Since Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien as the Bruins head coach on Valentine’s Day 2017, Boston has shown significant improvement in a relatively short amount of time. From 95 points and a wild card spot in his first season to 112 points last season (1st full year in charge) and the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, it’s clear that the B’s are a team on the rise in the NHL. After losing to Ottawa in the first round two seasons ago and bowing out to Tampa Bay in the second round last spring, an expectation of advancing another round (to the Eastern Conference Finals) should be a reasonable goal for the Black and Gold in 2018-19. Furthermore, if some important things go their way (health to key players, steady goaltending, no long losing streaks, etc.), there is no reason that the Bruins can’t be planning a Duck Boat parade in Boston and hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.
Asked at Bruins media day on Monday what it’ll take to have another solid season, Cassidy said that “I think we need growth from our guys from our first year into the second year. We need good health. We’ve already taken one hit (Torey Krug being out for at least 3 weeks with another ankle injury) so that will catch up to you eventually as well. A better start than last year, so I’d say that it’s more on us. Clearly every year there are teams that get better and some regress, so we can’t worry too much about them. Take care of our own business.”
The influx of young talent last year like forwards Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, along with defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk helped stabilize a team that had been lacking in that department for years. Moving forward, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from top-notch players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. I agree with Cassidy that the fate of this edition of the Bruins will likely be greatly determined by what they can get out of rookies like forwards Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato plus defenseman Urho Vaakanainen.
Boston opens against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Capitals on Wednesday (7:30, NBC Sports) in DC. They follow that up with their first Atlantic Division meeting of the season-in Buffalo on Thursday (7, NESN). That’s followed by a three-game homestand next week against Ottawa, Edmonton and Detroit. The B’s have a great opportunity to rack up tons of points early as only two of their 12 games in October are against playoff teams from last spring. This should ease the pressure on the rookies that I mentioned: according to Tuesday’s practice lines, Donato was on the third line, Bjork was on the fourth line and Vaakanaien was an extra defensemen. Cassidy has the luxury of putting them all in secondary roles to begin the season with the knowledge that soon enough, they could be pushing established veterans for more ice time in all game situations.