Atlantic Division Preview: Where Do The Bruins Stack Up?

BruinsvLightning

Photo: Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports

By: Tyler Aragao   |   Follow Me On Twitter @Tyleraragao40

The Atlantic Division often finds itself in the shadows of the Metropolitan and Central Divisions. The Metro boasts the defending champion Capitals and before them, back to back champions in the Penguins. Meanwhile, the Central is home to some of the leagues most talented clubs like the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. Yet, the Atlantic is no slouch either, and after Toronto lured John Tavares along with Buffalo acquiring Jeff Skinner the division has added some stellar talent on top of some already strong teams.

With the division adding more superstar talent many hockey fans in New England were beginning to wonder where the Bruins fit into all this. After all, they failed at landing free agents Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares and didn’t add a marquee name through trade like Artemi Panarin or the aforementioned Skinner. Instead, they added depth forwards Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom, stay-at-home rearguard John Moore, and veteran backup Jaroslav Halak to a relatively mixed team of young and aging stars that managed to finish with 112 points, the fourth most league-wide.

While the Bruins made solid, under the radar moves to shore up their roster, some fans doubt their new acquisitions will muster much against John Tavares and the Leafs, who took Boston all the way to a game seven without the star center.

The Atlantic does have its bottom feeders like the Canadiens, Senators (yikes), and Red Wings, however, the rest of the division has improved. Florida missed the post season by just a point, the Sabres are young but seem to be heading in the right direction, the Leafs added a superstar, and the Lightning are still fairly intact.

It’s for this reason why I’m pegging Tampa Bay as my Atlantic Division champs, and though it is early, I believe their goaltending and defensive depth is vastly better than Toronto’s. While Tavares will form a daunting lineup with Matthews and Kadri down the middle, Toronto’s defensive corps leaves much to be desired and relying on Frederick Andersen to play north of 65 games per season may once again lead to an early playoff exit for the Leafs.

Its safe to expect the Bruins to be in a similar spot as last season. They may not come close to cracking 112 points but, they should be a 100 point team competing for the second or third seed in the division with the Leafs. The Bruins still have one of the league’s best first lines, healthy youngsters on defense in Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, and who could forget Tuukka Rask tending goal. Losing depth pieces like Riley Nash and Tim Schaller were really their biggest losses, but those holes can be filled by Nordstrom and Wagner. The Bruins top six and their core are largely still together and healthy, and while Tavares makes the Leafs and even greater challenge, the Bruins can still match up with them.

As mentioned before the Panthers missed out on the postseason by just a single point. Victimized by a poor early season stretch if they can avoid a sluggish start and whether or not Roberto Luongo can continue to defy father time the Panthers could prove to be a sneaky threat to both Toronto and Boston for that second and or third seed. However, I see Florida finishing as one of the two wild-card teams in the East as they just don’t have the same depth up front or on defense as the Bruins or Leafs.

The Sabres finished dead last in the division with 62 points a season ago. However, after adding a stud in Rasmus Dahlin, trading away Ryan O’Reilly, and adding Jeff Skinner, the Sabres seem like they’re finally putting together a legit team. Factor in a healthy Jack Eichel and budding young stars in Alex Nylander and particularly Casey Mittlestadt and the Sabres could finish with a pretty respectable record and point total. But, even with improvements up front Buffalo’s defense still has too many question marks and with Linus Ullmark expected to make the jump to full-time NHL starter, growing pains there are more than likely.

That brings us to the basement dwellers. The Detroit Red Wings had a fairly solid draft but make no mistake, they are far from the constant playoff threat they once were. The Canadiens are still as laughable as ever. PK Subban is having himself put on the cover of video games, while Shea Weber seemingly can’t make his way off injured reserve. Then that leaves us with everyone’s favorite train wreck, the Ottawa Senators. Can someone just rescue Erik Karlsson already? Please?

The Atlantic Division could be in line to make some noise this season. Adding John Tavares to a division already including Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and so many more elite players should make for some great hockey. As for the Bruins, while they might not reach the same level of success as last season, they should be right in the thick of it. The 2018-19 NHL season is shaping up to be one of the most interesting seasons in league history, and with it just a few months away till opening puck drop, buckle up.

For The Bruins, Tuukka Rask Is Still #1

 

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Dan Hamilton- USA Today Sports

By: Tyler Aragao | Follow Me On Twitter: @TylerAragao40

Tuukka Rask has become somewhat of a lightning rod in Boston. Often labeled a “choker,” “quitter,” or “soft” by some Bruins fans the Finnish backstop also gets criticism for his contract and seemingly any goal he concedes.

The hate is irrational as it feels like the stinging pain from that 2013 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks still resonates. However, that was five years ago, and to Bruins fans, I say its time to let it go.

