October 12, 2010

Tom Caron: Easy to see Boston Bruins are improving

By TOM CARON

The Bruins are back stateside now, getting a few nights in their own beds before continuing this season-opening, 8,300-mile road trip in New Jersey on Saturday night.

Martin Cakajik, Tyler Seguin
click image to enlarge

Boston Bruins' Tyler Seguin, left, boards Martin Cakajik of Bili Tigri Liberec during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game between Boston Bruins and Bili Tygri Liberec in Liberec, Czech Republic, earlier this month.

The Associated Press

UP NEXT
WHO:
Bruins at New Jersey Devils
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
TELEVISION: NESN

While the team returned from Prague with a .500 record, the trip overseas has to be considered a success.

First, the Bruins made a bold statement about their future by signing a pair of key players.

Patrice Bergeron (three years) and Zdeno Chara (seven years) aren't going anywhere. That's a message of stability to a fan base that hasn't see Lord Stanley's hardware lifted on Causeway Street in nearly 40 years.

Signing Bergeron was a no brainer. He's become a terrific two-way center and is still only 25 years old despite playing more than 400 NHL games, including playoffs.

He should be entering his prime hockey years, and the signing ensures those years will be spent in black and gold.

The Chara signing comes with a little more risk.

The Bruins captain is now locked up through his 40th birthday, the team gambling some $45.5 million that his incredible strength and conditioning will allow him to beat Father Time and keep logging 25-30 minutes of ice time through 2017.

As in life, there are no guarantees in hockey. Yet there is no reason to believe Chara's impact will lessen in the years ahead.

Barring injuries, he's likely to continue to be a top-of-the-line defenseman, the kind of player you need to build a contender. The Bruins could not risk losing him, and can now refocus on cranking up an offense that will be better than last year's gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Speaking of which, after looking lifeless in the offensive zone for the first two periods Saturday, the team came alive with five goals in the final four periods of Czech play. Nathan Horton, acquired to give Boston some finishing touch, has done exactly that with three goals and an assist in two games so far. Dennis Wideman may rediscover his game in the Florida sunshine, but the early returns say the deal for Horton was a fleecing worthy of the 1970's Harry Sinden.

We may look back on these two days in Prague as the beginning of the Tyler Seguin era. The 18-year old not only made the team, but scored his first career goal in the third period on Sunday. Seguin's arrival has created a high level of excitement in Bruins Country, and so far the kid has not looked out of place.

One of the most interesting subplots of the weekend was goaltending. Tukka Rask was thrown to the wolves Saturday as the Coyotes came streaking in with one breakaway after another. The result was a 4-2 loss.

A day later, the Bruins tightened things up and allowed only one clean break in on Tim Thomas. The 2009 Vezina Trophy winner responded with a shutout in his first start of the season, and talk of "who is the No. 1 goalie?" has begun.

Point is the Bruins have a strong goaltending tandem. It's the most important part of a playoff equation, and a playoff appearance is only the first step towards the goal this team has set for itself.

After suffering one of the worst postseason collapses in NHL history, the Bruins expect to contend for the Cup next spring. There are 80 games to go in the regular season, and there will be plenty of twists and turns in this saga.

But our first glimpse of the 2010-2011 Bruins has given us reason to dream. Even if that glimpse was from 4,000 miles away.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

 

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