The Boston Bruins didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in nine years this past season, and it left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth and saw the firing of General Manager Peter Chiarelli and the hiring of Don Sweeney as his replacement. Over the summer, especially the day the NHL Entry Draft began, Sweeney pulled the trigger on some trades that had Boston faithful screaming for his head on a platter.
Today was the second on-ice day of training camp and the 59-man camp, which includes seven goalies, is currently being split into three groups. Camp means competition for spots and this year is no exception. In fact, with players like Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic gone, there are a couple of slots that are not usually open. Additionally, there is a clear change in the structure the team is embracing, going with a breakout system.
In some ways this offers a slightly more even playing field to those new to the team, since in some regards everyone has to get used to certain new aspects on how they will play as 5-man units during full strength. It is also probable that the power play and the penalty kill will be tweaked as well.
The Bruins have often been accused of being a slow skating team, and there are a number of players at camp who could certainly change that. However there still needs to be a delicate balance between those speed and skill players and the good strong defenders.
“We have got to be careful here because you may get those guys that have better foot speed but they may not be able to do the speed on the other side of the puck. So… our offensive game has really improved but you know we’re scoring more goals but we’re giving up more, you know, we’re still in the same spot that were before,” head coach Claude Julien said after the third group finished on the ice Saturday. “We talked about the Zdeno Charas and the [Adam] McQuaids and those guys—they defend well. But you also need guys like Torey Krug to be in our lineup and you know we’d like to be able to find that right balance.”
And perhaps this is where Matt Irwin can make his mark. The defenseman, who played last season with the San Jose Sharks, was signed to a one-year deal in July. And one of his strengths could be just what the Bruins are looking for.
“I think they want the D-men jumping up in the rush, being that option to create some offense. That being said, we gotta take care of our own zone,” Irwin told media Saturday after practice. “My strength’s a good first pass out of the zone. Get it in the forward’s hands. Let them do their job. Get pucks through from the point. Create first, second, and third opportunities at the net.”
Irwin has also caught the eye of Coach Julien—as much as anyone can with so many players currently being observed.
“I think he has to definitely earn his spot like everybody else.,” Julien explained. “But you know the reason we did sign him is he’s got some experience so you know being here is one thing—being in the top six is another.”
Irwin seems to understand his role and it certainly sounds like it could be a strong fit with the breakout system that the Bruins are expected to employ this season. If his execution is as good as his vision, then it is very possible that he will earn that slot.
Julien did express the fact that they will need to start whittling down the list of campers sooner than later, and it is possible that cuts could come as early as Monday. With a pre-season game taking place at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence on Sunday night against the New Jersey Devils, for those who play it could be their only opportunity to show what they can bring before those first cuts are made.