The expectations are as high as ever as the Bruins drop the puck on the 2013-14 season Thursday night against Tampa Bay.
The team’s management transitioned the Bruins through some personnel changes while maintaining the goal of competing for a championship.
“We’re trying to build a winner and those are where our expectations are,” said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “We’ve added some new bodies, we’ve incorporated some youth. The new bodies, they’re finding their way with their lines ... Chemistry takes some time to develop and I’ve seen, over the course of the camp, I’m seeing it develop but it still takes time, it takes them being worked into the room and them getting adjusted to or familiar with our coaches.”
The Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final last season, but lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think [losing the Stanley Cup to Chicago] kind of left, obviously, a sour taste in our mouths,” said coach Claude Julien. “And it created, obviously, a situation where guys are excited to get another opportunity at it. So you have a different approach to the start of this season; instead of putting up a banner and celebrating, we’re wanting to get back into action and try and get an opportunity again at that Stanley Cup and I think that’s where the focus is right now.
“That’s what I like about our team; from what I’ve seen from the start [of] camp to this day.”
Defenseman Zdeno Chara will begin his eighth season as a Bruin, and his dominance has been a key to the team’s success during his tenure in Boston, but the massive minutes he was forced to play during the 2013 playoffs took their toll, limiting Chara’s overall effectiveness in the Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks, where he recorded a minus-5 rating.
The Bruins hope to lessen the burden on their 36-year-old captain by giving him more rest so he will be fresh for the biggest games of the year.
“[Chara] plays a heavy game and he is in the second half of his thirties,” Chiarelli said. “I don’t know if there is a guy in the NHL who is in as good of shape as [Chara] … there will be some effort here and there to scale it back, but it’s how he plays, he is a smart player.”
Chara will be joined by three young defensemen at the blue line.
“First you have to become a really close team off the ice,” Chara said. “We did some pretty good activities [during preseason], and we had good time during training camp to bond. Some [of the new] guys we knew from playing against each other, some guys are kind of new, but this team has always been good [in welcoming] new guys and [making] them part of the team, and we never have issues with that … [We’ll] see how it goes and try to do whatever we can for each other.”
Another new face, Loui Eriksson, faces high expectations. He’ll be on the Bruins’ second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, filling the role played in previous seasons by Mark Recchi, Tyler Seguin, and Jaromir Jagr.
“[Eriksson is] certainly going to compliment that [line] but let’s not kid ourselves, he is a highly skilled player who has really good vision and shoots the puck well,” Julien said. “He finds the holes and I think it’s just a matter of time before you see those guys really be a force. Game in and game out I find that Loui is a lot like [Bergeron] as far as his focus to the game. Loui being a really good, experienced player on that line will help the [whole] line do better.”
Eriksson’s linemates are excited by what the former Dallas Star brings to the table despite not having as much time as they’d like to mesh during the preseason.
“It’s great to have [Eriksson], I think he’s a great player,” Bergeron said. “He showed some great skills in training camp, but also you can tell he’s a hard worker and does the little details right on the ice and that goes a long way … Hopefully he’s as excited as I am to play with him.”
“[Over] the last few days we’re starting to click a little better, and were starting to find each other a little more,” Marchand said. “It does take some time to get used to one another; [Bergeron and I have] played with a different [right wing] for two years now, so it’s a little different, but were communicating a lot and trying to read each other. [Loui is] a big guy, he’s very skilled, and he reads the ice well, especially down in front of the net; that’s where he scores a lot of goals and we’ll try to use that to our advantage.”
Eriksson is looking forward to joining Bergeron and Marchand, who scored a combined 68 points and combined for a plus-47 rating in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
“I have been playing with a lot of [different] players in Dallas, so I’m kind of used to playing with different guys,” Eriksson said. “It’s kind of nice to come in and play with two guys who have been playing together for a couple years and they know how to play with each other. I’m just going to go in there and try to help them out and try to do the things I am good at and I think that will be really good.”
Eriksson was also asked if he had noticed any differences between playing in Boston and Dallas.
“I think [I] will see it more when the season starts too, but definitely the media around here compared to Dallas,” he said. “But it’s been good so far.”