Bruins

Bruins still can't find winning formula

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Bruins still can't find winning formula

BOSTON -- The Bruins have been searching all season for an identity and that feel for the team dynamic that made them so indescribably good last year.

Tuesday nights frustrating it was the word of the night for the Black and Gold, trust us on that 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at a sleepy TD Garden was further proof the Bruins still havent found what theyre looking for.

The Bruins were roundly critiqued for failing to show proper emotion in the seasons early going, and never consistently played with that edge that elevates them to a different level. They actually tapped into some of the proper edge and emotion needed to defeat Chicago over the weekend when Gregory Campbell picked the exact right time to drop the gloves -- and Johnny Boychuk meted out punishing body checks all night long.

It was good, hard hockey for the Bruins, and they were rewarded with victory.

But that was missing from the early portion of the midweek defeat to the Tropical Storms, and then it spiraled out of control late in a game that saw four misconducts whistled on Bs players, one misconduct and ejection for the head coach and 72 total penalty minutes in a game that was practically screaming for discipline.

Its not what we are at this point, said Claude Julien, who got the gate in the third period with the rare game-misconduct call for shaking his head at the refs. Its what we are not right now.

Were not focused for 60 minutes. Were a frustrated team. Right now, I would rather we look at ourselves and take the responsibility to fix that. The referees didnt lose the game for us tonight. We lost the game ourselves. We got ourselves back in the game and then we end up with a four-minute penalty and other penalties followed after that -- and it just got worse.

Many of the gaudy PIM totals and penalty calls were justified, of course, and Zdeno Charas attack on Jay Harrison in defense of Nathan Horton actually worked from an emotional standpoint. It earned the Bs captain an instigator penalty and an early exit from the second period after being slapped with a 10-minute misconduct but it was also the kind of team-building moment revealing the actions of teammates caring about each other.

It was in stark contract to the first-period hit by Brett Sutter on Joe Corvo that sent the Bs defensemen to the dressing room, and apparently didnt arose the ire of either Horton or Milan Lucic while they were on the ice watching the whole thing happen.

But Charas forced donnybrook with Harrison triggered Cam Ward to get in the Bs captains face which in turn got Tuukka Rask involved while challenging the Hurricanes goaltender. Rasks actions in turn got Eric Staal chasing after the Bs goaltender as he returned to his crease, and watched as he was called for a minor penalty for leaving his crease during the scrum. It was a constant flow of angry words, nastiness and hockey violence that the Big Bad Bruins love best.

So the Bruins were invested emotionally at that point.

But thats exactly when things started to turn for the worse.

Instead of harnessing that energy into a fierce forecheck, mighty positional melees in front of the net, or a few good, old-fashioned body checks against the boards, the Bruins continued to pick fights with Carolina hockey players uninterested in engaging while holding a lead.

Its definitely a little more challenging to score taking penalties in the third period, said Andrew Ference. Sometimes penalties happen and sometimes its better timing than others. It has to happen in the first, second and third period where youre hitting, getting involved in battles from the start and in line within the rules so youre not sitting in the box all night.

The sport is designed where youre allowed to hit, youre allowed to be physical and be pretty tough. The rules allow you to do that, but it doesnt mean that youre punching guys in the head all the time. Its solid hits, fore-checking and all those parts of the game. Its not always about punching guys in the head. Theres more to that in being a tough team.

Chara was a little more succinct in his assessment of Bostons moral compass in the third period.

I thought on some occasions it was questionable, said Chara of the teams discipline against the 'Canes without naming names.

Tim Gleason was in the middle of countless skirmishes all night long that drew Boston penalties, but was unwilling to drop the gloves with Shawn Thornton or Lucic when challenged. It was also Gleason in the middle of the games turning point sequence of events in the third period.

