Bruins

Bruins notes: Kaberle's struggles continue

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Bruins notes: Kaberle's struggles continue

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Tomas Kaberle looked like he might have turned the corner during the Bruins' four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The power play managed to produce a couple of goals in the last two games of the series, Kaberle was settling into a role during five-on-five while paired with Adam McQuaid, and the glare of being the trade deadline prize was starting to dull just a little bit.

But all that positive momentum came to a screeching halt in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals ahainst Tampa Bay.

The former Maple Leafs defenseman suffered a horrid turnover right in front of the Boston net that led to the Lightning's third goal in the first period of a 5-2 loss. Also during the game, he fired several shots from the point on the power play that were conservatively estimated at 20 feet off the mark.

Kaberle is trying to turn the page, but thats easier said than done.

Those things you have to put behind you; put the past behind you, said Kaberle. Ive felt good. I thought Ive had good legs. When you make a mistake, you have to put it behind you, thats all you have to do. If you keep thinking about it its not going to make you any better.

Kaberle blamed the bend of his stick after the game for the Scott Norwood-like misses at the net, but it only augmented the heat on a Bs power play that went 0-for-4 in the Game 1 loss to Tampa Bay and is now a woeful 2-for-41 in the playoffs through 12 games.

Thats a 4.9 success rate or a 95.1 percent failure rate for the Bs man advantage, depending on how one aims to look at it. And Kaberle, who came over from Toronto billed a power-play wizard but who's managed only three assists in the 12 postseason games so far, is catching more his fair share of the blame.

I think there is no doubt people have looked at him as a savior because our power play had been struggling, said coach Claude Julien. He is just a piece of the puzzle. Its unfortunate, but the other guys on the power play have the responsibility to do their job as well. Kaberle is one of those guys thats probably feeling the pressure because people seem to think he should be carrying the power play.

Hes an important part of it and I think if he finds his game he is going to be an important part of it. Hes not the reason our power play isnt going at the rate wed like it to go. Weve had to take some pressure off him and just let him play his game. I think if he plays his game he is going to help us a lot.

Kaberle is sitting on the bottom defensemen pairing with McQuaid, and has the look of a man who's wildly struggling to find his game.

Julien senses his power-play quarterback is pressing as he continues attempting to make a difference.

Hes got to try and push himself to be the kind of player he can be. At the same time its up to us to help him through that, said Julien. I think hes got to have the confidence of our group. I know how well he can play when hes at his best.

Certainly Kaberle feeling our support is going to help him reach that. You have discussions with players at times, and you try and pick them up when theyre down. You try to take the pressure off when theres some on. Thats just part of a coachs job, more so nowadays than ever.

Aside from the pressure and the confidence issues eroding his ability to move the puck with free and easy movements, hes clearly not in the physical shape he was at during his peak All-Star years with the Maple Leafs. Kaberle simply couldnt handle 20-plus minutes of action each night once he got to Boston, and thats much less than the Bs thought they were getting.

Theres also a sense of panic in Kaberles game when things get tight or the action gets a little too hectic in his own end, and his first-period turnover Saturday night was the perfect example of committing a really poor error at the worst possible time.

Sure, Dennis Seidenberg had a part in the fumbled handoff between the two defensemen. But Kaberle needs to be stronger in playoff games, or he wont be participating in too more of them.

Julien didnt particularly care for the talk that the Bruins needed to adjust their approach to the Tampa Bay Lightning, feeling his team simply needs to play better. Either way, the Bs didnt handle Tampas pressure very well when they did decide to attack with something besides the 1-3-1 trap. That needs to change if the Bruins want to even the series before heading to Tampa Bay.

I think right now it's so important we really focus on our game. For some reason everybody seems to think that we have to adjust to them, said Julien. We don't believe that. We have our game. We have our team. We've gotten this far. We believe in what we do.

We've got to keep our focus on what we have to do here. That's basically it. So whatever they want to do . . . those are their decisions. From our end of it, we've just got to stay sharp and put the right players on the ice.

