Despite having made only a couple of tweaks to their roster this summer, the Boston Bruins suddenly have some more new faces in their lineup just seven games into the 2009-10 season.
General manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien have hit the reset button on the season, and they're hoping a fresh start will beget a turnaround for their 3-4-0 club.
So despite the party line of the team's brass and players, Wednesday night's visit to TD Garden by the Nashville Predators has some extra importance. Not only is it the coming-out party for the Bruins' new-look lineup in the aftermath of Milan Lucic's finger surgery, Marc Savard's broken foot, and the trade of Chuck Kobasew, but it's also Boston's preliminary match for a stretch of three intraconference games that could have a long-term impact on the playoff picture.
The Predators might just be the perfect patsy for the Bruins, as they hit the Hub with just nine goals scored in seven games and are missing arguably their best offensive performer in center Jason Arnott. But regardless who's wearing their uniform, the Preds are always a tough team to shake with coach Barry Trotz preaching a hardworking, defensively responsible system that mirrors the way Boston wants to play.
And if the Bruins don't start winning some games, which will require trusting each other and the system defensively and taking the body on the forecheck and in the corners, they could start on an ugly downward spiral.
Looming are showdowns with rival Philadelphia, division foe Ottawa (a much-improved club) and always pesky New Jersey. The way things have started, Boston could have a fight on its hands in terms of winning the division or even just earning a decent playoff seed. So those games against big-time Eastern Conference opponents not only could be an early-season test of the Bruins' mettle but also could come into play once April rolls around.
Some players' jobs also could be on the line should the Bruins' level of intensity not rise and stay at a high level. The trade of underperforming Kobasew should've been a shot across the bow for a number of struggling skaters -- including Mark Recchi, David Krejci and Morris -- whose ice time could be in jeopardy without a couple of breakthrough performances. Julien continues to claim that players who don't meet expectations aren't guaranteed lineup spots based on reputation or salary. (We'll try to ignore the fact that he has put that philosophy into practice only twice -- both times with Phil Kessel -- in his three years as Boston's bench boss.)
The raised expectations created last winter and spring obviously have taken their toll. Two years ago, no one would have complained if the Bruins were within one game of the .500 mark. So, some perspective should be used when viewing the upcoming games. However, in a condensed-schedule Olympic year, seasons can go down the tubes faster than an elevator with its cable cut. It behooves the Bruins to start their resurgence Wednesday night.