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'Never Too Early to Set the Tone' as B's Prep for 1st Preseason Game

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — It is early. The Bruins have only had two full on-ice practices, and already, it’s a game day.

But there isn’t anyone in Boston’s room complaining about it.

“That’s what everybody wants to do, is play games,” said forward Brett Connolly after practicing with the first group on Sunday morning at TD Garden. “It’s nice to get right into it. For me, I like it. I think that you might as well get right into it.”

The group that practiced first on Sunday morning is the group expected to take the ice against the Devils in Providence on Sunday night. It features a line of Connolly, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes, a trio that has skated together throughout the entirety of the preseason thus far.

Yes, it is still early, but that line has already had a bit of time to develop some chemistry.

“For the most part, all three of us can skate,” Connolly said. “Spoons is pretty quick, and Jimmy can get up the ice, too, for a big guy. We’ve got some speed on that line, so we’ve got to use that tonight, and keep getting better every day.

“I think that we were a little bit better today in practice than we were in the first couple, so just try to keep getting better.”

Sunday night will mark the debut of Julien’s tweaked system. Players have had the opportunity to get a feel for it during the first few on-ice sessions of this year’s camp, and against New Jersey, it will take center stage.

“It’s going to be a little more aggressive,” said defenseman Zach Trotman. “I think we’re trying to create a little more offense off of it, so I think it’s a good thing. I’m obviously a bigger guy — a more physical player — but I feel like I move pretty well, so I think that will kind of hopefully provide more offense in my game.”

Of course, the push of pace cannot come at the expense of defense. It will simply require the defensemen, in particular, to recover faster, should mistakes happen on the ice.

“I think there might be a little bit of a learning curve — learning when to take those risks, as always, and making sure that if you do take that risk and something goes wrong, either someone’s going to have your back, or you’re going to be able to get back and recover [from] it,” Trotman said. “But I don’t think there’s really anything too major out there that’s going to be a big risk. I think we’ll be all right.”

The skaters aren’t the only ones who will have to adjust to the tweaks. Goaltender Jeremy Smith said he will have work to do, too.

“I’m the eyes in the back of their head, right?” Smith said. “They can’t see, so I have to let them know how much time they have, if they have a guy on them or not. So I think the onus comes on me to let them know what’s happening, especially if they’re not comfortable playing that style.

Still, Smith repeated what Head Coach Claude Julien has been saying since camp began. The tweaks are just that — tweaks. This isn’t an overhaul. It’s not a widespread change. Adjustments are made all the time. This year — or this week — isn’t any different.

“There is a little bit of change,” Smith said, “but we’ve been practicing it, and I think we feel comfortable. I’m pretty confident.”

And make no mistake: Just because it’s the preseason doesn’t mean that there is nothing to play for.

“You always want to have fun, but I want to play competitively,” Trotman said. “We’re going out there to win tonight. We’re playing against the Devils, and we want to play Bruins hockey — want to set the tone early.

“Just because it’s preseason doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It’s never too early to set the tone for the season. Everyone wants to come in tonight, be competitive, and try and win a hockey game.”

Goalie Competition Kicks Off

There has been some buzz ever since Boston kicked off the preseason with seven goalies on its roster.

Sunday night, Smith and NHL veteran Jonas Gustavsson will get the first crack at showing what they can do.

Smith enters this season coming off a successful 2014-15 campaign in Providence, where he split time with Malcolm Subban and posted a 2.05 goals-against average with a .933 save percentage in 39 regular-season games.

Last year’s success, he said, put him in a good position heading into this year’s camp and the competition it has presented.

“I think last year, I matured a lot, and I think I grew into the goalie I wanted to [be],” he said. “I learned a lot, and I want to keep that ball rolling. I want to keep learning and keep developing as a goaltender, and as a person.”

And while he continues that trajectory, he has vowed to avoid focusing too much on the six other guys vying for one roster spot.

In his eyes, this camp isn’t much different from the other camps he has attended since turning pro in 2009-10.

“I think every year, you go into camp hoping to make the team,” he said. “In years past, there’s been guys like Jonas here, and Subban. But for myself, I’m just focusing on my game and getting in there and feeling comfortable and feeling strong in the net.”

There is no word on whether Smith or Gustavsson will get the start against New Jersey, but regardless of the coaches’ plan, Smith is ready for whatever awaits.

And first and foremost, he can’t wait to get into game action for the first time since April.

“I think practice is nice,” he said, “but games are good, too, because you get that game feel, that game tempo, those shots. The speed picks up a little bit. So I think it’s good to get in a game.”

Trotman Playing Vet on Sunday

Trotman has yet to play his first full season in the NHL. But on Sunday night, he will be one of the more veteran Bruins among the defensive corps that will be deployed against New Jersey.

In addition to Trotman, Boston’s blueline will feature 2015 draft picks Brandon Carlo and Jakub Zboril alongside Providence mainstay Tommy Cross as well as Bruins newcomers Colin Miller and Matt Irwin.

Trotman skated with Zboril during the morning session and is eager to see what the two of them can do together if the pairings hold for Sunday’s game.

“Today’s the first day I’ve skated with him; I met him off the ice a couple of times, but he seems like a pretty skilled player, seems like he moves the puck well, so it should be interesting,” Trotman said. “Should be a good night. Hopefully, I can get him involved early and get him feeling comfortable, and try and help him out.”

It wasn’t too long ago that Trotman found himself in Zboril’s position — playing in his first training camp game, alongside some seasoned NHL veterans, trying to make a good impression and showcase some skill.

“I’ve been there before, so I know what it’s like,” he said. “Hopefully, I can help him out and kind of ease his anxiety a little bit coming into camp.”

Projected Lineup vs. New Jersey Devils

Jimmy HayesRyan SpoonerBrett Connolly

Zac RinaldoBen SextonTyler Randell

Jake DeBruskAlex KhokhlachevSeth Griffith

Brandon DeFazioJoonas KemppainenMax Talbot

Matt IrwinBrandon Carlo

Jakub ZborilZach Trotman

Tommy CrossColin Miller

Goalies: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson

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