Shortened season will be intense

1/13/2013 - NHL Boston Bruins

BOSTON -- Boston Bruins president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli were noticeably excited Sunday morning at TD Garden now that the NHL season is officially under way.

There should be enthusiasm among Bruins fans, because this team has the ability and the talent to be successful despite the lockout-shortened 48-game season. Since the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, there's been little change to their roster. Even before the lockout began last fall, the Bruins were favored as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

That won't change in the next few months.

Chiarelli described the 119-day lockout as a "painful journey" but now that the players are back on the ice, the Bruins claim they will be ready for the home opener when they host the New York Rangers on Jan. 19 at the Garden.

"Our team, there's not many roster spots available," Chiarelli said. "We've got a pretty established team. You're going to see a very small camp, a very quick camp, and what's important is to condense your assessment, that's what I'm going to do, condense my assessment time and recognize that this is now truly a sprint."

On Sunday, the Bruins held their first practice of training camp at the Garden, and prior to the hour-long session Chiarelli and Julien addressed the players about what to expect for the remainder of the week and for the season.

"We can't ease into this," Julien said. "We've got to get on top of our game as soon as possible. You probably heard me chirping a little bit more about certain things. It's not about, hey, this is the first day and we'll take it easy. We've got to get to work here. There's no time to waste."

Fortunately for the Bruins, they won't have to deal with a transition period as far as players and team systems are concerned because everything is pretty much the same.

"You're going to see pretty much what you've seen before," Chiarelli said. "Everyone's healthy and we're very excited. We've got changes in goal, but you're going to see a good team. You're going to see a team that is highly, highly motivated."

The schedule is intense. For the majority of the season, the Bruins will be playing almost every other day. Fortunately, the travel won't be as taxing as a regular 82-game season, since the Bruins will only play Eastern Conference teams -- meaning their only journey outside the Eastern time zone will be two trips to Winnipeg.

"You have to get the mindset into the players about this being a sprint, and then you have to deal with the adversity," Chiarelli said. "There's going to be more adversity in these 48 games than in a whole season because we've got such a shortened time period. It's about being prepared and rolling with it a little bit."

It will be Julien's job to make sure the players are prepared properly and that includes keeping them rested and fresh for the season. Training camp will last only five days and practices will be kept short.

As far as the game schedule, Julien knows, and he's told his players, the importance of having a good start.

"When you talk about the schedule, everybody's said it and it's the truth, it's a sprint versus a marathon this year," Julien said. "When you look at some of the teams last year that got off to good starts that didn't make the playoffs, it just shows you that everybody has hope in a short season to make it because they can. You don't have 82 games to catch up. You can't stumble too much, whether it's out of the blocks or during a stretch. Those long losing streaks can cost you a playoff spot."

There's an urgency to play well early and that's one of the things Julien is stressing to his players.

"It's exciting to be playing those games because they mean a lot," he said. "We know the second half of the season our guys get excited because they can sense the playoffs. We'll probably be in that mode for 48 games."

It didn't take long for teams around the league to start making trades and signing players on Sunday morning. If everything goes according to plan, Neely and Chiarelli likely won't be making any changes. Chiarelli admitted that he has fielded some calls from other GMs in regard to possible trades, but said he's not prepared to make any moves at this point.

"We're not doing much, if anything, right now so they've probably figured that out," Chiarelli said. "Everyone else knows everybody's depth charts right now. I've had a couple [calls], but not much."

During the lockout, 12 Bruins players took their talents overseas, which was the most by any team in the NHL. Since some of those players are in game shape, it should give the Bruins a slight advantage once the games start, but Julien made sure to caution his players about having that mindset.

"It should be [an advantage] if you take the right approach," Julien said. "They played and that's great, but at the same time you've got to go out and execute and do it. Sometimes you go in and say, 'Well, 12 of us played and this should be OK, sort of easy.' But there's still some work to be done at the end of the day. I think if the guys take advantage of the fact that they've played and they're willing to work hard in the games, compete hard and be at their best, now we've got an opportunity. A lot of it will depend on attitude and approach."

For those players who did not play overseas and decided to stay in North America, it will take some time to get caught up. Then there's always the concern of injuries. The Bruins are expecting players to suffer groin pulls and such, but it'll be another challenge the team will try to avoid.

Chiarelli has watched the players participate in the recent captain's practices and he was pleased with the level of conditioning.

There are many challenges to be successful in a shortened season, but the one thing that won't change is the team's identity. Neely, and the rest of the organization, expect the team to play Bruins hockey.

"It is going to be intense, no question," Neely said. "They just have to play their game. They know how they need to play to be successful and how to help our team be successful. Teams have reacted because of the way we play, but there's not much we can do about it. We just have to continue to play the way we're capable of playing to be successful."

For their part, Bruins players were excited to be back on the ice and looking forward to getting ready for the start of the season.

"It was a lot of fun to get back out there and be with all the guys and get under way," Brad Marchand said. "We have to come together quick and we should be all right. We've pretty much played together for two years now and we haven't really changed a whole lot, so we have to get back into things quick here and hopefully jell together really quick."

While that familiarity will help, goaltender Tuukka Rask echoed Julien's thoughts about the need to get started quickly.

"We need to start off on the right foot," Rask said. "The start is going to be important for us, as it is for everybody, and I just need to make sure to take care of my business. I need to play as good as I can and help us get off to a good start.

"It's going to be a challenge both mentally and physically. Luckily we had a lot of guys play overseas and they're in midseason form. We just need to know our system, play the way we can and take care of our bodies because it's going to be a quick season and a grind."