Jim Montgomery still bullish on B’s


The type of defeat the Bruins absorbed last spring is not the kind you just “get over.” You win a record 65 games and then get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, and it’s going to stick with you for a very long time.

But life goes on, the page must be turned and those in charge must plan and strategize for the new season ahead. As summer winds down, coach Jim Montgomery was getting into that mode last week. He’s spending less time on the golf course, more time in his headquarters at Warrior Ice Arena trying to figure out a way to get his team back in playoff position so that his B’s can attempt a a do-over next April.

That’s not a given. In his second year behind the B’s bench, the Jack Adams Award-winning Montgomery won’t have the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Nick Foligno to lean on to guide the dressing room. Also out the door were top-six talents David Krejci, Taylor Hall and Tyler Bertuzzi.

While there is still talent here, this promises to be a very different season, especially for Montgomery.

“We lost a lot of leadership. Fortunately, this team is filled with leadership,” the preternaturally positive Montgomery told the Herald. “We have to make sure — and this is a big part of my job — that our standard of how we treat ourselves, how we care for each other remains the same. We can’t let our standard of competitiveness and caring slip. And that’s probably my biggest thing to make sure of this year, besides getting people to execute with pace and purpose.”

The B’s suffered an ignominious defeat in the playoffs in 2010, blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers. They then used that as motivation to win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years in 2011. Can such a vibe take over this team, with all the turnover it has experienced?

“Yes and no,” said Montgomery. “For the players that were here, which is our true nucleus now, I think we can use it as fuel, because it hardens us and it should make us better prepared for the next opportunity. For the team as a whole, no, we can’t use it because we’ve got to get into the playoffs first. So our focus goes to what we have to do well in the regular season to give ourselves that opportunity again.”

While this team understandably has its doubters as it embarks on a new era of Bruins hockey, Montgomery pointed out that so did last year’s team that set regular season records.

“After our regular season, I think a lot of people forgot all the question marks on our team before last year. I think it’s very similar to this year, that we’re a bubble team, and that’s what people were saying about us last year,” said Montgomery. “What I like is we have tremendous opportunity. I know we have great players, I know we have really good leaders. For me, the exciting part of it is ‘how good can we be?’ I don’t know what our ceiling is yet and that’s what makes this training camp a little more exciting than last year’s, because there’s a lot more moving parts … some people look at it as daunting. I don’t. I look at it as an opportunity for a lot of players to become real good Bruins for us and for us to find our identity as a team and how we’re going to win games this year.”

In our sitdown, Montgomery touched on a number of subjects:

Top lines

Montgomery has his first two lines pretty much mapped out, at least tentatively. He expects to pair Pavel Zacha with David Pastrnak, with James van Riemsdyk most likely getting the first look at left wing on that line. He expects the other top line will be Charlie Coyle centering Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk.

That’s the easy part. Putting together the bottom six – which is often what gets a team over the hump in playoff series. They have a lot of new players, including Morgan Geekie, Patrick Brown, Jesper Boqvist, Milan Lucic 2.0 and now Alex Chiasson.

“Everything else is going to be a work in progress,” said Montgomery. “The great thing is there’s lots of opportunity for the players that are returning, the AJ Greers, the (Jakub) Laukos, obviously (Trent) Frederic. We think he’s going to be a big part of the third line. But who plays with who? I try not to get fixated on that, even though I might have ideas. I like to see it play out in camp and have the opportunity to see chemistry with each other.”

Feeling centered

Montgomery has confidence his top two centermen, Zacha and Coyle, can do the job.

“I think (Zacha’s ceiling) is significantly higher,” he said. “Not only is he physically prepared, more importantly I believe he’s ready for this mentally for the kind of minutes, the responsibility of having to be played in all situations — which he did really well last year — but they’re going to be more important minutes. But I just think he’s mentally ready. He believes that he can do it. That’s the biggest step for a player. I have a lot of confidence that our top two lines will be very good because I believe Charlie Coyle knows he can do the job and will do the job and Pavel Zacha does too.”

While some fans might be waiting for another shoe to drop in the form for another established center coming here in a trade, Montgomery is not.

“In my mind, this is our team,” he said. “Ever since Krech made it official, we’d been thinking that this would be our team. Honestly, we were preparing this way since mid-June.”

Chiasson backer

On Chiasson, whom the B’s signed to a tryout agreement on Monday, Montgomery believes the 32-year-old veteran has the tools to help.

“He’s a real smart hockey player who always finds a way to produce and always finds a way to get in the lineup,” said Montgomery. “I thought Detroit’s power play became extremely tough to check the last two times we played them when he was at the net front. So there’s a niche that he could possibly grab a hold of for our team. He’s got the size and hands. His puck possession game is really good. It’s something we feel we need to improve on even from last year, our puck possession game and how much time we spend in the offensive zone.”

Winging it

While there’s been speculation that Frederic could move to center, Montgomery sees him on the wing, most likely the right side.

“I think that’s where he’s the most dynamic for us, offensively and defensively,” said Montgomery. “He’s an excellent defensive winger and he also scores most of his goals and gets open the most as a winger. We feel we’re going to need that from him again this year.”

Coaching change

With the departure of assistant John Gruden, Montgomery said another assistant will soon be hired. But Gruden’s responsibilities will be divvied up between remaining assistants Joe Sacco and Chris Kelly. Sacco will handle the defense.

“He runs the PK already and does a lot of our D-zone coverage. That’s an easy one for him,” said Montgomery.

Kelly will take over the power play.

“I think he’s really excited about it,” he said.

With Montgomery preferring a three-man bench, the new hire will be a second eye-in-the-sky with goalie coach Bob Essensa. The new coach will also focus on in-season development work.

Prospect pulse

Montgomery said a few players popped for him in Development Camp, namely Mason Lohrei, Riley Duran and, when healthy, Fabian Lysell. He was also intrigued by possible future right shot center Matthew Poitras.

“His brain and his competitive levels are very, very appealing to me,” he said.

Poitras is in a tough spot. If the 19-year-old doesn’t make the B’s roster, he’ll have to go back to his junior team in Guelph, where he exploded for 16-79-95 totals in 63 games last year. How much another year in junior would benefit him is questionable, but he has to be ready to stick in the NHL. He cannot play in Providence this year

“No one’s ever gotten to this league too late. People have gotten to this league too early,” said Montgomery. “If he’s not ready to be a Bruin, then he goes back, he can be part of the World Juniors, he dominates. He needs to score more goals in junior. There are areas of your game that always need to get better.”

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