Two of the biggest Bruins question marks heading into the season also happen to be two of the team’s biggest exclamation points.
Adam McQuaid (blood clot) and Nathan Horton (concussions) are skating into the shortened 2013 campaign with all eyes watching their every move. There’s no telling how each player will come out of the gates, but if they shoot out like Bruins fans know they can, they’ll be two key figures pushing the Black and Gold across the finish line.
McQuaid won’t be remembered as the most graceful defender and that’s exactly what Claude Julien wants out of him and what the City of Boston loves about him. One of the most physical players on the team’s roster, McQuaid’s presence on the blue line is going to be a key factor this year on Causeway Street. While Zdeno Chara and the rest of the B’s defenders know how to bring the pain, McQuaid’s nasty side and take-on-anyone/run-into-anything (that moves or doesn’t) mentality gives the Big Bad Bruins the edge. It’s the edge that gave the Bruins their blue-collar mentality decades ago and it’s the edge that got them free duck boat tour through Boston two summers ago.
With the amount of minutes (hours?) Chara clocks in each game, the soon-to-be 36-year-old will need to rest his legs, shoulders and fists during this year’s sprint for the cup (sorry, NASCAR). Not that the captain plans on slowing down anytime soon or taking it easy in the trenches, but McQuaid can be trusted to take over as the team’s blue line bruiser. After 18 fights and an average of about 98 PIMs in the last two years, the league is taking notice of McQuaid’s “very particular set of skills” — namely, being a mullet-rocking, fist-flying human crusher. He also smiles while he fights.
While McQuaid can entertain opposing forwards with bruises, bloody faces and plenty of extra-curricular activity in corners and in front of Tuukka Rask, Horton will be shoring up what could be one of the top lines in the NHL.
Alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, the B’s top line has all the bells and whistles. Not only can each player light the lamp on offense, but they are all dangerously multidimensional. Krejci has been a fabulous two-way player and a heck of a playmaker since taking his talents to Boston. Feeding Lucic and Horton — two 30-goal scorers — is a match made in heaven for B’s fans. There’s a reason Krejci is usually among the team leaders in points and the league leaders in plus-minus.
Flanking Krejci are two physical wingers with a scoring touch. Lucic led the team in goals and tied Krejci for most points two seasons ago while Horton is one of just three Bruins with at least 100 goals in his career, and leads the club with 185 career tallies.
As long as Horton can avoid his occasional dry-spells, he will solidify a Bruins top line that can compete with, and rough up, any opposing line in the East. Lucic-Krejci-Horton are skilled enough on offense and smart and physical enough in the neutral and defensive zones to make life difficult all over the ice for opponents.
But while Horton may not be the most skilled or most talked about forward, losing out on his scoring touch and presence on the top line means a lot to Julien’s squad. A slump means the Bruins are playing shorthanded on their top line, but an injury could mean a lot more, showing just how important his reaction to concussion-like symptoms will be this month. Missing him on the top line not only takes away one of the most potent weapons, it shuffles players around, making things harder for the rest of the B’s attack by forcing them to dip into the third and fourth lines — which takes away from Boston’s biggest strength, it’s depth.
As for the other Top 6 forwards, everyone in New England is pretty set on what to expect from the second line. Tyler Seguin is on the cusp of super-stardom and will find the back of the net as long as he gets his chances. He and Brad Marchand are still young enough to display some growing pains but the two wingers will not only capitalize on their chances (as proven last year), they’ll find way to make center Patrice Bergeron even better.
Assuming Horton and McQuaid are spot-on with their self-prognosis, the Bruins will be ahead of the curve this season. With these two big bodies manning the roles, the B’s won’t be slowing up during this season’s sprint.