Bruins

Bruins-Rangers preview: Last dance

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Bruins-Rangers preview: Last dance

BOSTON -- The Bruins will see an entirely different New York Rangers team on Tuesday night.

The Bruins handled the Rangers at TD Garden in their season-opener and then pushed the Rangers to overtime before eventually falling in the first game that John Tortorella put Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards together as a super forward line. But there was a nagging feeling that the Bs hadnt seen the best that the Blueshirts had to offer as so many of their players looked rusty coming out of the lockout.

Now the Bruins feel like theyll get New York's best effort, and thats quite a bit from a talented crew that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

We realize that when we last saw the Rangers it was earlier in the season and now were a quarter of the way through the season, said Daniel Paille. It seems like theyre finding their game. Theyve played well in the last few games that Ive watched, and things are going to be a lot harder in this game than they were the last time we saw them.

Henrik Lundqvist looks like hes back on his goaltending game, and the Rangers have won three of their last four games while outscoring their opponents by a 14-7 margin during those four contests.

The Rangers have finally found some opportunistic scoring and solid play from some newly-formed bottom six lines after the departures of guys like Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedetenko. Part of that discovery was in the benching of Brian Boyle, who drew plenty of ire from Tortorella to begin this season after failing to fill in for some of the players that had exited New York.

Boston has built themselves a great cushion after their first 10 games, but there seems to be a strong resolve to refuse letting up in a shortened NHL schedule.

There are certain teams in our conference that really test your character, said Claude Julien. Both teams are pretty big teams, both teams like to work along the walls and both teams like the gritty game. Its about competing hard.

It certainly makes you a better team at the end of the night if youre ready to take that challenge the proper way.

Amazingly this will be the last time the Bruins and Rangers face each other in the regular season, but theres still a very nagging suspicion that Bostons road through the playoffs will wind through Madison Square Garden at some point.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Dougie Hamilton is scoreless in his last five games with a minus-2 rating and it was the 19-year-old rookies miscues in the defensive zone that led to Buffalos only goal on Sunday night. Hamilton has still been solid and largely mistake-free while averaging close to 19 minutes of ice time per game, but theres been a definite lull to his game over the last few weeks. Its to be expected, but Hamilton could use a nice, little breakout performance on the power play or in the offensive zone.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Were going to have to play strong against them. Theyre going to be a big, physical team that plays well defensively and theyre hard to score against. As long as we stay strong and compete to stay physical it should be a good game for us. Daniel Paille on what it will take to win the season series against the Rangers in their third meeting of the season.

KEY MATCHUP: It appears that the Bruins are going to place Tyler Seguin back with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the second line, and that will be the line the New York Rangers will be most concerned with based on Marchands team-leading six goals this season. That means Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will get plenty of duty against the Bruins forward line, and could open up the Milan LucicDavid KrejciNathan Horton trio for a big game after being reunited once again. One thing the Bruins need to be wary of is the increased scoring the Rangers are getting from their bottom two forward lines now that theyve begun to gel.

STAT TO WATCH: 4 That's the number of goals surrendered in the third period by the Bruins in 10 games this season, and all four of those came in their only regulation loss to the Sabres.

INJURIES: New York defensemen Michael Sauer hasn't played since December 2011 for the Rangers due to a concussion,

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is well-rested after playing in a game last Wednesday night against the Canadiens, and coming off one of his best games of the season when he shut out Montreal early while the Bruins were getting outplayed. Rask is 1-0-1 with a 2.51 goals against average and a .907 save percentage against the Blueshirts this season. After a slow start to the season when he didnt look ready to play, Lundqvist has allowed just one goal in his last two games while heating up at the same time as the Rangers skaters around him. King Henrik is close to respectability again with a 2.44 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

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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Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

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Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

The Bruins have absorbed another substantial injury to their forward group with the news that Ryan Spooner will be out 4-6 weeks with a torn groin. According to sources, it was something he was playing with for some time before the right adductor muscle in his groin finally tore in Sunday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

With Spooner out of the Bruins lineup, there will be challenges to both team speed and to a power play unit that the fast-skating center was a key contributor over the last couple of seasons. Sean Kuraly was centering Tim Schaller and David Backes in Spooner’s absence during Wednesday practice, but it remains to be seen how they’ll go about filling the void for the next couple of months.

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“We’re no different than anybody else. We’d like to have our full complement [of players],” said Bruce Cassidy, when addressing the injury situation. “To be healthy and 100 percent in this league is tough, but we’d love to be there.”

Spooner was very clearly slowed by something at the start of the season with just one point and four shots on net in his first five games of the season along with a minus-2 rating, and that’s a tough development for a player like Spooner that relies on his speed and skating for much of his effectiveness at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see if Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson eventually gets a look given his fast start at the AHL Level, and the fact that Spooner is on a one-year deal that may see him playing somewhere other than Boston next season, or perhaps even following this spring’s trade deadline. 

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