Bruins

Bruins get back to defensive basics vs. Leafs

565024.jpg

Bruins get back to defensive basics vs. Leafs

It had to be pretty satisfying for Claude Julien to see that his team, which was in the midst of winning 13 game in 14 tries, was still willing to quickly correct things that were spinning out of hand on this week.

The Bs were slipping in their neutral zone coverage and defensive gap control Wednesday night in their win at the Air Canada Centre over the Maple Leafs, and addressed it in practice.

It took the Bruins exactly zero games to install the adjustment into their game plan, and their skaters choked off the speed and skill game Toronto intended to attack them. It was readily apparent after a scoreless first period that the hockey game had taken a much different tenor than the 6-3 shootout in Toronto earlier in the week, and that was about the Bruins dictating terms to the Leafs in a very familiar pattern.

As is always the case with the Bruins, great neutral zone defense and quick puck turnovers are becoming offensive chances for the Bs attackers. Once the team-wide defensive support is going and the offense is providing enough to support everything else, the Bruins have a pretty well-oiled hockey machine thats decimating opponents.

I think you're seeing our team, our 'D' pairings really coming together. The forwards are helping out tremendously by coming back. They're stopping a lot of those great plays, the late passes with guys coming in the zone, said Joe Corvo, who probably hasnt seen defensive support like hes seeing now on any of the teams he previously played for. We're transitioning off that so quickly and getting chances from that. I think guys realize that, just coming back as fast as they can that they're going to get more chances.

Whereas once the Bruins might have been slow to admit problems creeping into their game -- or buying too much into the press clippings or proclamations of how great they were after a historic month of November -- the sound defensive game against the Leafs showed they could immediately roll up their sleeves, reattach their blue collars and get down to business.

For Julien, its satisfying to see his team has matured with the Cup win. Theyve grown to the point where they can correct whats wrong midstream and strive to remain at the top of the standings now that theyve reclaimed their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference.

I think the biggest thing is that sometimes as a coach you are always afraid youre going to peak too early. Then when things start going bad it will take a while to get yourself back on track, said Claude Julien. But I feel differently about this because of the sentiment in the room and the feeling is were not taking anything for granted.

Were staying poised, were not getting cocky, were not getting complacent, were still focused and thats the part I like. Thats probably from experience and weve seen other teams in the past. We talk about the Red Wings and every year they come back strong and maybe we are a team heading in that direction.

For a team in Toronto thats fifth in the NHL with 3.08 goals per game and has been cashing in on plenty of their offensive chances, the Bruins gave another reminder to the Maple Leafs that good hard-nosed defense beats electric offense nearly every single time.

Amazingly the Bruins have held the Leafs to only six goals in their four meetings this season, and much of that defensive success is due to bottling up Phil Kessel and his offensive arsenal with brutish physicality.

Its about a well-placed Zdeno Chara body check in the corner on Phil Kessel or a Johnny Boychuk detonation of Clarke MacArthur in the middle of the ice that suddenly evens the playing field.

Or better yet puts the Bruins in the drivers seat while slowly grinding the Leafs down into a bag of wet foliage ready for the compost.

You look at our D, theyre pretty good at shutting teams down. Were probably one of the best, if not the best, shutdown D in the league, said Tuukka Rask, who made 21 saves in a rocking chair type evening. The other guys are really solid too. So the Leafs havent got too much offense, especially today. But theyre still a dangerous team and youve got to respect that.

The Bruins showed respect for that in the way they got back to defensive systems basics this week, but it seems the Bruins have finally learned the difference between respecting an opponent and not giving them too much respect.

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

Groin tear to sideline Bruins' Spooner for four to six weeks

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Groin tear to sideline Bruins' Spooner for four to six weeks

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