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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Your 2011-12 Boston Bruins Season Preview (Part 1)

The beer has been consumed, the commemorative DVDs have been watched, the parades have taken place and now it's time for the 2011-12 edition of the Boston Bruins to defend their Stanley Cup Title.

The summer of love has ended and the Bruins are in prime position to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, something no team has accomplished since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.

After the first wave of Cup celebrations calmed down, the Bruins' front office made some minor personnel changes. Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle moved on to greener (and warmer) pastures, signing free agent deals with Dallas and Carolina respectively. Beloved veteran Mark Recchi retired less than five minutes after the Bruins won the Cup and returning Bruins will try to fill the leadership void that Recchi's departure has created. Marc Savard is also going to be lost for the season, and probably his career, due to lingering post-concussion symptoms.

The Bruins replaced those guys by signing defenseman Joe Corvo to anchor the power play while giving former Canadien Benoit Pouliot a shot at redemption. Jordan Caron will start the season with the big club, a season after impressing in Providence. Caron started last year in Boston and I have a feeling that he will stick around even longer this time.

However, the Bruins are set up to repeat largely due to the great work done by GM Peter Chiarelli last year, such as extending cornerstones like David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Andrew Ference, while simultaneously trading for Dennis Seidenberg as well as Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly.

With the majority of the roster familiar with one another, the Bruins don't have to install any new strategies, except on the power play and are better equipped than ever to play head coach Claude Julie's defensive style of hockey even though they have plenty of guys up front that can light it up offensively.

The first line of Lucic-Krejci-Nathan Horton will stay intact and will look to build on their successful playoff run. They should be one of the most balanced and best top lines this league has to offer. With Krejci setting the table for the bruising Lucic and the sometimes explosive Horton, I expect this line to create matchup problems around the NHL. As long as Horton doesn't slip into another scoring slump like he did last year, they should lead the way for the B's.

It looks like Patrice Bergeron will be centering Rich Peverley and Brad Marchand on the second line, with Peverley replacing Recchi's spot on the wing. All summer I thought that Tyler Seguin would join Bergy and Marchand but that was clearly just a pipe dream. Seguin will most likely play on the third line with Caron and Pouliot and it will be interesting to see how the second-year rising star will improve after an average rookie season. Remember, this is a guy who was benched in the playoffs until Bergeron got injured against Tampa Bay. I can see him moving up to the second line if he plays well but we'll have to see how he does in a reduced role.

Julien's beloved fourth line will feature the heart and soul of this team, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and the always dependable Gregory Campbell. The Bruins have the best fourth line in the game and we saw how they can set the tone for an entire game time and time again last year particularly in the playoffs.

There was no better example than in Game 7 of the Finals, where they shut down the Canucks and helped remove all the energy from the home crowd. They will be heavily relied upon this year too as the Bruins will get other teams best effort every night.

Defensively, the B's still boast an experienced and deep unit. Other than replacing Kaberle with Corvo, the entire unit will return. Matt Bartkowski will make the opening night roster after his impressive preseason. Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg will hopefully reunite as one of the most imposing defensive pairings in recent memory and will lead the way for the rest of the bunch. Corvo will most likely be the QB of the power play, after Kaberle's disappointing stint last season. There is nowhere to go but up as they look to improve the historically bad power play that plagued them throughout the postseason.

The Bruins are also stacked between the pipes, as Superman, I mean Tim Thomas, will return as the starter. Tuukka Rask will have more playing time and he will be needed to spell Thomas, especially considering the extreme workload he faced last spring. Hopefully, the offense will produce for Tuukka this season, as they didn't play well in front of him last year. Tuukka is a huge part of the future of this team and will have to have a good year to build his confidence for the future.

Overall, the Bruins are reloaded and are better equipped for a repeat than any other team in recent memory. Barring injuries or the dreaded "Championship Hangover," they should be leading the way in the Eastern Conference and will advance deep into the postseason.

Part 2 of my Season Preview coming tomorrow

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