Tuukka Rask since 2013 has won a Vezina Trophy, been named an All-Star, and has posted a win/loss record of 136-77-31. Many other teams in the NHL would love a goaltender as capable as Tuukka Rask which is what makes it so perplexing that some fans want to see Jaroslav Halak replace him as Boston’s number one option in goal.

The addition of Halak was a strong one by the Bruins. He brings a veteran presence and experience and has performed admirably behind a disorganized and aging Islanders club. He should fill into Anton Khudobin’s spot with ease playing 30 or so games keeping Rask’s workload below the 60 game mark. That’s all Halak will be for the two years he was inked to. He’ll provide stability and act as a stop-gap while Dan Vlader and Zane McIntyre compete in Providence. Don Sweeney didn’t sign 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak to take over for Tuukka Rask, and any rational fan would see that yet, it seems the majority of anti-Rask folks aren’t rational.

Yes, he didn’t play great in game 7 against Toronto, and his 5-7 record and .903 save percentage this past spring leaves a lot to be desired. However, also let’s not forget this was a goalie that won 34 games, went on a 19-0-2 run, and was in the leagues top ten for goals against average and save percentage amongst goalies with 50 or more games played. When it comes to the postseason, he’s started 65 games, and he’s been to two Stanley Cup Finals as a starter and a backup. At 31 he’s a veteran with plenty of experience, and no matter how you slice it he’s one of the game’s higher end talents in net.

A well rested, and healthy Tuukka Rask will be a major factor as this youthful Bruins team looks to compete for a Stanley Cup with its aging core. Halak will allow for Bruce Cassidy to deploy a similar strategy as he did with Khudobin to help control Rask’s workload and that will only benefit the Bruins as a whole. Halak, however, isn’t going to usurp Rask and if anything it’d be a massive downgrade if the Bruins moved Rask and inserted a tandem of Halak and or Vlader/McIntyre.

Goaltending is arguably the most important position in hockey, and you truly can’t win without it. If the Bruins are going to contend and try to win another championship, Rask will be at the forefront of it and for the time being he’s still the guy in Boston, and that’s that.

Re-Signing Khudobin Should Be Top Priority For Boston

San Jose Sharks Vs Boston Bruins At TD Garden

Photo: The Boston Globe

By: Tyler Aragao | Follow me on Twitter @Tyleraragao40

In today’s NHL its been proven countless times how important it is to have a reliable number two option in goal. Looking at some of the recent Stanley Cup champions the trend is evident.

The Blackhawks in 2015 relied on Scott Darling to push them past Nashville in the first round en route to their third title in five years, the Penguins in 2017 needed veteran Marc Andre Fleury who led them back to the conference finals while Matt Murray was injured. Most recently the Capitals needed youngster Philip Grubauer who played admirably during the regular season while Braden Holtby struggled.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The Bruins haven’t had much success in the number two spot since Chad Johnson departed the team in 2014. The Bruins have used Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson, and have sprinkled in youngsters like Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban along the way. With neither bringing consistency the Bruins sought an old friend and brought back Anton Khudobin for a two-year stint.

Year one was disastrous, to say the least. Khudobin didn’t pick up his first win until December and then wouldn’t win again until February. Though he finished the season, strong Khudobin played in just 16 games, starting 14.

Year two yielded much better results with Khudobin appearing in 31 games, 29 of them starts. His 2.56 GAA and .913 save percentage were far better than his 2.64 GAA, and .904 save percentage of last season. His play also impacted Tuukka Rask in a positive way. The Bruins number one played in 54 games, 53 of them starts. Rask won 34 games, posting a .924 even strength save percentage for the season. It was the first time since 2014 in which Rask played less than 60 or more games.

Khudobin’s sparkling play in the early portions of the season was crucial with Rask’s struggles, and one might imagine without a competent backup if the Bruins even make it into the playoffs let alone advance to the second round. Khudobin’s play allowed the Bruins to rest Rask more and gave the all-star goalie time to work out of slumps and keep himself sharp.

The goalie market this year is chalk full of experienced goalies. Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward, and Jonathan Bernier have spent numerous years in the league as starters and backups. So while there are options via free agency, the Bruins might already have their preferred choice. Khudobin himself has expressed his desire to continue his career in Boston and why not. In four career seasons with the Bruins, he’s 33-16-9, with a 2.50 GAA, and a .914 save percentage.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The modern-day recipe for success in the NHL requires two capable goalies. The Bruins have learned the hard way on how failing to shore up in goal can impact a team’s playoff hopes. In 2015 and 2016 the Bruins sputtered out of the playoffs in the final weeks and even the final game of the regular season with a burnt out Rask and no one to step up behind him.  While the backup goalie might be overlooked by most fans to all 31 teams competing for the Stanley Cup is an essential component, and the Bruins should be no different.