Boston Bruins: What Can They Expect from Chris Bourque in His Debut?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIJanuary 19, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 20:  Chris Bourque #56 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Nashville Predators at the 1st Mariner Arena on September 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Predators defeated the Capitals 2-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Chris Bourque’s first regular-season game with the Boston Bruins is bound to disappoint in at least one respect. The visiting New York Rangers are unlikely to call up his younger brother, Ryan Bourque, from the Connecticut Whale in advance of Saturday night’s faceoff.

Outside of that, Bruins buffs need not discount the possibility of the meaningful introduction of longtime captain Ray Bourque’s eldest son generating more than just empty calories of sentimental value.

Look no further than Tuesday night’s vaudeville game at TD Garden, wherein Bourque linked up with third-liners Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley and tallied a goal and two assists.

With that output, it was hard to positively single out any other member of the comparatively rusty Boston team that dropped a 7-5 decision to a Providence affiliate that, Bourque included, has been engaging in extramural activity for the last three-plus months.

Besides his up-to-speed physical condition, there is no cause to dismiss the notion that Bourque’s performance was partially boosted by the thrill of wearing his hometown crest in one of his favorite boyhood hangouts. Although, some of it was also surely owed to the fact that he was as familiar with the opposing Providence team as anybody.

Regardless, the emotional factor can take a player in either direction at any point or could be an overall nonfactor. But at the moment, Bourque has exceeded expectations in his first season under the Bruins’ auspices and has momentum on his side as he enters his first real game with Boston.

In the seven-plus months between the May 26, 2012 trade that had him imported in exchange for Zach Hamill and the conclusion of the NHL lockout, the most logical prognosis stayed the same.

Bourque, a 26-going-on-27-year-old AHL journeyman with 33 major league games in seven professional seasons, was seemingly bound to bolster the farm base in Providence, making the younger prospects around him better.

He was to defer gratification for the good of the organization and any personal gain in the form of a promotion would most likely be sparse and relatively uneventful.

Then a locked-out Jordan Caron, originally the presumptive new third-line wing in Boston, mysteriously hit a roadblock in the AHL production department. A subsequent injury continues to keep him out of commission, which left an opening at training camp for either Bourque, fellow AHL vet Jamie Tardif or the unripe Ryan Spooner to plug.

Bourque emboldened his candidacy prior to this week’s training camp by leading the P-Bruins with 20 assists and 28 points. Nearly half of those points―three goals and 10 assists―have come on the power play and it seems the parent club is not going to wait to start trying to translate that output to the NHL level.

In Friday’s Boston Globe, both head coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli indicated a desire to assign Bourque to the same power-play point patrol he has assumed in Providence.

Naturally, regardless of how much time he sees in that position, the experiment will face a rigorous test without hesitation as the Rangers are on deck for two of Boston’s first three games.

With their first-place finish in the standings and 20-game run to the conference finals last year, the Blueshirts obliterated all secrets as to their second-nature shot-blocking habit. That along with all other aspects of their laser-beamed defensive fortress was rewarded with the fifth-best penalty killing percentage in the 2011-12 regular season.

At even strength, the Rangers are vying to sustain or enhance a defense that finished third in the NHL with 2.22 goals against per night in the regular season and the same slot with 2.05 in the playoffs.

The Bruins themselves managed merely two goals apiece in two meetings with New York, dropping the others by 3-0 and 4-3 decisions. Although, in the latter game on March 4, 2012, the third line had a hand in two Boston strikes with the sophomore Caron claiming a hand in each.

In addition, three of the Bruins’ seven goals in the season series came from a defenseman. In turn, with playmaking being his forte, Bourque can vie to make an immediate impact on the power play by dishing a delectable feed to a full-blooded blueliner on the other point.

Any pass in that arrangement or to Kelly or Peverley during five-on-five could blossom into a boon, or any given pass could be picked off to a statistically detrimental degree. The latter event would not be an utter shock, though it would be a test of short-term resilience and poise.

But any stimulating looks at the Rangers net, whether they are rewarded or not, will be a critical plus point, especially if Bourque is to be pressed into a regular role on the big club.


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