Boston Bruins players stretch at the team’s first day of training camp on Monday in Boston. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

On your mark, get set, go. The first on-ice session for this short NHL season was Monday, and it’s going to be an elongated sprint.

While we’ll miss some of the old rivalries, this 56-game schedule in 116 days with geographically realigned divisions has a chance to be pleasing to old-school fans. Teams in the East division will play each other eight times and, if you didn’t have a fully developed opinion about, say, Tom Wilson or Brendan Lemieux, then you will soon. This should be fun.

Boston’s Jack Studnicka, left, chats with Anders Bjork during a break at practice Monday in Boston. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Let’s look at a few pressing non-COVID questions for your Bruins:

1. Can team defense remain a strength?

The Bruins have finished in the top five in goals against the last three seasons, including first overall last year with a 2.39 GAA. Obviously, losing two thirds of their left defense in Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug presents the major challenge for this Bruins season.

But defending has never been just about what’s on the blue line. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak remain one of the top goalie tandems in the league. The Bruins also added strong two-way player Craig Smith to an already pretty responsible group of forwards. Those forwards must continue to do their part, and maybe then some. While the right side of the defense is strong with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller and Connor Clifton, the Bruins need to determine who is ready for prime time on the left, and it may take longer than the 10-day training camp.

They’ve invested in left shot defensemen over the past five years, with the only thing Jeremy Lauzon’s work on the right side in the second half of last season all there is to show for the investment. Jakub Zboril, a 2015 first-round pick, and 2017 first-rounder Urho Vaakanainen will get looks. Lauzon, a 2015 second-rounder, could also see some action.

Throw in veteran John Moore, who’s had his Bruins career upended by major shoulder urgency, and you’ve got a lot of bodies. Two of them need to distinguish themselves.

2. Can Matt Grzelcyk replace Torey Krug on the power play?

Krug improved his defensive game throughout his Bruins career, but when it came to his work on the man advantage, he was simply a natural. That’s not to say that he didn’t continue to work on that part of his game, but ever since he was an emergency call-up in the 2013 playoffs, it was clear he knew what he was doing in the offensive zone.

Grzelcyk is not the same explosive offensive force as Krug. He certainly doesn’t have the slapper that Krug possesses. But he is smart. He sees the ice fairly well. And from the dot on down, he’s got a sneaky dangerous wrist shot. As a left shot, Grzelcyk will most likely get the first look on the top unit and, if he proves he can handle the job, it will be the least disruptive solution. If not, McAvoy could get a look.

As it is, with the Bruins starting the season without two power play stalwarts in Brad Marchand (groin surgery) and David Pastrnak (hip surgery). Don’t be surprised to see a few different looks to start the season.

3. What, exactly, do the Bruins have in Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie?

One would have hoped the Bruins had the answer to this question by now, but the pandemic and subsequent health issues in the bubble for both players prevented the Bruins from getting a full view of either of them.

They are different birds, for sure. When playing well, Kase looks like he could be the right wing for David Krejci the Bruins have been seeking for years. He hunts pucks well and has an amazing ability to control it – until, that is, it comes to putting it behind the goalie. He’s still in search of his first goal as a Bruin.

Ritchie, meanwhile, was obtained to address the Bruins need to bulk up a bit and regain a touch of the nastiness that was once a part of their DNA. On some nights he brought that, on other nights his difficulty in keeping up with centerman Charlie Coyle was his most pronounced attribute. Consistency in big, physical wingers can be elusive, but Ritchie will need to have more productive nights on average than he’s had in his short time with the Bruins.

4. Who holds down the fort until Marchand and Pastrnak return?

There are a plethora of possibilities for guys who can fill in on Patrice Bergeron’s wings. For me, the priority is not so much loading up to create another top line – Marchand and Pastrnak are not that easily replaceable – but rather take the opportunity to give some quality prospects a look.

Give me Anders Bjork on the left and Jack Studnicka on the right. Could Coach Bruce Cassidy manufacture a more bankable line than this? Of course. But presuming Marchand and Pastrnak will be back before the season is too old (Marchand is even threatening to be ready for opening night), the more important consideration should be to create chemistry in the middle six combos.

Krejci should start with Kase on his right and Coyle should be with Smith on his right. Give Jake DeBrusk another crack at Krejci’s left wing and choose your third line left wing – Ritchie, Trent Frederic, Sean Kuraly, take your pick – for Coyle’s line.

By the time Marchand and Pastrnak are back, you might know if Studnicka is truly ready to contribute at the NHL level and you may finally know who Bjork is.

5. Is there a breakout player among the young forwards?

Studnicka, Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic. The Bruins pool of high-end prospects is not particularly deep, but there is promise at the top. Can Studnicka force the hand of Bruins management to rethink how the team lines up down the middle?

We’ve seen a lot of Bjork, but how much more does he have to give? Is Frederic the combination of skill and snarl the Bruins have been looking for, even more so now with the loss of Chara? Time will tell.

And with injuries and coronavirus promising to wreak havoc on Cassidy’s nightly lineup, these players and maybe more should get their chance to show they belong. The veteran core has carried this team for a long time and will no doubt be asked to carry it a little further. But a dash or two of youthful exuberance could make the load a little lighter.


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