Bruins

Bruins hope LucicHorton breakup sparks team

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Bruins hope LucicHorton breakup sparks team

BOSTON -- Claude Julien now looks like something of a hockey prophet after openly wondering two weeks ago if he might just have to break up last years top scoring line for the Bruins. Offensive struggles can prompt bold changes, and the Bs are finally getting a little bold.

The line-change predictions came true in the third period of Bostons Tuesday night loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, and it now appears further changes will be in the offing in their next game.

The Bs coach, who gave the top trio ample time together to work things out, admitted he didnt know what might happen with changed forward combinations but the status quo wasnt getting it done among the 12 forwards.

The Bruins are dead last in the NHL with 1.67 goals per game after their first six games of the season, and its clear many of the name forwards are pressing too hard.

The Bruins havent had a first-period goal since the season-opening loss to the Flyers, and havent held a lead in a games two periods since their second game of the year against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

All of these trends dont bode well for the Stanley Cup champs, and many of the individual players are being pretty hard on themselves.

The way Im playing; the way were not scoring, both me personally and the team, said Nathan Horton. Im not playing the way I want to play. We just need to work harder. Everybody just needs to get back to playing the way they can, playing with more confidence and wanting to do things with the puck when they we have it.

So the Bs coach pushed Chris Kelly to top line center in a temporary move with Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin on either side of the defensive center, and Nathan Horton was slotted in on the second line right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

That leaves Rich Peverley as the third-line center, sharing reps with David Krejci, with Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron as their wingers alongside the speedy Peverley for Thursday nights game against the new-look Leafs.

"I wish I could stand here and pretend I'm a genius, but I don't know what I'm going to get," Julien said of the line alterations. "I just know what I was getting wasn't good enough."

The biggest development of the forward combination switcheroo was the separation of Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton as bookend power forward wingers after a largely unsuccessful six games.

The Bruins are 2-4 in their six games, last in the NHL in goal-scoring, and three points along with a minus-1 out of Horton and Lucic in 12 games. The struggles of Lucic and Horton might not be the biggest problem facing the Black and Gold in their first half-dozen games, but theyre clearly not part of the solution either.

For their part, both wingers expressed personal frustration at the slow starts to their seasons, and openly admitted their games havent yet reached anything approaching optimal levels. Lucic went one step further and said he wholeheartedly supported the line changes, and understood the back-to-basics mindset required to get him back on track.

In simple terms Lucic knows he must play the steaming-locomotive style that helped him earn his reputation as an intimidating player, and hes strayed away from that player as hes developed into a 30-goal scorer in the NHL.

Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take a step forward, and thats where I am personally at this point, said Lucic. Maybe Im trying to do too much and thinking about doing too much, and its causing me to do nothing. I need to step back and focus on playing that straight-line, strong-along-the-walls style and just simplify my game.

When Im pushing the puck up and chipping it in, thats when Im most successful. There have been spurts where Ive played well, but not enough of it. This year were a little bit late here and there, were not finding each other when were open and were not seeing each other as well. Thats why theres a need for a change. I support this decision for a change, and we just have to work our way out of this to find our game again.

Lucic actually had some very good chances in the three games leading up to the emotional Carolina loss, and fired off nine shots in those three games without getting anything to the back of the net. But Lucic was shut out in the shot department in the loss to the Hurricanes, and the Bs power forward is hoping that will change with some new faces sparking his game.

Weve been together for six games now and things havent been going as well and we know they should be going, said Lucic. We havent scored a first period goal in a while now, so its not to bad a thing to switch things up.

This kind of starts us off fresh here. Its not a bad thing. Its just a new look to get things going.

A fresh start is exactly what the Bruins need after six games, and it remains to be seen if the new look and newly adopted attitudes make a difference.

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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