After being smacked down by the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals last week to open the NHL's regular season, the Boston Bruins have won their last two games, including their home opener on Monday.
They return to the ice Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers. Many of the players from last year are back and are hoping to improve on a season where they only managed to get through the first round of the playoffs.
Kari Njiiri, NEPR: I know it's early in the season -- when hope springs eternal for every NHL franchise -- but based on the preseason and the first three games of this regular season, how are you feeling about the "black and gold"?
Conor Ryan, Boston Sports Journal: Well, I think you have to be pretty optimistic with what this Bruins team has. As you said, [it was] not the start that the Bruins were looking for on Wednesday against the Washington Capitals in their season opener, but they've really rebounded over the next two games. They [had] a 4-0 shutout win over the Buffalo Sabres, [and] a 6-3 win at home against the Ottawa Senators, going into [Thursday's] matchup against the Oilers.
Over especially the first month of the year, this Bruins team has a chance to build some points up and really get into a groove against some lesser opponents. So even with that tough loss in their season opener, you have to be pretty excited for what this team has both in terms of established veteran talent and also a number of younger skaters, who should take that next step with this team this year.
In the preseason they had a rather interesting setup. Part of the team was in China.
Absolutely -- yeah. It was the word that has come to mind when we talked to Bruce Cassidy, the head coach, was "discombobulated," which I think is a fair way to put it. Pretty much half of the team and most of the regular players you expect to see night-in-night-out was in China for 10 days for a pre-season trip, which involved two preseason games and then a whole bunch of different trips to various spots around the country.
While the players said it was a pretty cool experience, it still is tough when you're trying to ramp up for an 82-game schedule. By the time they're able to practice as one unit, it was only pretty much seven, eight days before the start of the season. I think you can find the correlation between that abrupt pre-season in which they could all kind of mesh together, and that performance they had against Washington in their season opener.
You mentioned earlier that this is largely a very young team, aside from folks like Zdeno Chara who's -- what -- 41 years old?.
41 -- yeah.
What key players should we watch for?
In terms of the young players, a guy you have to keep an eye out for is definitely Jake DeBrusk, who had a bit of a breakout year last year. He was a first-round pick back in 2015 for the Bruins, a guy who they were pretty excited about, who slowly built up his status as a top prospect over the last couple years down in Providence. He really broke out last year, became a top-six guy.
Even if you look at a guy who's kind of a proven player already in David Pastrnak, he's a guy who's 22 years old, two 30-goal seasons already, but Pastrnak's development as a complete 200-foot player is going to be something to really keep an eye out for this year. Because if you can hit that next level, that top line for the Bruins is going to be absolutely devastating for whoever they're matched up against.
Finally, I have to ask, who will replace the Garden legend Rene Rancourt to sing the national anthem?
So the plan right now is to have a bit of a rotation of different singers. They had off-season auditions. They had about 50 to 70 different singers perform in front of Bruins management, in front of an empty TD Garden.
For their home opener on Monday against the Senators, they actually had a guy from Rhode Island, Todd Angilly, who is a probation officer by day and a bartender at night, and casually on the side he's also an opera singer. So the guy has a pretty stacked resume. But it'll be interesting to see how many different singers step up [and] try to fill those shoes from Rene Rancourt.