Bruins are hoping defense will lead return to playoffs
BOSTON >> The Boston Bruins last season failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight season, and it was obvious that defense was their weakness.
The Bruins have seven defensemen under NHL contracts who played for them last season, led by captain Zdeno Chara. Only Dennis Seidenberg, who was bought out over the summer, is not back. Without an overhaul of the personnel, the Bruins are hoping a faster pace will help turn things around.
"The game evolves and we're going to evolve with it," said coach Claude Julien, whose team finished fifth in scoring (2.88 goals per game) but ranked 20th in goals allowed (2.78 per game). "So I think we have the ability to make our 'D' corps better this year with our play, and that's where we're going to start."
General manager Don Sweeney said the play is to be aggressive and spend as much time in the other team's end as possible.
"It's a mindset of the players to play that way," he said. "I think the players would like to play that way and dictate, rather than being on sort of a retreat mentality."
Some things to know about the 2016-17 Boston Bruins:
Left wing Brad Marchand followed up his career-best 37-goal season last season by lighting up the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September with a tournament-best five goals in six games. He also scored the game-winning short-handed goal in the final minute of Team Canada's clinching victory in the second game of the best-of-three final against Team Europe.
Marchand signed an eight-year, $49 million contract, which will keep him from testing unrestricted free agency next summer. Eighteen of his 37 goals last season gave the Bruins a lead.
After 10 seasons with the St. Louis Blues, including five as their captain, David Backes joined the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent by signing a five-year, $30 million contract July 1. Backes has scored more than 20 goals six times in his career, but the Bruins are also hoping he can take some of the defensive load off three-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron and provide a vocal leader in the dressing room.
RASK GETS HELP
The Bruins struggled to find a backup for goaltender Tuukka Rask they could trust the past two seasons. The result was Rask playing 134 games the past two seasons, third among all NHL goaltenders in that span. Despite the workload and a tough start last season, Rask produced a respectable 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.
But the return of the Anton Khudobin, who played for the Bruins 2011-13, should provide Rask with enough rest to be at his best more often in 2016-17.
"I thought he played well for us, did a great job as a second goaltender ... and I think he won us some big games," Julien said.
COACHING STAFF SHUFFLE
Sweeney took a little time after the Bruins missed the playoffs last season to decide what to do with his coaching staff. Sweeney and Julien mutually decided Julien should return for a 10th season.
However, the Bruins' winningest coach (393-223-88) has new assistants: Bruce Cassidy, formerly coach of the Providence Bruins of the AHL, and Jay Pandolfo, who moves down from the front office, becoming assistant coaches replace Doug Houda and Doug Jarvis.
PRACTICING IN LUXURY
The start of Bruins training camp marked the opening of the state-of-the-art Warrior Ice Arena, Boston's new practice facility, in the Brighton neighborhood. The Bruins, who now have a seven-mile commute from TD Garden, trained for more than two decades in the suburb of Wilmington. The new facility provides the Bruins with a larger and more modern workout room, workout equipment, trainer's room and players' lounge — all which the team hopes will make the Bruins a destination and will better foster team camaraderie. "I would envision that they're probably hanging out a little bit more," Bruins president Cam Neely said.
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