What a difference a year and 4 months makes to the Boston roster! The Bruins had the fewest number of players under contract once the NHL CBA was signed, and GM Mike O’Connell wasted no time this summer to reassemble his team. On paper, he’s done a good job; what remains to be seen is whether the players will gel together and if they can adapt quickly to the new NHL rules as well as adjust to the enforcement of old rules.
The top two lines have excellent offensive potential. Joe Thornton is a top 10 scorer, and the B’s captain is still expected to carry his club. He will be rejoined by winger Glen Murray, a big, fast winger, and veteran newcomer Shawn McEachern. This line combines speed, size, toughness and scoring, and will be a formidable one for the Habs to defend against. Their second line will be focused on Alexei Zhamnov, a player who underachieved in the last NHL season, but one who has ample speed and offensive skill. He’s a strong competitor, and is expected to rebound offensively. He has talented, quick wingers surrounding him in Patrice Bergeron and Sergei Samsonov. The 3rd line is expected to have centre Brad Boyes, a 23 year old offensively skilled player who is with his 3rd NHL organization. He’s improved his defensive awareness since turning pro, and is now in a position for significant ice time with the Bruins. He will be flanked by two veteran checkers in PJ Axelsson, a perennially fore-checking pest against the Habs, and journeyman Tom Fitzgerald. The fourth line is expected to have dependable Travis Green as its centre, with underachieving winger Brad “Izzy” Isbister, and Colton “don’t call me Bobby” Orr in the tough guy’s role.
The defense first pairing is likely to include veteran Brian Leetch, whose return to the NHL for his 18th season must have something to do with his relationship to the Energizer bunny. He’ll be paired with steady veteran Ian Moran, a versatile player who can also play on the wing. The next pairing should be big and tough defenseman Hal Gill. His defensive partner will be Kevin Dallman, an undersized player with underrated offensive skills. The B’s last pairing is expected to include veteran returnee Jiri Slegr, and hard hitting rookie Andrew Alberts. Albert’s presence as a starter is in part thanks to restricted free agent defenseman Nick Boynton, who has been waging a negotiating war with the Bruins management. It’s unlikely that Boynton and the Bruins will resolve their differences before the puck drops Wednesday evening.
In goal will be the 2003-04 Calder winner Andrew Raycroft, backed up by Finnish rookie Hannu Toivonen. While this squad may not be given the “Big Bad Bruins” moniker that was bestowed their previous rosters, they do have some players with size, with toughness, and with a willingness to win the division to make their first match against the Canadiens a memorable one.
Expected starting lineup for the Bruins:
McEachern – Thornton – Murray
Samsonov – Zhamnov – Bergeron
Axelsson – Boyes – Fitzgerald
Orr – Green – Isbister
Leetch – Moran
Dallman – Gill
Slegr – Alberts
scratches: Jurcina (D), Toivonen (G), Scatchard (C, injured), Boynton (D,unsigned RFA)