BOSTON – The Boston Bruins’ road back from their playoff collapse has focused on improving one of the worst offences in the NHL.
They traded for Nathan Horton on June 22, took Tyler Seguin with the second overall pick of the draft three days later and tinkered with their offensive system.
Entering the new season, general manager Peter Chiarelli sees signs of progress.
“Our team has been improving each day,” he said Friday. “I think (in) the last exhibition game we showed some improvement on our scoring and our chances and our speed in the offensive zone and we’re rounding into form.”
The Bruins start the season in Prague, where they’ll play the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday and Sunday. That follows two exhibition games in Europe in which they beat the Belfast Giants 5-1 in Belfast last Saturday then dominated the White Tigers Liberec 7-1 in Prague on Tuesday.
“If the last game is any indication, and it’s not so much based on who we played but how we executed, I think we’re heading in the right direction,” coach Claude Julien said.
The 18-year-old Seguin had three goals in those two exhibition games after selected the Ontario Hockey League player of the year last season when he had 48 goals and 58 assists. Horton, who had a goal against Liberec, averaged 28.4 goals in five seasons with the Florida Panthers since they took him with the third pick of the 2003 draft.
The Bruins should get more scoring punch later in the season if Marco Sturm, who led them with 22 goals last year, is effective after undergoing knee surgery for torn ligaments, and Marc Savard, a top playmaker, returns from post-concussion symptoms that he said affected him in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Bruins became the third team in NHL history to lose a playoff series after winning the first three games. And they blew the seventh game after building a 3-0 lead.
“It’s in the back of everyone’s head,” forward Blake Wheeler said, “bit it’s not a fear thing. It’s a motivational thing. I don’t think anyone’s going out there with the fear of failing in the same way we did last year. I think everyone feels like we’re right on the cusp and we’re excited to, hopefully, take over the top.”
Goalie Tuukka Rask, 23, played a career-high 45 games last season and won the starting position. Tim Thomas, 36, remains the backup of a solid goaltending pair.
The Bruins must replace the puck-moving skills of defenceman Dennis Wideman, who was traded for Horton and wing Greg Campbell after a subpar season. They still have captain Zdeno Chara leading the backline group.
But more offence is their biggest need as they try for their first Stanley Cup championship since 1972.
Boston scored 206 goals, just two more than Calgary’s league-low 204. Patrice Bergeron, who signed a three-year contract Friday, and David Krejci led the Bruins with just 52 points each. And when they lost Krejci in Game 3 of the conference semifinals with a dislocated wrist, the offence suffered. They managed just eight goals in the last four games.
He’s healthy now and will be surrounded by more scorers.
“We ended up acquiring some players that we think can help us offensively,” Julien said. “Hopefully, getting a healthy club and getting some of those guys that missed a lot of games last year will also help improve our offence.
“But, as a coaching staff, we needed to do our share as well, and we, obviously, have tweaked our system a little bit to the point where we need to create a little bit more speed through the neutral zone and also creating a little bit more of a threat entering the offensive zone.”
That’s where Seguin should help. A winger in junior hockey, he’s been working at centre while Savard is out.
“He’s done really well,” Julien said. “We said he’s a smart player that’ll figure it out. He’s done a really good job of coming down low, helping out and being good support for a breakout. … We feel comfortable enough as a coaching staff to give him that start there at centre because he’s proven that he can handle it so far.”
The Bruins start the domestic part of their schedule Oct. 16 at the New Jersey Devils.
First, they’d like to end their European journey on a positive note.
“We experienced seeing different places, different cultures,” Chara said. “It’s been a really nice trip, and now it’s back to business.”