January 21, 2013

Bruins' familiarity should breed success in shortened season

By Andrew Merritt

The potent trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin is back together this season. (Getty Images)

BOSTON – It’s safe to say this will be no ordinary NHL season. 

The league’s 30 teams have 48 games and 96 days to get in position for the playoffs, and some serious scheduling gymnastics are set to ensue, with lots of back-to-back nights, and very few breaks. 

It’ll take a peculiar set of attributes for the Stanley Cup winner to emerge this year, since there’s no time for stumbles out of the gate or midseason slumps. With 34 fewer games to play, the teams that are successful will be able to find a winning combination quickly.

The Bruins are particularly well positioned to do just that. In addition to having a trustworthy No. 1 goaltender in Tuukka Rask, three strong scoring lines and an experienced, talented defensive corps, there aren’t a lot of new nameplates hanging in the Bruins locker room this year, and that familiarity ought to ease the team’s path to the playoffs.  

“The thing I like about it is you kind of cut through all the BS,” defenseman Andrew Ference said. “Everybody knows what to expect of each other, everybody knows what to demand of each other, and that includes the coach and the coaching staff. There’s a lot of people in this room that have played a lot of games together and there’s no secrets.”

Ference is one of 15 players who were in the lineup for both Saturday’s season opener and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Washington last season (though Tuukka Rask was the backup against the Capitals).  The overwhelming lack of turnover in the Bruins roster, he said, means there’s no need for early-season getting-to-know-you awkwardness – which is good, because there’s no early season.

“Everybody knows each other well what’s expected of each other, and that’s good. We can be blunt with each other, we can be honest,” Ference said. “Just say things the way they are without having to worry about hurting somebody’s feelings, which is important in a time like this because you can’t simmer without solving problems and get out of control, so that’s the honestly the nicest thing about knowing each other so well.”

The hope is that it’ll translate on ice, and if Saturday’s 3-1 win over the New York Rangers is any indication, that’s just what will happen. The forward lines bore a striking resemblance to the ones utilized by the Bruins for much of 2011-12, and other than rookie Dougie Hamilton, the blueliners are basically the same cast as well.

“We’ve talked about that, we know each other, we know the system, we know a lot of things, so right now it’s about putting it together,” coach Claude Julien said. “I thought our breakouts were pretty good, because New York is team that’s pretty aggressive, pinches the walls.”

The season-opening win came largely thanks to the Bruins playing the way they played when they’ve been at their best the last two seasons – gritty, hard-working, and willing to sacrifice the pretty play for the one that scores a goal. None of the three Bruins scores Saturday night would earn any points for attractiveness, but all three fit the profile the team has tried to have – the profile that in 2011 ended Boston’s 39-year Stanley Cup drought.

And since we’re speaking about continuity and the Cup, there’s this: The last time the NHL had a partial-season lockout, in 1994-95, the New Jersey Devils returned 25 of the 28 players on the previous year’s roster. 

The result was New Jersey’s first-ever Stanley Cup title.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.