Bruins

Bruins' depth on display in rout of Flyers

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Bruins' depth on display in rout of Flyers

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA The chatter all through the hockey season was about the embarrassment of riches Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren had built with admirable roster depth among the forward and defense positions.

Critics crowed about Mike Richards or Jeff Carter potentially skating in a third line role and Andrej Meszaros distinction as the best bottom pairing defensemen in all of the NHL.

It was assumed that just about any unwitting playoff opponent would be swarmed under by Philadelphias sheer depth.

The Flyers cruised through much of the regular season, but faltered late amid some injuries and limped into the postseason with a 2-4-2 record in their final eight games while falling out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Now the regular season is over and the Boston Bruins uttered a bold statement about depth, quality and their own worthiness in Game One with a 7-3 thrashing of the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton headlined a group of 10 Bs players that cracked the score sheet in the victory that screamed out depth and team, and it appeared the Flyers were having some trouble keeping up with Bostons pace.

In essence the Big Bad Bruins beat the Broad Street Bullies at their own game and thats because its also Bostons modus operandi when it comes to style of play.

While Marchand stuck to sniffing out rebound goals around the net and his Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi continued to play at a high level, the Bs first line came alive that made them look as if theyd been freed from jail.

With Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban and Hal Gill no longer protecting the front of the net, Krejci, Horton and Lucic combined for 11 shots on net and three goals scored.

The Bs really poured it on with a total of 33 shots on net, another 25 shots that were blocked by the Philly defense and eight shots that missed the mark totaling 66 actual shots fired by Boston attackers buzzing the Flyers cage in wave after wave.

The Habs were able to clog up the middle and gum up the transitional offense because thats their style, but the Bruins looked awfully unimpeded and unafraid on their way through the attack zone.

Montreal really paid a lot of attention to that line. They really had some hard matchups against that line, and certainly did a great job, said Claude Julien. Montreals a great defensive team. Thats their strength, and they put their best players against that line. It made it tough on Krejci.

But luckily we had some depth and we had some other lines that came up big for us. But this team that were playing right now is very similar to ours. Theyre big, theyre strong, theyre physical, and I think right now, this is more of a series thats going head to head.

Krejci just turned 25 several days ago, and gave himself a belated birthday gift by torching a Flyers unit that tried to get into his head early in the game.

In his first playoff game back in Philly since Mike Richards ended his season with a hit that painfully dislocated his right wrist, several Flyers players chirped at the Bs center on the ice and no doubt threatened to take him out again while the fast-paced action unfolded in the first period.

Obviously the other guys from the other team let me know in the first period about last year, but I try to forget about these things. We were yapping back and forth, and they were letting me know, said Krejci. But its a new year, a new series and we have so many new players on this team. We didnt talk about it that much. We just focused on todays game.

Needless to say it was Krejci that chiefly made the Flyers pay when the final buzzer had sounded.

Krejci finished with four points (2 goals, 2 assists) and now has eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in five games against Philadelphia this season counting both the regular season and playoffs. Rather than get locked into a stupid trash-talking match with the shadowy smack-talking characters on the Philly bench, the Czech magic man created offensive plays with the puck and worked even harder when he didnt have possession.

Both of Krejcis goals were the results of a price being paid in front of the net the first a Nathan Horton shot he intercepted and flipped past Brian Boucher, and the second a redirection of an Adam McQuaid bomb and he showed plenty of feistiness dumping former P-Bruins teammate Kris Versteeg when the Flyers wing stole a puck from him around the Boston cage.

It was a moment that might have saved a goal for the Flyers, and also showed the flickering spark that can elevate Krejci into something great from the above-average player he is on most occasions.

Krejci was the biggest single key to the Bs in their second round series against the Flyers after things fell apart in his absence last year, and he served big notice hell once again be making things happen with his mind, hands and deceptive shot now that hes rolling.

Its nice to see that line do so well tonight. They obviously had some challenges in the last series, said Julien. Two of the overtime goals were scored by that line, but tonight I thought they were a real solid line. They did their job and they did it well. David Krejci was a real good player for us, there is no doubt there. Hes capable of being that and I think hes ready to face this challenge.

Not everything was rosy, of course. The Bruins finished 0-for-5 on the power play and didnt look much better in any facet of that particular special teams game.

Theyve scored exactly one power play goal in the last calendar month, and havent notched anything on the man advantage since a 3-1 win over the Senators on April 9 a span during which the Bs have gone an anemic 0-for-26 on the power play and created some NHL history in the process. Its getting close to Greek tragedy levels at this point, and inserting different elements like Marchand or Gregory Campbell might just be what the doctor ordered for a stale bunch.

Bostons third line of Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder also had a quiet afternoon with four shots on net in total including three from Peverley all by himself and little in the way of influencing the game.

But that didnt matter much at all in a game where so many things went right.

The Bs total decimation of Philly in Game One certainly had something to do with the Flyers not ready to match Bostons intensity at the start of the series, but it was also an accurate barometer for exactly what the Black and Gold can accomplish when they have as many as three different lines going at the same time.

Thats true depth for the Bruins, and that will be the ultimate battle between Boston and Philly that takes center stage with both teams flexing their muscles for a chance at the conference finals.

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

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

BRIGHTON, Mass – The good news for Tuukka Rask on Friday is that there was no dark, quiet room required for the Bruins goaltender when he reported to the Warrior Ice Arena practice facility for treatment for his concussion.

Instead, the Bruins goalie got going on the concussion protocol after getting steam-rolled by Anders Bjork at practice on Wednesday morning and started the road back to recovery from his first concussion suffered at the NHL level. In the further good news department, Bruins backup netminder Anton Khudobin stepped up in Rask’s absence and stopped 26-of-29 shots in a winning effort over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

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So now Khudobin has twice as many wins as Rask in half as many starts in the opening two weeks of the season. That’s certainly good for the Russian backup that stumbled out of the starting gate last season but has really fortified his spot early this year with a strong training camp followed by a .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average this year.  

