Bruins

Bruins-Jets preview: Something's gotta give

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Bruins-Jets preview: Something's gotta give

WINNIPEG It should be a couple of desperate hockey teams when the Bruins and Winnipeg Jets suit up for a meeting at the normally raucous MTS Centre in Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon. Both teams are riding two-game losing streaks. It's the first such streak of the season for the Black and Gold. For Winnipeg it's just the latest blow to their pride as they tumble to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

We have to get back on track here, said Claude Julien said Saturday. Weve lost two in a row to New York and Buffalo, so we need to bounce back. We have to be ready to play tomorrow and we know what kind of a challenge we have in front of us. They have a good coach that gets them to play hard.

Theyre a hard-working team. Basically we have to be the better team tomorrow if we expect to win.

It starts with generating a little more offense than the 2.7 goals per game thats stuck them in the middle of the NHLs rankings this season. That was a problem for the Bruins against Buffalo after they failed to build a good enough lead against the Sabres Friday night before collapsing in the third period, and Bostons best players like Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron continue to have problems producing goals.

That kind of needed goal production will be more under the spotlight on Sunday afternoon because Milan Lucic has reported back to Boston to attend to personal reasons and 38-year-old veteran Jay Pandolfo will be inserted into the Boston lineup for the first time. Thats clearly an offensive downgrade for the Bruins, but it opens up a challenge for some of Bostons top-drawer offensive talent to finally get things going in a shortened season that wont look kindly on extended slumps.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Chris Kelly is still the only Bruins forward without a goal 12 games into the season, and has a minus-4 rating. The Bruins offense has been very average for the balance of the season and it can be traced to a couple of different things: the season-long goal-scoring struggles of Tyler Seguin and the inability of the Bs third line to kick in a little more. The Bruins were nearly undefeated last season when Kelly scored (he had 20 goals) so its clear how important the third lines contributions are to the success of the team. It needs to start happening for Kelly, who still doesnt look like he has his hands or timing back yet when he gets the chance to make plays in the offensive zone.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: They were a team that was really excited to be back here last year. The players can feel the passion and support of the fans on the ice. We came in here last year and they gave us some tough games. We lost both games here last year, but its a new year. Bruins coach Claude Julien talking about going winless at the MTS Centre against the Jets in two tries last season.

KEY MATCHUP: The Winnipeg Jets have the worst penalty-kill unit in the NHL while allowing close to 35 percent of their opponents power play chances to be successful, and theyll be going up against a Bruins man advantage that actually produced a goal Friday night against the Sabres. Things will look different for the Bs PP units with Lucic set to miss the game, but it also appears the Bruins man advantage finally started playing with a little more swagger and a lot more life and movement against Buffalo. If that carries over into Sunday afternoon, it could be the difference between winning and losing in Winnipeg.

STAT TO WATCH: 2 That's the number of game-winning goals for Winnipeg forward Bryan Little against the Bruins in two home games for the Jets at MTS Centre last season. I could have also gone with the team-worst minus-8 for Blake Wheeler this season, but thought Id take the high road.

INJURIES: Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) is expected to miss the season and be placed on long term injured reserve. Milan Lucic (personal reasons) will miss his first game of the season against the Jets after he had to fly back to Boston on Saturday afternoon for personal reasons. Winnipeg is expected to be without goaltender Al Montoya (lower body) and forward Antti Miettinen (upper body).

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is expected to get the start coming off his worst game of the season while letting up a pair of bad goals Tuesday night against the New York Rangers. Rask has a .946 save percentage this season if you subtract his six goals allowed against the Sabres earlier this season, and has been excellent. Ondrej Pavelec has a 3.15 goals against average and an .890 save percentage that arent exactly going to get the job done, but he had arguably his best game of the season against the Bruins while making 26 saves in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

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Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

BRIGHTON -- Tuukka Rask is quickly making his way through the concussion protocol and may return to action this weekend.

The Bruins netminder skated with the other injured players ahead of Monday’s main team practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and is on track to rejoin the team at regular practice on Tuesday barring any setbacks in his concussion recovery. That would leave Rask with just a couple of games missed after getting trucked by Anders Bjork at practice last week, and it would give the Bruins back their No. 1 goaltender after Anton Khudobin let in five goals vs. the Sabres on Thursday night.

“He’s in the protocol and progressing well,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’ll probably join us [on Tuesday] for the next step if there are no ill effects from today. That’s a positive. If there are no setbacks, I think Saturday is a more realistic [timetable for a return].”

The hope would be that Rask could start elevating his game when he does return, and play better than the goalie that’s posted the 1-3-0 record, 3.30 goals against average and .882 save percentage thus far this season. But first things first with the recovery to his first career concussion as an NHL goalie, and the set of hurdles that must be passed before Rask is again allowed to jump back into game action as early as this weekend.

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from Bruins practice with Rask, David Krejci and Noel Acciari all skating prior to practice, Patrice Bergeron staying off ice with a maintenance day and Kevan Miller skating in main practice with a maroon, no-contact jersey:

Marchand-Schaller-Bjork
DeBrusk-Backes-Pastrnak
Agostino-Nash-White
Beleskey-Kuraly-Vatrano

Chara-McAvoy
Krug-Carlo
Miller-Postma

Khudobin

Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

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Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

BRIGHTON -- Injuries, and some really tough losses, have put a bit of a damper on the start to the Bruins season. But there've also been a couple of unquestioned bright spots.

And one of them is Tim Schaller, who's been a strong, consistent performer in the first couple of weeks of the season. The New Hampshire native -- and lifelong Bruins fan -- was penciled in as a fourth-line winger throughout most of training camp, but he’s played everywhere as injuries have ravaged the B's roster.

The high point was probably centering Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak (and notching an assist) in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Sabres, and filling in for a late-scratched David Krejci with a very different set of skills. Certainly he’s been a standout for the Bruins with his physicality, including stepping up and fighting man mountain Erik Gudbranson after Gudbranson's nasty boarding hit on Frank Vatrano last week, and he’s also kicked in a couple of goals and three points in seven games thus far this season.

“It’s a reactionary thing, and that’s just in a person,” said Bruce Cassidy of fighting Gudbranson. “It’s a character thing because you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. Good for Timmy. That earns a lot of street cred not only in your own locker room, but the other teams notice it. too.

"We know with the goals that he can obviously chip in [offensively] and he’s doing a great job for what we’re asking him to do. He’s probably going to take ownership if he’s out there with some young guys on a line, and if he can be a leader and get that line playing the right way every night that is very valuable to us.”

Schaller’s game to this point is a continuation of what he showed in his first season with the Bruins last year, when the 26-year-old posted 7 goals and 14 points in 59 games while becoming a staple in Boston’s bottom-6 group. He’s once again shown pretty good straight-ahead speed for a big man, and a willingness to take his 6-foot-2, 219-pound frame straight to the net.

“I’ve been moving well and I’ve got the two goals, so personally I’m happy [with my game],” said Schaller. “Hopefully others can feed off what I’m trying to do out there, and we get a more well-balanced game [as a team]. I had a good season last year, and what was really good was that I knew that I had more to give. That’s what I’m trying to do this season.

“I can obviously produce more. I had a good start to last season and then I kind of fell off a little bit. So hopefully I can be a little more consistent for this entire year.”

That would be a very good thing for a Bruins team that can use him in a bottom-6 energy role when its roster is healthy, and will fully utilize his versatility in times of injuries and adversity.