Bruins

Bruins must answer early wake-up call

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Bruins must answer early wake-up call

BOSTON -- The Bruins proved they could put everything together against one of their young-and-hungry challengers by pumping in six goals against the Maple Leafs earlier this week.

It was an encouraging sign that they're fighting through the frustration, and coming out of the Stanley Cup hangover, ever so slowly and deliberately.

The Bs have been the picture of inconsistency thus far, and that needs to change. A good, solid victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second game of the season was followed up with a stink bomb against the Colorado Avalanche. A rousing shootout win on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks went for naught when the Bruins couldnt find their composure or their offense in a third-period meltdown against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Each time the Bruins take one step forward this year, theyve followed up with a tumble back. Players have been slow to wake up this year and many are still performing well under their capabilities, but theyre gradually coming out of it.

The best remedy for the Stanley Cup hangover is a winning streak chased with consistent, 60 -minute efforts, and the Bruins are on the search for both this week with home games against the Sharks and Canadiens before their first regular-season trip to Montreal really gets things going.

We all needed to wake up and start playing the way we can before it was too late, said Nathan Horton, who potted his second goal of the season against the Leafs Thursday. Consistency is real important. A win feels good, but we definitely need to keep that going and keep working hard. When you start working hard thats when things go your way.

Thats also clearly when the wins and points start going your way.

Coach Claude Julien again sounded the warning bells on Friday when he watched the Bruins go through a sloppy late-morning practice the night after their Toronto win and thats something he wants to nip in the bud.

We just seem to have good days and then average days. We talked about it in practice on Friday, we have good days and then we have days where were not really mentally sharp out there, said Julien. We cant afford to do that. If you can sharpen yourselves up in practice then it translate over into the game. The biggest challenge right now is being able to sustain our focus.

We can work hard and we have to be sharp and work smartly. Weve got to focus on the mental part of the game at the rink every day whether its practice or a game, and build that consistency from there.

But the Bruins still have much to prove and improve before the NHL rubber really starts to hit the road in November, and teams will begin to sort out a playoff picture that surprisingly doesnt change too much. Since 1993, NHL teams that find themselves in the top eight playoff spots in either conference by the Thanksgiving holiday end up qualifying for the postseason 77.5 percent of the time.

That means teams on the outside of the top eight only climb into the playoffs from the outside 22.5 percent of the time, and teams that are any more then 2-3 points outside of the top 8 playoff spots have close to an impossible task in front of them. Its become increasingly difficult for underdog teams off to bad starts to gain ground on other teams in the shootout era, where points are handed out like Halloween candy, and things can become fatal if a team takes too long to climb out of its offseason hibernation.

Some around the NHL call it the November Effect and its a very real of every teams strategy when the regular season is boiled down to big picture segments.

The Bruins are definitely in the latter category, sitting 11th in the Eastern Conference with six points after seven games, and they now enter an important month where they need to begin racking up points while honing their consistency. That starts with Saturdays Welcome back, Jumbo game against the Sharks, and continues with a home-and-home series against the Canadiens that should keep the Bruins focused and intense for the upcoming week ,anyway.

The old hockey axiom is that that a Stanley Cup cant be won in October and November, but it can certainly be lost if a team doesnt get off to a proper start in the first two months of the season.

The Bruins have 13 games between now and the Thanksgiving holiday starting this weekend, and its time to start building up their playoff portfolio before theyre on the wrong side of the NHLs traditional playoff stats.

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

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Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while battening down the hatches for Thanksgiving week.
 
-- When longtime Bruins follower Clark Booth opines about the Black and Gold, I tend to listen. And he's not happy with the Bruins' salary cap situation at this point in time. It should be noted that this was written before they won the last two games. But some of those truths still remain self-evident when it comes to the B’s.

-- Kevin Bieksa will never stop talking about former teammate Rick Rypien, or about the factors that ultimately led to his tragic passing.
 
-- Alex Ovechkin is truly living up to the “Russian Machine Never Breaks” mantra these days, which led to the creation of an entire blog about the Capitals.
 
-- This Saturday Night Live skit with Chance the Rapper playing a clueless hockey reporter was funny, even to people that have been covering the league for 20 years and still struggle to pronounce a name like Brady Skjei.
 
-- The good, the bad and the ugly courtesy of FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mitch Melnick from last night’s Montreal blowout loss to the Maple Leafs that probably could have just been called the ugly, the ugly and the ugly.
 
-- It’s 20 games into the season, and the Buffalo Sabres media are wondering what’s wrong with their team, and star Jack Eichel.
 
-- For something completely different: It sounds like some of the NFL rank-and-file players want to know why Roger Goodell deserves $50 million and a lifetime private plane.