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Special teams get tweaked

Stars present a challenge

WILMINGTON - For a good chunk of yesterday's final tuneup at Ristuccia Arena, the Bruins focused on special teams, rolling out what could serve as their power-play and penalty-killing units tonight against Dallas in the season opener.

And for good reason. Last season, the Stars, with smooth-moving defenseman Sergei Zubov quarterbacking the power play, recorded an 18.5 percent efficiency rate on the man-advantage, seventh best in the NHL.

"Certainly makes for a pretty potent power play," said Bruins coach Claude Julien, mentioning the strength of Dallas forwards Mike Modano and Philippe Boucher. "That's where we've got to be real disciplined [tonight]. We've got to stay out of the penalty box."

The Bruins haven't spent significant practice time honing their penalty kill. But based on the looks in yesterday's practice, Andrew Alberts and Bobby Allen could be a defensive pairing, with P.J. Axelsson and Chuck Kobasew as possibilities up front.

This season, the penalty-killing forwards are being asked to take on additional responsibilities. They must block shots from the point, steer puck carriers along the wall to the defensemen, and collapse into the slot to take away bona fide scoring chances.

"Just protect the middle," Alberts said of the primary penalty-killing concept. "Get in the slot, get sticks in, and our forwards will be down there. After that, bodies out in the shooting lane and keep our sticks out in the passing lane."

Shooting stars

Last year, the Bruins were victorious in nine shootouts, one fewer than league leaders Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

During camp, other than some practice-ending drills, the Bruins didn't focus much on the shootout, although Julien promises it will be featured throughout the regular season.

"I used to do it all the time with goaltenders in the past," said Julien. "Take your shooters that are more likely to go and make it a real shootout situation. We're certainly going to do that more and more as we go along here."

Last season, Phil Kessel emerged as the go-to shootout guy, slotting into the third hole. At the end of practice yesterday, Kessel and the other forwards lined up for breakaways against Tim Thomas. The player with the worst showing was rookie Milan Lucic, who stumbled as he approached Thomas and nearly planted his face into the post.

Rookie debut?

While Julien wouldn't tip his hand on who would play tonight, Lucic is a strong bet to see fourth-line action.

Lucic's parents will attend the game, which is standard procedure - in fact, it's written into entry-level contracts - for a player making his NHL debut.

Lucic said a distant cousin will most likely attend tomorrow's game against Phoenix, while his billet family in Vancouver plans to be present for games next week in Southern California. Meanwhile, Lucic's junior team has named forward Spencer Machacek captain in his absence. If Lucic goes back to Vancouver, he will reclaim the captaincy.

Question in goal

No word on whether Thomas or Manny Fernandez will start tonight. Julien also didn't specify whether he would rotate his goalies this weekend. Fernandez was the first goalie off the ice yesterday. The first netminder into the dressing room usually gets the following start . . . Glen Metropolit's one-year, one-way contract will pay the 33-year-old $500,000 this season, $25,000 more than the league minimum. Metropolit is not eligible for bonuses . . . Not the best start for Dallas goalie Marty Turco, who allowed four goals on 23 shots in a 4-3 season-opening loss to Colorado Wednesday. "We're going to need better goaltending than that," coach Dave Tippett told the Dallas Morning News after the game. Expect Turco to start again tonight over Mike Smith . . . Brandon Bochenski, projected to be a healthy scratch tonight, worked with Zdeno Chara after practice, giving the captain several deliberate thumps along the boards to test the defenseman's shoulder. Chara appeared fine after the hits . . . Chara and Patrice Bergeron were the point men yesterday on the No. 1 power-play unit, with Marc Savard, Glen Murray, and Peter Schaefer skating down low . . . Julien anticipated a delay getting into Dallas last night because of an issue with the team charter. Players and staff had a team dinner planned upon their arrival in Texas.

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