Bruins

Bruins defensemen need help

191545.jpg

Bruins defensemen need help

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

UNIONDALE, N.Y. A couple of years ago injuries to Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick sapped the Boston Bruins of much of their snap and transition in the middle of a promisingpostseason run.

All of the post-playoff dissections of that particularteam pointed to those injuries as theparamount reasons why the Bs dropped out of the playoffs in the Stanley Cup semi-finals in seven games against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins are similarly gifted offensively again this season, but are once more being stymied by a couple of key absencesalong their blueline due to injury.

The Bruins punctuated a four-game losing streak with a brutally dismal and spiritually discouraging loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Friday night a defeat that comes close to taking the cake, custard and pudding of bad losses this season.

It was the kind of dispiritingdefeatthat can make a hockeyteam search their collective soul for reasons why it happened in the first place.

I dont think our team has played as well since weve come back from out West. We had a good trip out there, but it seems like were a little out of synch, said Claude Julien, who has watched his team jump from a seven-game winning streak to a four-game losing stretch. Were not doing the little things well that we were doing before, and we need to find that part of our game again moving forward.

"There were some tough breaks in the game, but I think the team that really deserved the breaks won the game tonight.

For the second straight contestthe Bruins allowed their opponent more than 40 shots on net, and for the second straight game the normally defensively-sound Black and Gold members blew a two-goal lead. But this wasnt the Montreal Canadiens hell bent on revenge or overtime battles withworthyteams like the Penguins and Sabres battling for their postseason lives.'This was something to be ashamed of this late in the season.

It was a lowly Islanders team thats been playing much better hockey lately to be sure, but also a squadthats taken on ateam philosophy only Reg Dunlop or Oggie Oglethorpe would be proud of.Things fell apart in the third period against the Islanders in a span that saw Bostonlet in four unanswered goals, and featured a pair of pretty familiar-looking attributes in defeat:a defense folding with fatigue in the final 20 minutes and a defensemen unitexperiencing monumental difficulty breaking the puck out of their zone with consistency.

Its no coincidence thatfast-moving defenseman likeAndrew Ference and Steve Kampfer are out with injuries, and the Bruins appearvery much like the playoff team of two years ago that suddenly lost their mojo. With Ference and Kampfer on the shelf with injuries although it appears that Ference will rejoin the Bruins at practice on Sunday Matt Bartkowski has been thrust into the Bs lineup.

Its pretty clear that Bartkowski isnt ready for NHL prime time after several looks through this year, and that was hammered home when he didnt play a single shift after 4:42 of shaky play in the first period.That meant Zdeno Chara had to log 27 plus minutes of ice time, Tomas Kaberle was out for 24 minutes of ice time and both Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg were over 20 minutes for a blueline corps thats lost some of their offensive snap, puck-moving crackle and defensive pop.

A little bit of stability and a little bit of familiarity with guys playing together on the back end would certainly help, said Julien. The defensemen hasnt been at the top of its game as a whole, and maybe once we get some guys back thatll help stabilize things a little bit.

Weve been off our game. Weve been out of synch moving the puck around and making things happen. Plays just arent happening as easily as they were in the past.

There were some positives, of course. Chara snapped an 0-for-21 drought on the power play with a one-time hammer from the top of the right faceoff circle, Kaberle notched his second assist in 10 games with the Bs on Charas power play strike, and Adam McQuaid blocked a Herculean seven shots.

But poor Seidenberg was once again in the wrong place at the wrong time, and watched helplessly as a Jack Hillen blast headed wide of the net, of course nailed the Bs defenseman in the hip and bounced past a flailing Tim Thomas for the game-winning goal in the third period.Seidenberg has been solid for the Bruins, and hasn't deserved the kind of buzzard's luck that's followed him around with bounces this season.

I was standing in front ofTimmy and it hit me in the midsection. I dont know what else to do, said an exasperated Seidenberg. I was trying not to let any guys get in front of Timmy or box him out. I dont think that shot was even going to be on net, and it hits me and goes past Timmy. Its very frustrating.

Seidenberg was in the right place doing the right thing, but it seems that the Bruins defensemen corps cant catch the break they need. Perhaps it will come in the form of good health -- and D-man reserves like Kampfer and Ference moving closer to a team looking for all hands on deck amid a four-game losing streak.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

column_bruins_peter_cehlarik_kenny_agostino_101817.jpg

Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would appear that Bruce Cassidy is ready to start shuffling the deck up front after a slow start to the season.

With the Bruins ranking among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively just a handful of games into the season, they are both introducing a few new forwards to the mix while hoping for full health to a couple of other ones. 

First off, the Bruins appear that they might get David Backes back for Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks after his bout with diverticulitis, supplying some badly needed size, strength and net-front tenacity on the wing. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) might not be too far behind after going through a full practice wearing a no-contact jersey. The return of No. 37 would help in any number of different areas once he’s good to go, and would have a cascade effect on the rest of the forwards.  

MORE:

Getting both players back in short order would give the Bruins a toughness around the net that was certainly missing against Malcolm Subban and the Golden Knights, and hasn’t been there consistently this season with No. 37 and No. 42 out of commission.

