Bruce Cassidy hoping to address Bruins' defensive slippage

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Bruce Cassidy hoping to address Bruins' defensive slippage

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Boston Bruins have won two of their last three games while playing some very beatable teams with the likes of the Rangers, the Sabres and the Devils. But bad habits have officially crept into their collective game. The Bruins had a lackluster first period against the Rangers, but managed to blow them out once Henrik Lundqvist started experiencing some tough times between the pipes.

The Bruins simply weren’t good against the Sabres while allowing odd-man rushes amid shoddy puck management and some shaky defensive work. Then on Sunday they gut-checked their way to a win over New Jersey with a phenomenal individual effort from Anton Khudobin, and just enough offense to outweigh some miscues and careless plays in the other two zones.

The Bruins have allowed as many goals in their last two games (seven) as they had in their previous five games, which speaks to some slippage in their game that Bruce Cassidy acknowledges is in need of a correction.

“Slot coverage on plays from below the goal line, and communication between our two D’s and our low forward, generally our center man, [because] I think we’ve been a little late on who is going,” Cassidy said when asked what stood out in video review by the coaching staff. “It’s in our system that we don’t want to give too up too much time in that trapezoid area. Some of the other ones are puck management in the neutral zone where we need to just get wiser and more responsible. Definitely from goal-to-goal line our play needs to be better, and our wingers collapsing when we are losing that [coverage]. So our layers, I guess, have broken down at times more so than earlier in the year. I think the New York Ranger game, for a coach was awesome, but it was also problematic.

“We had breakdowns in the first period in our slot coverage, and [Anton Khudobin] made some great saves. They got masked because we had a terrific second period…then the players forget about the first period where things could have gone the other way. That’s when it bled into Saturday and Sunday. Now we won two of the three games and this is a results-oriented business, so we can’t forget that. But [the season] is 82 games and we’re trying to play the same way every night where we win the slot battle and defend hard. So that’s been addressed. I also find February is a tough time of year to sometimes get the players’ attention, depending on where you are. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot, so that’s the challenge for the coaching staff right now … to get their attention, and get back to detailed hockey.”

The big challenge for the B’s is to make sure this defensive slippage becomes just that, and doesn’t devolve into something worse with a five game road trip. The real danger is that repeated mistakes can turn into bad habits if they’re not nipped in the bud.

Morning Skate: Yes, Kessel values Cups more than scoring titles

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Morning Skate: Yes, Kessel values Cups more than scoring titles

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while shaking my head at the disparity in talent levels between Ilya Kovalchuk and anybody on Team offense to the guys we sent over there.

*Phil Kessel said he values winning Stanley Cups over scoring titles, but does he value them more than hot dogs from his favorite food stand in Toronto? That is the question.

*Here’s a fine tribute from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Steve Conroy about his late partner at the Boston Herald, columnist/hockey writer Steve Harris, who sadly passed away a couple of days ago while still manning the beat until the past week or so. It’s still such a shocking loss for everybody in the local hockey community, and this piece does a good job of capturing his spirit.

*So, controversial Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is going to now also be the CEO of the team as well? Yikes.

*Damien Cox takes a look at the Canadian NHL teams that look like they’re going to fall short of the playoffs and what they need to do to right their respective ships.

*The Nashville Predators explain how they are “all in” at the NHL trade deadline with another clear shot at a Cup run.

*For something completely different: A ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies from worst to best that suffers from recent-itis where a number of movies just released are probably given way, way too much deference even though they are good superhero flicks.



Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

When the Bruins take the ice against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night deep in the outer reaches of Western Canada, there will be a couple of things at play. One will be the start of a long sprint to the end of the regular season with 27 games in a scant 52 days with no more long breaks to catch their collective breath.

The worst of the worst will be 16 games in March, which could be the thing that ultimately knocks the Black and Gold down a peg after they’ve managed to play through everything else this season.

Trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning by just a couple of points for the NHL’s top spot, the Bruins know the schedule itself will be one of their biggest challenges of the season.

“We’re certainly aware of our schedule the rest of the way, and we know that it’s going to be a challenge. There aren’t too many more days off and we’re pretty much playing every other day,” said Patrice Bergeron. “So some of it will be about getting the proper rest and making sure we’re doing everything to be ready to play. But this has also been a group that’s done a really good job of handling other things that have been thrown at us whether it’s injuries or something else. This is just another challenge to take on.”

But the other, smaller picture is of the five-game trip through Canada with a final stop in Buffalo next Sunday. The Bruins will play those five games in ten days in their longest trip of the regular season. They hope to conjure up some of the same mojo that kicked off their three-month winning binge way back in mid-November. It was then that the Bruins righted the ship on a trip through California and won games in Los Angeles and San Jose that kicked off a four-game winning streak that helped change the season.

The Bruins are much more comfortable now with a giant cushion for a playoff spot and a legitimate chance to overtake the Lightning, but Bruce Cassidy is hoping to see the same kind of hunger in this particular long stretch away from home.

“This is much more about what we are and what we look like, but having said that the [California trip] was the beginning of us [turning things around]. It had us gutting out some wins in typically tough places to play like L.A. and San Jose. [Anton] Khudobin was in net and we were relying on some call-up guys, but that was really when our D-corps really stiffened up,” said Cassidy. “It kind of got us back to our heads above water, and from there we kind of took off. But now this is a different group in a different position, and we’re pushing to be in a different position.

“I think you can say Tuukka [Rask] won us all these games or [Brad] Marchand or [Patrice] Bergeron. Our best players have been our best players, but our support players have been very good, especially on those nights when we’ve needed to lean on them a little more when they’ve able to shut down [the Bergeron Line]. I think our support players deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The Bruins clearly hope this mammoth trip can be another seasonal turning point that pushes them in a direction toward a strong, decisive finish to the marathon of a regular season.