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Should You Temper (or Boost) Your Expectations of the Bruins?

After the Bruins’ demanding 8-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings Saturday, the Bruins improved to 4-1-0 and are a totally different team than the one that showed up in Washington on October 3rd to start the season. The Bruins don’t play again until Wednesday night where they will take on the Calgary Flames. This is a good time for us to reflect on the season so far.

Things have not gone to plan

Before the season even started, the Bruins were already on plan b. The organization hoped to see one of Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson make the jump to the National Hockey League and center the Bruins third line. Unfortunately, none of the three took the task by the horns and proved that they, in fact, could play at the NHL level just yet. The Bruins were then forced to go to their backup option in Sean Kuraly.

Sean Kuraly certainly has a skill set to compliment his linemates on the third line. He is a player who has speed, has shown hints of playmaking ability, a strong forechecker, and very responsible. In the final preseason game against the Flyers on September 29th, he was line up with a mixture of Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork. He had a terrific game, creating scoring chances and drawing two penalties. But that plan only stuck for two more games.

When the Bruins came into the Garden for their home opener Monday, Sean Kuraly was back on the fourth line while David Backes took on the third line. However, that line still hasn’t quite glued. Bruins fans also expected the young forwards of Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and Anders Bjork, to come into the season in much better form than they have. Ryan Donato was forced to watch the game from upstairs on Thursday, and Danton Heinen took his place Saturday against the Red Wings.

Other Complications

In the final preseason game, Torey Krug injured his ankle once again. The star defensemen will be out at least another week. With Krug out, John Moore has been placed with Brandon Carlo at even strength and Matt Grzelcyk has taken his place on the powerplay. Torey Krug’s elite offensive skills are something that simply can’t be replaced in the Bruins’ lineup. Luckily, the Bruins haven’t had any trouble scoring thanks to hat tricks from Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

The Positives

One of the biggest positives for the Bruins came out of the preseason. Urho Vaakanainen emerged as arguably the Bruins top prospect. The 2017 first round draft pick proved that he can play at the NHL level right now. The Bruins have eight veteran defensemen on their roster which clogs his path at the moment. However, if there are injuries in the playoffs once again, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get the call. The nineteen-year-old already has two and a half years of professional experience in Finland and is currently playing for the Providence Bruins.

When the Bruins lost Tim Schaller to free agency this summer, questions loomed about the fourth line. Schaller, Kuraly, and Acciari gelled last season for the Bruins. They were effective on the forecheck, bringing the Bruins energy and a few goals to go along with it. Since Kuraly dropped down to play with Chris Wagner and Noel Acciari, the fourth line has been amazing. Given significant time against Connor McDavid Thursday night, they held their own. They haven’t just been a strong energy line for the Bruins, but are also effective at controlling play and creating offense. It’s been brilliant to watch.

Questions

The biggest question mark we have right now is Joakim Nordstrom. He has stepped up to play on David Krejci’s wing while the kids sit out. He’s played fairly well, but what does the future hold here? Is he good enough to play in that role? Assuming Heinen, Donato, and Bjork are all in a healthy Bruins lineup, is he the healthy scratch? Does he move to the fourth line?

In reality, the Bruins have 20 guys on their roster, once Krug comes back, that they believe should be receiving playing time. Are we going to see players cycle in and out of the lineup? There has been talk about resting Zdeno Chara this season. Players may also be able to sit out a game or two when they have a small nagging injury that they would otherwise play through. It will be interesting to see how Bruce Cassidy manages this team going forward.

Has our view of the Bruins changed?

Probably not. Especially in a weak division, the Bruins should definitely make the playoffs. While there have been some complications, four straight wins has kept Bruins fans spirits high, even if those were against arguably the four weakest teams in the league. Jaroslav Halak should also prove to be a huge. The Bruins will have a starting quality goalie in net every night, reminiscent of the Thomas-Rask tandem. With the long stretches between games so far, it is easy to get caught up in the little things.

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