The Bs forward lines were switched up a little bit on Monday morning at TD Garden, with Rich Peverley centering Mark Recchi and Brad Marchand while Chris Kelly centeredTyler Seguin and Michael Ryder. Julien said he was simply getting Peverley acquainted with new players, but Peverley could very well get the nod on the second line given the disappointing offensive performances from both Recchi and Marchand in Game 1.

Were just moving guys around a little bit. I think it's important that if we're going to do that that they get used to playing with each other, said Julien. Kelly has an opportunity to play with that line and has gotten used to them a little bit. Now I have some options and just giving some thoughts to maybe different combinations if we need be. Tomorrow we'll decide which one we want to go with.

The ever-quotable Tampa coach Guy Boucher had some fun with the Tyler Seguin goal that left Mike Lundin flat on the ice while getting turned around by Seguins speed. Boucher said the former University of Maine defenseman has been one of the Lightnings best skaters among that blueline corps this season. He didnt look like much more than a fringe defenseman when he was getting turned around by the 19-year-old Bs rookie.

When you look at the package, Lundin becomes a guy that's kind of a mistake-free player, said Boucher. It was weird, the other day he fell on that goal and it was really uncharacteristic of him. And basically that's good, because that's his mistake of the month. So we'll take it at that.

There arent many instances where visiting teams will plaster signage on the walls of the visiting dressing room at TD Garden, but it looked like Boucher was again at work with a sign hanging in the Tampa Bay dressing room Monday morning. The sign read in three segments as follows: Our PuckLightning TransitionPack Mentality. Boucher continues to impress as some kind of hockey combination between a Bond Villain and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

BRIGHTON, Mass – The good news for Tuukka Rask on Friday is that there was no dark, quiet room required for the Bruins goaltender when he reported to the Warrior Ice Arena practice facility for treatment for his concussion.

Instead, the Bruins goalie got going on the concussion protocol after getting steam-rolled by Anders Bjork at practice on Wednesday morning and started the road back to recovery from his first concussion suffered at the NHL level. In the further good news department, Bruins backup netminder Anton Khudobin stepped up in Rask’s absence and stopped 26-of-29 shots in a winning effort over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

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So now Khudobin has twice as many wins as Rask in half as many starts in the opening two weeks of the season. That’s certainly good for the Russian backup that stumbled out of the starting gate last season but has really fortified his spot early this year with a strong training camp followed by a .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average this year.  

“I’ve been there before. I’ve played many games in a row before in the AHL and the NHL, so it’s the same routine. It’s just harder to be honest when you’re playing one game every two weeks or something,” said Khudobin. “I’ll talk to Goalie Bob about what I did good or bad, get ready for practice, stretch it out and warm it up, go get it at practice and get ready for the games.”

That’s in stark contrast to Rask, who has a pair of losses to the worst team in the NHL last season, the Colorado Avalanche, and a defeat out in Las Vegas where he was out-dueled by Bruins castoff Malcolm Subban. The defense hasn’t been particularly good in front of him in those games and the team only scored a total of four goals in Rask’s three losses, but the All-Star netminder was also far from sharp with an .882 save percentage to start the season.

The home loss to Colorado, in particular, was a poor performance from Rask where he buried his team with an early deficit once a couple of soft goals by him in the first period. Compounding the lack of quality play from Rask was his odd choice to cease talking about team performance with the media following the loss to the Golden Knights.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much,” said Rask after the Sunday loss in Vegas. “We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

It certainly sounded and felt like Rask was directed to only talk about his own play by somebody higher up in the Bruins organization, and it was that kind of a development rather than the Bruins goalie passive-aggressively dissing his teammates. But that kind of directive from the organization would also speak to some pre-existing friction between Rask and his teammates where past criticism has perhaps rubbed some of them the wrong way.