“I’ve been there before. I’ve played many games in a row before in the AHL and the NHL, so it’s the same routine. It’s just harder to be honest when you’re playing one game every two weeks or something,” said Khudobin. “I’ll talk to Goalie Bob about what I did good or bad, get ready for practice, stretch it out and warm it up, go get it at practice and get ready for the games.”

That’s in stark contrast to Rask, who has a pair of losses to the worst team in the NHL last season, the Colorado Avalanche, and a defeat out in Las Vegas where he was out-dueled by Bruins castoff Malcolm Subban. The defense hasn’t been particularly good in front of him in those games and the team only scored a total of four goals in Rask’s three losses, but the All-Star netminder was also far from sharp with an .882 save percentage to start the season.

The home loss to Colorado, in particular, was a poor performance from Rask where he buried his team with an early deficit once a couple of soft goals by him in the first period. Compounding the lack of quality play from Rask was his odd choice to cease talking about team performance with the media following the loss to the Golden Knights.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much,” said Rask after the Sunday loss in Vegas. “We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

It certainly sounded and felt like Rask was directed to only talk about his own play by somebody higher up in the Bruins organization, and it was that kind of a development rather than the Bruins goalie passive-aggressively dissing his teammates. But that kind of directive from the organization would also speak to some pre-existing friction between Rask and his teammates where past criticism has perhaps rubbed some of them the wrong way.

It felt that way when Rask and David Krejci spoke about things in a tense dressing room in Las Vegas following last weekend’s loss, and it felt that way late last season when the Finnish goalie stayed home in Boston while watching Khudobin win one of the biggest games of the season in Brooklyn against the Islanders. At times in the past, something hasn’t always felt quite right about the dynamic between Rask and the rest of the Bruins, and it’s not a particularly good sign that both parties seemed to already be headed down that path just five games into this season.

All of this makes for some very interesting timing with the Anders Bjork collision into Rask that knocked him for a loop, and has now opened the door wide for Khudobin to start a few games in a row. Should Khudobin play well and continue to backstop a winning hockey team playing hard in front of him, it will make for a much tougher goalie decision than some might anticipate. Rask is clearly the better goaltender in terms of talent, upside, resume and accomplishments over the last eight years, but the question becomes how much is that offset by the Bruins team potentially playing a better brand of hockey with Khudobin between the pipes.

Maybe it’s because Khudobin is the backup and the Bruins are trying to play tighter defense in front of him, but it’s hard to argue the fact that Boston seems to play a smarter, stronger game when the backup gets the call.  

“That’s what I’m there for, but at the same time, I wasn’t thinking, 'Oh maybe [Rask] is going to get hurt and he’s not going to play [the next few games].' I’m not thinking that way, definitely,” said Khudobin. “I was just focusing on my practice. Whatever coach is going to tell me after the practice, then I will keep moving from that point.”

The best-case scenario for the Bruins is that Khudobin plays good, strong, winning hockey in Rask’s absence and that in turn lights a fire under the No. 1 goaltender after he looked fairly laissez-faire in his first few games this season. That’s what everybody saw out of Rask late last season when he was called out by the Bruins coaching staff and challenged by a red-hot Khudobin pushing for some big game starts.

Perhaps that is exactly the kind of collective kick to the hockey pants that’s needed for Rask to start carrying the Bruins team once he gets healthy again.

A deeper question, however, would involve asking how much longer the Bruins want to hitch their wagons to a $7 million a year goalie that needs to mentally recharge his batteries from time to time, and who begins to wilt performance-wise if he makes more than 55-60 start in an NHL season. Members of the Rask Fan Club will point to his career .922 save percentage, but it's been three years since he's been able to consistently reach that level of performance. 

The older Rask, 30, gets, the more baggage is getting added on with a performance level that’s dropped from his Vezina Trophy-winning days. Some of that is clearly about the defense getting a makeover in front of him, but it’s also about Rask just not always being as consistently good when Boston needs him most in the big games.

Khudobin certainly wouldn’t be the long-term answer for the Bruins, and the jury is out on whether or not Zane McIntyre has a future in the NHL as a goalie. So there’s no long-term solution if they suddenly decided to go away from Rask for any reason. But if this humble hockey writer was coaching the Bruins and Khudobin goes on a winning tear over the next few weeks? A healthy Rask wouldn’t automatically be handed his No. 1 workload upon his return, and it would be a couple of goalies splitting time to decide who wants it more.  

That kind of situation might not be up to goaltender controversy standards at this early point in the season, but there’s nothing wrong with making Rask grind for it a little when he does come back after breezing through some early season losses. 

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Morning Skate: Habs' Pacioretty blames himself

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Morning Skate: Habs' Pacioretty blames himself

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while watching the Montreal Canadiens crash and burn in the Atlantic Division.  

*Max Pacioretty is certainly falling on his sword up in Montreal calling himself “the worst one on the ice” as the Habs really struggle to get going this season.

*Brad Marchand was on the Twitter machine after Thursday night’s win and having some fun with what his video game controller probably looks like when he plays hockey.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the details of the Erik Gudbranson boarding hit on Frank Vatrano from last night that looks like it’s going to get the Vancouver D-man suspended.

*Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still adjusting to the changes that are taking place with the Arizona Coyotes as they struggle in the desert.

*The Maple Leafs are looking and acting like contenders early on up in Toronto, and that would be a very good thing for the NHL.

*For something completely different: The Backstreet Boys are going country? Now I’ve definitely seen it all.