo (Talbot)

Krug-McQuaid
Morrow-Kevan Miller
Irwin-Trotman
Chara-Colin Miller

Rask, Gustavsson

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Video: Zdeno Chara (upper-body injury) still skating, not taking contact 10.04.15 at 1:41 pm ET
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The intrigue as Zdeno Chara stepped onto the ice midway through the Bruins’€™ practice Sunday was short-lived. Though Chara skated lightly on one end of the ice while the B’€™s worked on 2-on-2 battle drills on the other, Chara was forced to the bench when the team needed the full sheet of ice after about five minutes.

His work would resume later in the day, however, as the 38-year-old defenseman returned to the ice to skate with assistant coach Doug Houda for over 40 minutes following the Bruins’€™ practice. Chara, who was limited to just three shifts this preseason due to an upper-body injury suffered on Sept. 24, could be a close call for Thursday’€™s season-opener given that he still has not taken contact and does not yet appear able to take slap shots. While the latter wouldn’€™t necessarily stop him from playing, he would likely need to participate in some battle drills after 10 days without contact.

Though it’€™s worth noting that the Bruins are off on Monday, Claude Julien said that Chara is close to being able to fully participate in practice.

“In his situation, we said day-to-day because his injury was not one that we could say ‘€˜it’€™s going to be a week,’€™ which it’€™s been right now,”€ Julien said following Sunday’€™s practice. “€œWe didn’€™t know, so you can’€™t go out there and say he’€™s out for a week and then all of a sudden, three day’€™s later, he’€™s in.

“So he’€™s still day-to-day. I think he’€™s inching closer and I think he’€™s getting very close to practicing with our team. Because it’€™s day-to-day, I don’€™t know if he’€™s going to be in tomorrow, the day after, whatever. We’€™re hoping that’€™s the case. It’€™s looking like it’€™s heading in that direction, but there’€™s no guarantees.

“So we don’€™t know. He’€™s still day-to-day and we look forward to having him back as soon as possible, but he’€™s skating, he’€™s feeling better every day. That’€™s the positive thing about Zdeno’€™s situation.”

If Chara is unable to play Thursday against the Jets, Adam McQuaid will be the only top-four defenseman from opening night last season to play in this season’€™s opener, as Dougie Hamilton is in Calgary and Dennis Seidenberg remains out as he recovers from back surgery.

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