When the Boston Bruins began the 2011-12 season with an atrocious 3-7-0 record, it was common thought throughout the hockey world that the reigning NHL champions were experiencing the dreaded "Stanley Cup hangover."
But it was actually more of a sign of things to come, as the Bruins embarked on a year of wildly inconsistent streaks -- both hot and cold.
Boston blew out their competition during the entire month of November -- posting a near perfect 12-0-1 mark -- where they notched 57 goals, while allowing just 24. Seven times during the month the B's scored five goals or more, while blanking their opposition on three occasions.
The blistering play of the Black-and-Gold reached a boiling point when they finished a 30-game stretch with an incredible 25-4-1 record.
When the smoke cleared on the regular season Claude Julien's troops had amassed a 49-29-4 mark, good for 102 points and the second overall spot in the Eastern Conference standings. If you take away the scorching 30-game streak, the Bruins were actually below the .500 mark -- 24-25-3 -- over the course of the rest of the campaign.
Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward ended the Bruins chances to become the first team to repeat as Cup champs in 13 years when he knocked a rebound past goaltender Tim Thomas early in overtime of Game 7 in the opening round. While it most certainly wasn't the ending to the postseason Boston had envisioned in defense of Lord Stanley, there is no need for any kind of panic.
While Boston didn't have one 30-goal scorer or a single player to average a point-per-game, the Bruins scoring depth up front is as strong as there is of any team in the entire League. Six scorers ended with 20 or more goals and 10 finished with doubt-digit totals. Tyler Seguin continued his ascent to an elite NHLer, leading the club in both goals (29) and points (67) in just his second season. The 20-year-old's name was mentioned as being in a package in trade rumors when Boston was linked as a possible suitor for Rick Nash before the Columbus Blue Jackets eventually shipped him to the New York Rangers, but General manager Peter Chiarelli was wise not to yield in order to land the All-Star winger.
Patrice Bergeron is the perfect embodiment of the role of a Boston Bruins forward, performing as a two-way centerman par excellence. The Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec-native took home the Selke Memorial Trophy as the game's best defensive forward, yet still contributed 22 goals and 64 points. His 42 assists led the team, and the 64 points were second to only Seguin.
Nathan Horton played in just 46 games -- and none after suffering a concussion on Jan. 22 in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was reported recently that Horton -- a key component to making the top line of Milan Lucic -- David Krejci -- Horton click -- will be ready for training camp, whenever it may open.
Offseason Additions / New Faces
Chiarelli hasn't had a very busy offseason, and fortunately for the team it really wasn't due for any kind of overhaul. If there is no work stoppage and training camp opens in September, the Boston roster will likely look as it does today.
The only additions to the forward ranks were depth UFA signings Christian Hanson and Chris Bourque, and while integral role players Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille were all re-signed to extensions.
The defensive unit -- anchored by 6'9, 255 pound captain Zdeno Chara -- is one of the best in the NHL. Returning blue liners Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, and Adam McQuaid fill out an already deep unit, one that became even better-rounded with the addition of Garnet Exelby and Aaron Johnson. 2011 draft pick Dougie Hamilton could also get a shot if the organization believes he is ready.
The most significant change for the Bruins will be in net, as the outspoken Thomas indicated he will sit out the 2012-13 campaign due to personal reasons. The 38-year-old former Vezina Trophy winner posted a 151-78-31 record with 31 shutouts over the course of the past five seasons, including a 70-30-20 mark with 14 whitewashes over the last two years.
Instead of going out and getting another goalie after receiving Thomas' news, Chiarelli is looking no further than his own Beantown backyard for the replacement.
The move finally appears to have left the door open for Tuukka Rask, who has been termed as the club's goalie of the future for several years. Now 25 years of age, the 6'3, 169 pound Rask will get his opportunity to prove he can be the Bruins franchise's number one goaltender.
After a stellar 2009-10 campaign in which he recorded a 22-12-5 mark with five shutouts, with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage, Rask slumped in 2010-11. His 11-14-2 record, 2.67 GAA, and .919 save percentage with two shutouts were by far his worst numbers over the last three years.
This past season, Rask ran into a bit of hard luck. While his 2.05 GAA and .929 save percentage were excellent numbers, his 11-8-3 mark didn't appear to effectively reap the rewards of his play. As a matter of fact, the Finnish netminder's inconsistency followed Boston's pretty eerily. He lost three games, won three; lost one in overtime, won one, lost one; won seven consecutive, then went 0-4-2 to close out the year.
For the Bruins to have the success they seem destined to achieve, Rask's play is key. Taking over the backup role will likely be 26-year-old Anton Khudobin.
From some of the reported comments made by 'unnamed Bruins players' regarding Thomas and his views that have caused much in the way of public controversy, it would appear that the switch to Rask could be instrumental in Boston regaining its chemistry. The Bruins have succeeded by playing a physical style and taking care of their own end first -- and at all costs -- then launching counter-attacks which have yielded big dividends for the team.
It was just a year ago that the Boston players were taking their turns celebrating the summer with the Cup, and keeping the roster that won pretty much intact seems like perfectly sound logic.
If his teammates were indeed doubting Thomas, then going with Tuukka seems like a necessary Rask.