Bruins

Bruins have NHL on the defensive

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Bruins have NHL on the defensive

BOSTON -- Pekka Rinne finished second to Tim Thomas in the Vezina Trophy voting last year by a healthy margin despite an amazing season for the Nashville Predators.

But the Preds' puck-stopper did surpass the Bruins goaltender in one pretty significant category -- and probably the one area that playersuse as their ultimate scoreboard--when he signed a seven-year, 49 million contract with Nashvilleon Thursday afternoon.

Rinne is in the same elite goaltender class as Thomas and even finished ahead of Thomas in the Hart Trophy voting last year. Hes a 29-year-old goalie entering his prime in a positional category where most players dont truly find greatness until after their 30th birthday. Hell also be the highest-paid goalie in the NHL beginning next season when his 7 million-a-year contract kicks into gear in Music City.

So much of the game of hockey revolves around the goaltending position, said Nashville GM David Poile during the conference call to announce Rinnes signing. So many of us believe that you build a hockey team from the goaltender on out. In our estimation weve signed the best goaltender in the NHL, and he gives us the best opportunity moving forward to backstop the Predators in their quest to win the Stanley Cup.

All that being said, the former Nashville eighth-round pick has just one playoff series victory under his belt and has a tremendous amount left to prove along with his Preds' teammates.

How does this all involve the Bruins?

Theres no denying Rinnes big-bucks deal became an easier sell for an executive like Poile after watching the cheap route on goaltending go belly up around the leagueafter it was in vogue only a year or two ago. Instead it is the combination ofsuperb goaltending fromThomas along with a hearty defense and hard-working offense that have become the successful template after Boston's run to the Cup.

Everybody pointed to the successful goalie duo of Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood with the Detroit Red Wings as the successful model for teams looking to simply load up on quality forwards and defensemen in front of the goaltenders. Philadelphia infamously tried to go with the goaltender-by-committee route last season, with disastrous results that ended with a blown apart roster.

Things are now trending in the opposite direction after Tim Thomas carried the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship last season. Goaltending has always been important at the NHL level, but last year proved that elite goaltending can be the biggest game-changer during the postseason.

That seems to be message going around the league after the Flyers (Ilya Bryzgalov) and Predators (Linne) locked up their goalies to long-term, big-money contracts. An elite goaltender and a decent defensive system all but guarantee that a team will consistently be in the hunt for a playoff berth, and the myth of the hot goaltender in the playoffs was once again proven true with each diving, flopping little piece of goaltending magnificence Thomas authored during his brilliant postseason run.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli realized that before anyone.

Rinnes contract pushes Thomas 5 million-per-season pact down to the 11th-highest salary cap figure for a goalie, and certifies just how valuable Bostons franchise goaltender has become since he signed his deal three years ago.

Just little more than a year ago, Chiarelli was harangued from seemingly all corners of the hockey world for handing an aging goaltender in Thomas such a deal. The Bruins were having salary cap issues, and many called for Chiarelli to deal Thomas.

But Chiarelli wisely held on to Thomas through his hip struggles after receiving only middling offers for him two summers ago, and then reaped the full benefits when Thomas won the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup while putting together one of the best seasons in the modern era of goaltending. The tight cap situation, meanwhile, was eventually settled when Marc Savard was lost to a concussion and Marco Sturm was traded away for a bag full of nothing.

So those who argued it was a troublesome contract for the Bruins and, yes, I am raising my hand while I type this away on my keyboard now have to admit that Chiarelli and the Bruins got good, old-fashioned value for Thomas.

Its become even better with a motley goaltending crew of Rinne, Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundqvist, Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Cristobal Huet, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur all earning more money than what the best goaltender in the world will bank.

The Rinne deal could also set fellow Finnish countrymen Tuukka Rask off wondering just how much he could earn if he were dealt to another team.

But thats a story for another day.

This weeks story is about a goaltender entering his prime in Nashville that just signed a lucrative new deal, and about a 37-year-old puck-stopping war horse in Boston who's become the hot new trend in an NHL world where everybody wants to be like the champs.

Rask out tonight as he recovers from practice collision

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Rask out tonight as he recovers from practice collision

BRIGHTON, Mass – The string of injuries for the Bruins continues as Tuukka Rask (upper body) is out for tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden after getting trucked by Anders Bjork in practice Wednesday.

Rask was wobbly-legged while being helped off the ice after the violent collision and the 21-year-old Bjork looked like he’d also needed a couple of stitches on his chin after bloodying his practice jersey.

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The big concern is Rask still being evaluated by Bruins medical personnel for a possible concussion. It will be Anton Khudobin stepping in place for him against the Canucks with Providence Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre serving as his backup.

“Tuukka is out tonight. He’s going to get reevaluated today and we’ll have a better idea tomorrow,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Anton will start [against the Canucks].”

Clearly, Khudobin didn’t like seeing his goaltending partner get drilled in a spirited practice, but the 32-year-old is clearly feeling confident after a strong camp and a winning season debut last week against the Arizona Coyotes.

“You don’t want to see that, but at the same time we’ve got to keep moving forward and hopefully he’s going to get better soon,” said Khudobin, who stopped 29-of-31 shots in the win over Arizona last weekend. “I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year. My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

Otherwise, it looks like the Bruins will at least be getting some of their healthy bodies back with David Backes in the lineup and Patrice Bergeron a game-time decision against the Canucks. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings based on Wednesday’s practice:

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork
DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak
Schaller-Kuraly-Backes
Beleskey-Nash-Agostino
 
Chara-McAvoy
Miller-Carlo
Krug-McQuaid

Khudobin 

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

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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.  

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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.   

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