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Boston Bruins season update: Much-changed roster exceeding expectations

Last season was one of dizzying highs and crushing lows for the Boston Bruins and their fans.

It ended in tears as a record-breaking regular season was followed by a heartbreaking first-round exit in the playoffs, and an off-season of upheaval saw them go into the new campaign with numerous key pieces missing from their 2022-23 squad.

New captain Brad Marchand had big skates to fill, taking over the C from his best friend, franchise legend Patrice Bergeron, and most observers felt that anything more than reaching the playoffs was an optimistic target in the year the Bs celebrate their centenary.

Boston Bruins 2023/24 NHL season odds

To win Stanley Cup+900
To win Eastern Confernece+475
To win Atlantic Division-120

Pre-season promise converted to stellar start

It's not unfair to say that an off-season hiring policy of picking up several journeyman players didn't bode particularly well, especially with a lack of obviously promising youngsters coming through the system.

Without Bergeron and David Krejci, the team's top two centermen for most of the previous 15 years, it was clear their whole identity would have to change. Another big concern for the Bruins heading into the season was how so many new players would gel.

However, a young star emerged during training camp in the form of Matt Poitras, a 19-year-old Ontario native with a natural eye for goal, and with the new players settling quickly there was reason for optimism.

The Bruins' first eight games were against teams rated odds-against to reach the postseason, but no-one would have predicted they would begin with a six-game winning streak, all in regulation time.

It would be a further five games before they suffered their first regulation-time loss by a 5-4 score in a crazy game in Detroit.

But by claiming 19 points from their first ten outings the Bruins posted their best ever start to an NHL season.

Bruins make light of defensive decimation

During the third period of an overtime win over Florida, Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy was ejected from the game for delivering an illegal check to the head of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and subsequently handed a four-game suspension.

With Hampus Lindholm struggling to reproduce last season's brilliance, McAvoy is the Bruins' clear number-one defenseman, and his absence would have been bad enough on its own. 

However, with Derek Forbort and Matt Grzelcyk already out injured, McAvoy's ban threatened to derail Boston's brilliant start.

Despite having only 15 games of AHL experience, 22-year-old Mason Lohrei was called up to fill in, and the youngster made a hugely impressive debut in a 3-2 shootout win over Toronto.

A smart play saw him assist Pavel Zacha's opening goal of the game and Lohrei has continued to impress in his subsequent outings. Grzelcyk is out long-term, and Lohrei is likely to stick around at least until his return.

Goalie tandem continue to stand firm

A huge part of Boston's epic regular-season success last term was the goaltending duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, and those two have again starred in the early part of the new campaign.

Ullmark won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender last season, but Swayman has arguably performed the better this time. After seven starts each, the Alaskan has a stingy goals-against average of 1.69 - the best of anyone in the league with more than one start.

Ullmark has a perfectly respectable .926 save percentage, bouncing back from a disappointing postseason where he was carrying an injury, and the two are likely to continue to share duties in the Boston goal.

Bergeron's absence telling at times

Through their first 14 games of the season, Boston have just one regulation-time loss and dropped just two other points, but there have been instances where their old captain is missed.

Bergeron was one of the great two-way players of the modern era, and pioneered the playing of the bumper position during powerplays.

Number 37 was a master of redirecting pucks or distributing to the right teammate while occupying the slot, and without him the Bruins powerplay is operating at 21.3%, only 14th in the league. 

They also relied on his prowess at the faceoff dot, particularly when closing out games. The Bruins blew a two-goal lead in the final two minutes before losing in overtime to Anaheim, and they were lucky not to do the same in Dallas ten days later.

Of course, a six-time Selke award winner is not easily replaced, but the Bruins are likely to need to find a way to improve in the areas Bergeron was most influential if they are to keep up their incredible start to the year.

Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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