Just 31 seconds after Rich Peverley and the Bruins potted a power-play goal to narrow the deficit to 2-1 in the third period, Gleason and Horton got into a tussle in front of the Carolina net. Rather than reading the game situation, and Gleasons motives behind his actions, Horton flew into a rage, wildly throwing jabs at Gleason as the Carolina blueliner crumpled to the ice without fighting back.

Horton was whistled for a double-minor and a 10-minute misconduct, and the Hurricanes scored a pair of insurance goals on a 5-on-3 advantage to salt away a game that could have been a nice comeback story for the Black and Gold. The Bruins were amazingly killing off a 5-on-3 advantage for 5:28 during the game, and a team is never going to win getting suckered into those kinds of situations.

None of his teammates wanted to call out Horton after the game, but it was confounding that the No. 1 right wing ducked out and didnt want to tell his side of the story to reporters following a game that hinged a great deal on his actions.

There are too many individual players trying to do it by themselves, too many lapses in discipline and focus throughout the 60 minutes of a hockey game and too many players still unable to get the feel they enjoyed much of last year.

Julien called his Bruins a frustrated team following the loss to the Hurricanes that dropped them to 2-4 on the season, and thats an accurate description.

The Bruins know they cant win a Stanley Cup in October and November in the parity-filled NHL.

But they can certainly lose it if they dont start banking wins while playing a ridiculously home-heavy schedule in the first two months. Thats something they dont want with so much of the season still sittingin front of them.

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

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Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

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Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

GOLD STAR: Who else but Anton Khudobin? The Bruins backup netminder improved to 6-0-2 on the season and upped his NHL-leading save percentage to .938 while making 40 saves in a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. Khudobin was outstanding stoning players like Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman on breakaways, and stood tall in the third period while the Bruins were outshot 15-5 and ended up tying the game. Even better Khudobin was super-competitive in the shootout where he was challenging shooters, and even stared down Hischier after he poke-checked the puck away from him on his attempt. The Bruins don’t win Wednesday night’s game without Khudobin playing the way he did, and that should pretty much guarantee that he plays again on Friday afternoon against the Penguins.

BLACK EYE: One shot and one hit in 8:28 of ice time for Jimmy Hayes in his first game against his old Bruins team, so pretty much par for the course from the underachieving big guy. Hayes has scored a couple of goals for the Devils this season, but he’s been mostly the same as in the past with sporadic scoring, intermittent tough guy play in the danger areas and then long stretches where you don’t even notice the 6-foot-6 guy out on the ice. Of the two ex-Bruins forwards going up against their old team tonight, Drew Stafford was by far the better of the two with three shots on net and at least one pretty decent scoring chance among them after stealing a puck from Frank Vatrano.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins set things up for their shootout win with a strong opening first period when it came to finishing off plays. Yes, they were outshot by a 15-10 margin, but they also made two big plays with Jake DeBrusk scoring a goal and then David Pastrnak setting up Patrice Bergeron for his fifth goal of the season. Beyond that Anton Khudobin also stopped 14 pucks in the first period that included a number of scoring chances for the Devils, and it showed what the Bruins are capable of when they’re on the right side of some key plays early in the game. Sure, the Devils clawed their way back in, but the Bruins felt like they had the game in control because of the work they put in during the first period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie McAvoy led all skaters with a game-high 27:04 of ice time, and played a strong game while totaling three shots on net and three blocked shots. But he saved the real good stuff for the 11th round of the shootout when he threw a nifty stick move at Cory Schneider, and then roofed a backhanded attempt in tight and close to the net. The McAvoy shootout move begged the question why it took so long to get to him, but also mercifully closed out a shootout session that felt like it could have gone on forever between the Bruins and Devils. The finishing move from the 19-year-old was pure, unadulterated skill with the puck.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first NHL career point for Matt Grzelcyk arrived in the first period when he picked up an assist on a lead pass off the boards that freed Jake DeBrusk up for a goal-scoring rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the end of a road trip, so give the guys credit. They dug down deep and found a way to get the two points.” – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy,  

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