Training camp is underway and the Bruins are preparing for their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifying Round Games.
Boston was the NHL’s best team when the league paused operations in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic with 100 points and officially was awarded the Presidents’ Trophy in May.
Before the pause, the Bruins looked destined to claim the top spot in the Atlantic Division. But now, thanks to the new 24-team playoff format, they will have to fight for seeding in the Eastern Conference.
There are always questions surrounding teams as they head into the postseason, and there may be even more due to the hiatus. But it certainly could prove crucial — particularly for the veterans.
Here are four questions facing Boston as the Stanley Cup playoffs near:
Will the health of the veterans benefit from the time off?
It seems after each playoff run, a slew of injuries players have battled comes out. Patrice Bergeron always has some pretty significant ailment, including a punctured lung and separated shoulder in 2013. Zdeno Chara suffered a pretty gruesome broken jaw in last year’s Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues and Brad Marchand fought through groin, hand and oblique injuries.
Those three play a huge role for the Black and Gold, especially when they’re at their best. Chara, 43, is an essential defender on the blue line, especially on the penalty kill.
The time off, coupled with the lack of travel due to the NHL having hub cities for each conference, certainly could prove to be vital to veterans once hockey resumes.
What happens on the blue line?
The blue line was strong for Boston during the 2019-20 season and handled a physical Columbus Blue Jackets team during the 2018-19 Eastern Conference semifinals. Brandon Carlo showcased some brilliant one-on-one defense on Artemi Panarin to help lead to David Pastrnak scoring the game-winning goal in Game 5.
But the St. Louis Blues gave them some trouble in the Cup Final. The Bruins were without Matt Grzelcyk for five contests after a hit to the head from Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2, so his puck movement surely was missed.
But the big question is, do the B’s play Jeremy Lauzon or Connor Clifton? Clifton plays that “Cliffy Hockey” style, but Lauzon brings size at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and can add to an already beefy blue line the team was missing last year.
What, if any, kind of role will Jaroslav Halak play?
B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy praised Halak for playing a key role in Tuukka Rask’s success last year, giving the 33-year-old some much-needed rest he wasn’t used to getting in years past. Cassidy even referred to Halak as a “No. 1 goalie in the league” after he earned his 500th career game in December.
The Rask-Halak tandem also helped keep the B’s at the top of the NHL throughout the season, consistently proving Boston has one of the best one-two punches in the league.
But Rask is the No. 1 goalie, that’s no secret, and it’s fair to assume he’ll be the starter throughout the playoffs. If he struggles, though, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Halak get some time in net. Cassidy hasn’t been afraid to shake up his lines, he certainly won’t be afraid to pull his goalie if it benefits the team.
How will Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie play?
Both Kase and Ritchie were acquired by the B’s shortly before COVID-19 paused the season, so they never got to really build chemistry with their new teammates. The duo spent some time on either side of David Krejci, bumping Jake DeBrusk to Charlie Coyle’s line. Ritchie adds some needed size and must use it to his advantage to fight through traffic and get to the net. Meanwhile, the hope for Kase was to provide some secondary scoring, though he had just one assist in six games.
Hopefully playing alongside Krejci, who historically plays some of his best hockey in the postseason, will help the newcomers feel more prepared.