It felt that way when Rask and David Krejci spoke about things in a tense dressing room in Las Vegas following last weekend’s loss, and it felt that way late last season when the Finnish goalie stayed home in Boston while watching Khudobin win one of the biggest games of the season in Brooklyn against the Islanders. At times in the past, something hasn’t always felt quite right about the dynamic between Rask and the rest of the Bruins, and it’s not a particularly good sign that both parties seemed to already be headed down that path just five games into this season.

All of this makes for some very interesting timing with the Anders Bjork collision into Rask that knocked him for a loop, and has now opened the door wide for Khudobin to start a few games in a row. Should Khudobin play well and continue to backstop a winning hockey team playing hard in front of him, it will make for a much tougher goalie decision than some might anticipate. Rask is clearly the better goaltender in terms of talent, upside, resume and accomplishments over the last eight years, but the question becomes how much is that offset by the Bruins team potentially playing a better brand of hockey with Khudobin between the pipes.

Maybe it’s because Khudobin is the backup and the Bruins are trying to play tighter defense in front of him, but it’s hard to argue the fact that Boston seems to play a smarter, stronger game when the backup gets the call.  

“That’s what I’m there for, but at the same time, I wasn’t thinking, 'Oh maybe [Rask] is going to get hurt and he’s not going to play [the next few games].' I’m not thinking that way, definitely,” said Khudobin. “I was just focusing on my practice. Whatever coach is going to tell me after the practice, then I will keep moving from that point.”

The best-case scenario for the Bruins is that Khudobin plays good, strong, winning hockey in Rask’s absence and that in turn lights a fire under the No. 1 goaltender after he looked fairly laissez-faire in his first few games this season. That’s what everybody saw out of Rask late last season when he was called out by the Bruins coaching staff and challenged by a red-hot Khudobin pushing for some big game starts.

Perhaps that is exactly the kind of collective kick to the hockey pants that’s needed for Rask to start carrying the Bruins team once he gets healthy again.

A deeper question, however, would involve asking how much longer the Bruins want to hitch their wagons to a $7 million a year goalie that needs to mentally recharge his batteries from time to time, and who begins to wilt performance-wise if he makes more than 55-60 start in an NHL season. Members of the Rask Fan Club will point to his career .922 save percentage, but it's been three years since he's been able to consistently reach that level of performance. 

The older Rask, 30, gets, the more baggage is getting added on with a performance level that’s dropped from his Vezina Trophy-winning days. Some of that is clearly about the defense getting a makeover in front of him, but it’s also about Rask just not always being as consistently good when Boston needs him most in the big games.

Khudobin certainly wouldn’t be the long-term answer for the Bruins, and the jury is out on whether or not Zane McIntyre has a future in the NHL as a goalie. So there’s no long-term solution if they suddenly decided to go away from Rask for any reason. But if this humble hockey writer was coaching the Bruins and Khudobin goes on a winning tear over the next few weeks? A healthy Rask wouldn’t automatically be handed his No. 1 workload upon his return, and it would be a couple of goalies splitting time to decide who wants it more.  

That kind of situation might not be up to goaltender controversy standards at this early point in the season, but there’s nothing wrong with making Rask grind for it a little when he does come back after breezing through some early season losses. 

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Morning Skate: Habs' Pacioretty blames himself

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Morning Skate: Habs' Pacioretty blames himself

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while watching the Montreal Canadiens crash and burn in the Atlantic Division.  

*Max Pacioretty is certainly falling on his sword up in Montreal calling himself “the worst one on the ice” as the Habs really struggle to get going this season.

*Brad Marchand was on the Twitter machine after Thursday night’s win and having some fun with what his video game controller probably looks like when he plays hockey.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the details of the Erik Gudbranson boarding hit on Frank Vatrano from last night that looks like it’s going to get the Vancouver D-man suspended.

*Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still adjusting to the changes that are taking place with the Arizona Coyotes as they struggle in the desert.

*The Maple Leafs are looking and acting like contenders early on up in Toronto, and that would be a very good thing for the NHL.

*For something completely different: The Backstreet Boys are going country? Now I’ve definitely seen it all.