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Haggs: ‘Measuring Stick’ Games Should Answer Plenty For Boston Bruins

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Boston Bruins

SUNRISE, FL – While there’s clearly plenty to like about a 3-1-0 start for the Boston Bruins in their first four games, there’s also still plenty of unknown with a Boston hockey club featuring a lot of new faces. With just four games played in the first two weeks of the regular season and games against tough-to-read opponents like the Stars, Sharks and Sabres that were non-playoff teams last year, there is still much for the Black and Gold to prove.

They get a chance to do that this week with back-to-back road games against a pair of undefeated Eastern Conference foes. First the Bruins take on the 6-0-0 Panthers at FLA Live Arena on Wednesday night and then they travel to Carolina to do battle with a 5-0-0 Hurricanes hockey club that’s sitting atop the Metro Division.

The B’s then get another home date against the Panthers on Saturday night meaning all three games this week are against teams that haven’t lost yet this season. That’s what is called “measuring stick games” for a team like the Boston Bruins still getting a gauge on their goaltending situation, their new additions to the back end and a forward group that’s grinding it out while missing Nick Foligno and Craig Smith to injuries.

Jack Studnicka will be centering the second line between Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle for the first time this season and Curtis Lazar makes his season debut on the fourth line coming back from an elbow injury. Linus Ullmark gets his third straight start after coming out of the gate strong (2-0-0, 2.00 goals against average with a .935 save percentage) following a very unimpressive first training camp with the Black and Gold.

“For us it’s a measuring stick early on in the year,” said Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron of the back-to-back road tilts against the Panthers and Hurricanes. “It’s a challenge that you want to get excited about.

“We take it a game at a time and work on what we can control and build a foundation. There’s a system that we have in place, working on those things and improving…we have to improve as a team. It’s a great challenge that we should be excited about.”

Clearly every NHL team is worthy of respect, but all the Bruins seemed especially geared up to play each of the two opponents. The Panthers have really built on an impressive playoff series last spring where they pushed the eventual Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning hard in the first round, and the Hurricanes are poised to take the step to true contender with a core group that’s earned respect and important experience over the last few seasons.

“They have a quick strike offense, their wings are fast, the ability to stretch you out and get going the other way,” said Cassidy, who noted that Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper really came away impressed with Florida’s improvement in last year’s playoffs in conversations with the B’s head coach. “They’re putting pucks in the net so that’s the first thing. Then they’ve got D they can get up there and support as well. Then they’ve got two goalies that are really on their game as well. They’ll give up some chances but when you’re getting saves, you can get going the other way and have a little more juice in your game when you’re getting those stops.

“Early in the year it is tough to get a read, you look on the schedule and you got Buffalo, you get San Jose; they weren’t very good the year before, no one’s picking them and they’re undefeated, right? So, you just don’t know with these teams that are undefeated. Carolina, we’ve seen every year. They’re right there, so it’ll be a good evaluation of your own team.”

It’s certainly going to be a major test for the B’s defense and goaltending with Florida (4.50 goals per game) and Carolina (4.40 goals per game) ranking 4th and 5th respectively in the league in offense.

One would expect a split of the two tough road games given the bodies missing from the lineup, the competition and the Bruins still getting acquainted with the many new faces up and down the NHL roster. That would be respectable and leave the B’s feeling good entering a Saturday rematch against the Panthers.

A sweep would put the B’s at 5-1-0 on the season and vault them into a higher NHL tax bracket knocking a couple of the NHL’s hottest teams off the unbeaten list after they did the same to the Sabres and Sharks last week.

Losing both ends of the back-to-back road “measuring stick” games? That would leave a lot of questions for a Boston hockey club still searching for answers about this season’s group at this early juncture of the regular season.

It’s not make-or-break or a must-win situation for the Bruins entering this road swing through the NHL south, but we may know a great deal more about the Boston Bruins 48 hours from now when the ice chips have settled on a couple of tough road tilts.

 

 

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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