One thing I've talked about in the off season has been about tandems on the Boston Bruins. I feel there are some givens you can expect on opening night because of this, but lets take a closer look at possibilities. Everyone expects David Krejci and Milan Lucic to be a tandem, Brad Marchant and Patrice Bergeron and Greg Campbell and Daniel Paille have tandem history. Last year Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson were also a tandem but doesn't seem to have a feel for a solid lock this year. Matt Fraser last year spent a lot of time playing with Alexander Khokhlachev and Matt Lindblad spent time with Justin Florek down in Providence. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bruins kept some of these tandems together in camp and plugged and played different pieces with the tandems. Key players that will be plugged in here and there include Chris Kelly, Jordan Caron, Ville Leino, Simon Gagne, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner.
Last Tuesday Coach Claude Julien was speaking about tweaking the team and about getting and encouraging more "aggression". Some reporters and pundits interpreted that means pushing forward and trying to score more goals. I don't feel he means that at all, I think he's talking about how his team penetrates the offensive zone. In the distant past when forwards on this team were not as talented and before hybrid icing, the Bruins were a dump and chase team. When a few years ago, the trapezoid area was created and last year the hybrid icing call came in, it changed on the fly teams ability to get into the offensive area. This year one of the changes taking place is the expansion of the trapezoid so goalies will have the opportunity to range a bit further and control the puck behind their nets. This is what I believe Coach Julien is really talking about and trying to address. Upon review of last season and the sudden demise and ineffectiveness of the Bruins fourth line, one of the key factors was that the Paille, Campbell and Thornton combo had their basic tools taken away. They would dump the puck in deep and go retrieve it with that bump and grind style and try to force errand passes or mistakes. Goalies were staying in their nets more because they were restricted to wandering only so far from the crease. Last year we saw that with icing, there was much less competing for the puck in the corners as the whistle was being blown early and defensemen only had to beat a forward to the defensive face-off dot to get the upper hand from the linesmen. That's not going to change this year and now the goalies will become a bit more involved. Last year we saw teams that had adjusted to more speed on their fourth lines and puck possession players on those lines have better success. I believe that's what doomed teams like the Bruins and Penguins last year and made teams like the Canadians and Rangers more successful. In Los Angeles, Mike Richards in the playoffs centered the fourth line after being down three games to San Jose and with speedy young wingers. His face-off wins and ability to have possession skating into the zone started causing problems. Much the same can be said of Brad Richards with the Rangers and I think thats what the Blackhawks have keyed in on when they picked him up after being bought out by the Rangers.
How does this relate to the Bruins? Well with Krejci and Bergeron and their ability to penetrate with possession are amongst the best numbers in the league. Carl Soderberg was getting that done on the third line late in the season and in the playoffs. No offense to Campbell, but that isn't his game style and he is one I expect to have to change and I wouldn't be surprised to see him and Paille become the new wingers for Soderberg. Getting a speedier winger on Krejci's line would enhance that lines ability. I'm thinking Eriksson isn't fast like that, but Loui has good penetration skills and could unleash Krejci as the speedy forward on that line and in an interview with him he was talking about an increased role scoring goals. In the event that Reilly Smith is not signed or ready for the new season, I would expect Matt Fraser to end up on that line. So what would the new fourth line look like? Well a couple of things you need are veteran presence and speed with possession ability. Kelly and Spooner come to mind. Spooner being more of a natural center would be my choice with Kelly there for defensive draws. Finding the right winger to compliment them seems to be about size and grit. Kelly four years ago was a finisher scoring 20 goals in 2011-12 season. Two youngsters that come to mind for me are Florek and Lindblad. In the event that Reilly Smith did sign and was ready for the opening game, I think I'd drop Fraser down onto that fourth line and either Florek or Lindblad would be my thirteenth forward.
There's more logic to follow here with the defensive pairings. I felt that Dougie Hamilton was a nice compliment to Zdeno Chara on the first pairing and as his foot speed and confidence has grown so has his role. Hamilton and Krejci made a nice blue line pairing on the power play also when Chara moved up to the slot with Lucic and Eriksson. The return of Dennis Seidenberg and a pairing with Johnny Boychuk would seem to answer the question of the shutdown pairing or that could be interchanged with Seidenberg and Kevan Miller. That opens the door to the number six defenseman as Matt Bartkowski to play with Miller or Boychuk. The missing piece being Torey Krug and what he adds to the second power play squad. I think Spooner could play his role with Bergeron, Soderberg and Fraser/Smith anchored by Boychuk or Seidenberg.
How would the penalty kill look? The top forward pair would be Bergeron and Marchand, then Paille and Campbell and Krejci showed last year that he has grown into being able to win face-offs and could be complimented with Eriksson. So you have three tandem forwards that would be playing together 5 on 5. The defense would suggest to me Chara and Boychuk and Seidenberg and Miller as the PK shutdown pairings.
My feelings at this point are that the Bruins have less to fear than some people may think without Krug and Smith. I happen to think Smith is going to cave in and sign and soon. Krug maybe has to play out his option and the Bruins may benefit without him and they might trade his option to another team for a decent draft pick next year that I expect to be fairly deep. If I were Peter Chiarelli, I'd be coveting a top ten pick in the draft and thinking about teams like Winnipeg or Calgary's pick. Frankly, I'd rather trade an extra defenseman and the rights to Krug and think about my cost savings for next year and the idea of keeping Boychuk.
Until Next Time!