“[Bergeron] is progressing. In the past we’ve ruled him out ahead of time, but we’re not ruling him out for [Thursday vs. the Canucks]. Backes looks closer to being ready to play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of the games that have gotten away from us, those guys are glue guys that really add that element to us to keep us on the rails without the game getting away. Some nights you just need their offense or some hard defending, and you miss their leadership obviously. They’re all good players, but most of them you know they’re bringing that North/South game and a few good shifts here or there could have got us back on track.

“[Bergeron] is underrated in his ability to get to the front of the net especially with Marchand and Pastrnak on his wings. So we miss that part of it: Getting there on time, making plays and finishing off plays. Backes is just a big body there and you certainly miss that part of it. With Vegas the other night that was one of the biggest things we were missing was getting second chances, shooting for second chances, hitting the net and getting those rebound chances against a team that was harder to get inside on.

A few moves on Wednesday might also suggest some on-the-fly changes with some forwards that haven’t been working out with the Black and Gold. Ryan Spooner suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday night against Vegas, and it sounds like it might not be a short-term injury for the center with just one point in his first five games. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano also haven’t produced much in the first couple of weeks of the season, and could be in danger of losing roster spots to Providence call-ups Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik.  

Both players were late cuts from training camp and were showing the blend of size, strength, skill, experience and production that Boston needs more of as they search for answers among their forward group. Beleskey, Spooner and Vatrano have combined for one point, a minus-6 rating and just 12 shots on net in a combined 14 games this season, so clearly that is one of the first spots to look for upgrading the roster from within.

“[A tryout period] is a good way to put it. We talked about that in training camp when we had a long look at guys, but not Cehlarik because he didn’t get a chance to play [because of shoulder surgery]. He obviously piqued our interest last year and did a lot of good things for us,” said Cassidy, who has been in a state of constant flux putting forward lines together due to injury and ineffectiveness. “We just went in a different direction at the trade deadline, but we brought him up to give him a look. We have a decision tomorrow and I’m not going to say whether [Cehlarik] is in or out.

“He’s really played well in Providence, and we just thought he might be able to help us. Some of it may depend on the health of the other guys as far as who’s in and who’s out. If both Cehlarik and Agostino are both in the lineup there’s a chance [they might play together]. They were with [Riley] Nash today in the middle, and he has some of the same qualities as JFK down in Providence. But until we sort through who’s in for tomorrow, and that starts at the top with Bergeron and Backes, then stuff will fall into place for all of them.”

Depending on how Don Sweeney plays with his 23-roster spots, perhaps the time has come to put one of those players on waivers for a trip to the AHL. Simply based on merit it would be Vatrano and the total nothingness he’s shown in his first four games this season, but there would also be a legitimate concern they’d lose the 23-year-old Massachusetts native on waivers for nothing.

For their part, players like Agostino and Cehlarik ripped up the AHL while teamed with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence, and were just looking for their chance to carve out a role in Boston. Now they may get their chance based on others not really grasping their opportunity, and they’re ready if that’s the case.

“It’s encouraging for me, but I’m just taking things day-by-day. I’m not looking past anything and I’m looking in the past. I just take things as they come here,” said Agostino, who leads the Bruins two goals and seven points in three games thus far. “This isn’t my first time [up at the NHL], so I’m just going to do whatever I can to make the best impression possible.”

What if Agostino and Cehlarik, a career AHL player and a former third-round pick, can’t make the impact that the Bruins are looking for?

Hopefully by then the Bruins will at least have their top two lines healthy and firing on all cylinders, and can continue to mix and match things in the bottom six until they find a combination of forwards that work. But it may come to a point where the Bruins need to look outside the organization for an impact forward or two, or at least find somebody that can make an impact on the ice rather than will themselves invisible.

Only Beleskey has been at all effective this season as he’s dropped the gloves and played physical at times, and certainly can still be an effective third or fourth liner with the right players skating alongside him. For those reasons along with the massive contract money still owed him, Beleskey should be given every opportunity to succeed in Boston. But one thing is clear at this point: There is too much dead weight on the Bruins roster right now at the forward position, and something needs to be done about it if they hope to pull themselves out of their early-season funk.   

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

The Bruins have absorbed another substantial injury to their forward group with the news that Ryan Spooner will be out 4-6 weeks with a torn groin. According to sources, it was something he was playing with for some time before the right adductor muscle in his groin finally tore in Sunday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

With Spooner out of the Bruins lineup, there will be challenges to both team speed and to a power play unit that the fast-skating center was a key contributor over the last couple of seasons. Sean Kuraly was centering Tim Schaller and David Backes in Spooner’s absence during Wednesday practice, but it remains to be seen how they’ll go about filling the void for the next couple of months.

MORE:

“We’re no different than anybody else. We’d like to have our full complement [of players],” said Bruce Cassidy, when addressing the injury situation. “To be healthy and 100 percent in this league is tough, but we’d love to be there.”

Spooner was very clearly slowed by something at the start of the season with just one point and four shots on net in his first five games of the season along with a minus-2 rating, and that’s a tough development for a player like Spooner that relies on his speed and skating for much of his effectiveness at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see if Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson eventually gets a look given his fast start at the AHL Level, and the fact that Spooner is on a one-year deal that may see him playing somewhere other than Boston next season, or perhaps even following this spring’s trade deadline. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE