Despite a lockout that nearly wiped out the second full season in less than a decade, the Boston Bruins are preparing to embark on a 48-game whirlwind schedule, beginning Saturday, January 19, against the New York Rangers.
Milton resident Dave Goucher will be providing play-by-play commentary for all those games on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
“I expect this team to compete for a Stanley Cup,” Goucher said of the healthy Bruins squad that is largely in tact from its 2011 championship season.
There are some notable changes, namely the absence of goaltender Tim Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Tuukka Rask will handle goaltending responsibilities most of the season. Rask backed up Thomas the past two seasons, but played in 45 games in the 2009-2010 season. That year, Rask registered a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage.
“He’ll handle it well,” Goucher said of Rask taking over as primary goalminder.
Goucher said he expects Rask to start around 35 games this season with a maximum near 40, leaving the remaining games on the schedule to Anton Khudobin.
Bruins fans will also see a few new and some familiar—but recently absent—players wearing black and gold during this shortened season.
Highly touted defenseman Dougie Hamilton is expected to make an impact. The 6-foot-5-inch, 19-year-old was selected ninth overall by Boston in the 2011 draft.
Chris Bourque, son of Bruins great Ray Bourque, will also join the squad this year.
The younger Bourque, who spent last season with the Washington Capitals’ affiliate in Hershey, led the AHL in scoring with 93 points from the left wing. He was traded to Boston for forward Zach Hamill in May 2012.
Forward Nathan Horton is expected to make big contributions this season after missing much of 2011-2012 with concussion-related symptoms. Horton’s initial injury came in Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, after a blindside hit from Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks.
He suffered a second concussion in January 2012. Horton played just 46 games last season.
Goucher said Horton would have likely missed time early this season if it weren’t for addition time off for the lockout.
Though Horton comes into the year healthy, his concussion history puts him at risk for further injury.
“I guess you have to hope for the best with him,” Goucher said.
Many eyes will be on the Bruins power play, which has struggled the last few years. The defending champions were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round against the Washington Capitals last season. In that series, the Bruins capitalized on just two of their 23 power play chances.
Even during the Stanley Cup run, the power play was extraordinarily stagnant. In the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Montréal Canadiens, the Bruins went 0 for 21 in seven games.
With Hamilton and Horton in the mix, Goucher expects the recently underperforming power play unit to improve.
“There are too many talented players on the Bruins for [the power play] not to be better,” Goucher said.
The extended off-season will be followed by a feverish schedule. The Bruins, for example, will play 17 games in March. The pace will be similar to that of minor league hockey, which usually squeezes three games into a weekend.
“For them, rest and recovery is going to be important,” said Goucher said of the players.
Player conditioning will likely be helped by the fact that many Bruins spent the lockout playing in Europe.
After the minimal training camp and no pre-season games, the Bruins will begin the 2013 campaign against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers, at TD Garden on Saturday.
The Rangers are led by one of the best goaltenders in the game in Henrik Lundqvist. New acquisitions Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston College forward Chris Kreider will provide a boost to the Broadway Blueshirts.
Another top eastern team will be the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are finally expecting stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at full strength.
Though the Eastern Conference houses some powerful contenders, the Bruins play-by-play man sees Boston the title conversation.
“I think the Bruins are right there in the upper echelon,” Goucher said.
The Boston Bruins season begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 19. The game can be heard on 98.5 FM or seen on NESN.
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