Bruins

Chiarelli looking for Bruins to kick the hangover

570288.jpg

Chiarelli looking for Bruins to kick the hangover

BOSTON -- The level of outrageous rumor-mongering and crazy speculation tossed against the wall when the Bruins called off practice Tuesday -- and instead announced a conference call with Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli -- was off the charts Monday night right on into Tuesday afternoon.

Its a testament to the new level of interest in the Black and Gold, and to the honking creativity of those inside, outside and around the team.

Some thought Marc Savard might be announcing his retirement on a conference call which on its face is ridiculous for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the six years and 24 million hed forfeit by calling it a career.

Others started tossing out rumors that Ray Whitney or Keith Yandle were getting dealt to the Bruins after their 3-5 start to the season, and Chiarelli was shaking it up again as he did two years ago dishing Chuck Kobasew to the Minnesota Wild just seven games into the 2009-10 season.

Not even close.

Theres a big difference between a salary cap-strapped hockey team coming off an anti-climactic second-round playoff defeat, and finding solutions for a battle-tested, playoff-hardened nucleus that now has a Stanley Cup victory on their resume. There arent that many truly valuable trade chips on the Bs roster that come without no-trade provisions, and the Bruins arent about to deal a Milan Lucic, David Krejci or Tuukka Rask to simply make a change.

Chiarelli isnt there yet, and nor should he be.

Weve got a Stanley Cup-winning team. When you want to create competition on the roster and I do believe competition is healthy its hard to create it, said Chiarelli. Weve got roster space and weve got cap space. We could do it. But its hard to meddle and tinker with a Stanley Cup team.

I know it requires luck and it requires things happening at the exact right time to win the Cup, and by no means did we have an incredible regular season last year. But I also know the makeup of this team. The main obstacle to creating competition is that you have a team thats won the Stanley Cup. I have to get over that. But Im just not at that point yet. Its a broad picture, but at some point if I dont like the way things are going then I have to do something.

The Bruins crowed about having 18 players returning from last years Stanley Cup-winning bunch, but also fully acknowledged that the Cup hangover was something theyd have to face on. Chiarelli felt that malaise was too strong a word to describe his teams difficulty focusing and finding that extra gear, but hes also self-aware to realize that his team is amidst some level of a hangover.

The offensive explosion against the Maple Leafs and the golden scoring chances enjoyed against a quality team in San Jose are signs that perhaps the Bruins are coming out of their Cup haze. But Chiarelli wants to see his team start burying a few more of the great chances theyre generating, and display the kind of emotion the Bruins regularly exude when theyre playing Bruins style hockey.

Youve heard me talk about this hangover. Whether its been self-fulfilling or not, I believe the hangover is here in some form, said Chiarelli. I havent minded our game that much: the compete level is getting a little better and our execution is getting a little better. Were still a little sloppy here and there, but Ive got to stress this is something weve got to work through. I know our guys are working their way through this funk, and its my job to keep an eye on them.

The common denominator for me is two things: one were having more offensive chances and better offensive chances at this part of the season than we did last year, and were not scoring. That to me is the foundation of getting things back. When you score early you set the tone. The second thing is getting the proper mind frame again and I dont know how to do that. It may be more of a natural process and were working on it. This is new to us and I dont want to overreact.

Chiarelli canvassed plenty of other executives, coaches and players that have won the Cup in the past for advice heading into this season, and the feedback was unanimous. Every Cup winner told Chiarelli a letdown of some kind was unavoidable, and the Bs general manger talked about minimizing the down cycle while training camp was going on.

Chiarelli said that one Cup winner estimated it was 20 games before things felt back to normal again, so the best course of action was to simply grind through it. The hope is that an emotional home-and-home tilt against the Montreal Canadiens this weekend can snap the Bs out of it.

But most around the team would settle for two consistently good back-to-back performances that end with the Bruins nailing down four points and keeping pace with Toronto and Buffalo at the top of the division.

Its focus, execution and competition to stay in and take a hit. It requires addressing a couple of fronts. I havent minded our compete level, but I think it can be better, said Chiarelli. Weve been winning one and losing one. Ive seen that. But none of the games have been out of hand. For me that tells me that were not far off from getting it back.

Were a team that plays on emotion. To play with a level of compete that gets you wins and gets you what you want, you have to reach that emotional level. Were not there yet. We all have to get back to the way that we played and then itll come around.

Facts are fact: the Bruins averaged 2.98 goals per game through 82 regular season tilts last year, and theyre averaging only 2.25 this season good for 19th in the league. Finishing off offensive plays and full 60-minute efforts are the cure for the common hockey hangover that Chiarelli and Co. are expecting out of a hockey team that everyone knows has it in them.

Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

usatsi_10402885.jpg

Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks

connor-mcdavid-jack-eichel-112117.jpg

Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the return of Adolfo to Toucher and Rich this morning.

*Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid have received plenty of acclaim over the past couple of years as talented, young stars in the league, but Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien details how things haven’t gone ideally for either of those youngsters, or their teams, this season. Clearly, it’s not at this level yet, but just think about the hype behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin when they were drafted 1-2 back in 2010, and what they have, and haven’t, been able to accomplish in the league since that time.

*Outstanding rookie Brock Boeser credits a conversation with Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green for helping spark his game this season.

*Good video piece on the near miss of Wayne Gretzky almost playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs after dominating them in the playoffs.  

*Salivating for some hockey trades? The 10 potential NHL trade deadline targets around the league as we wait for players to become available for trade later in the season.  

*Hockeybuzz is asking what the NHL, and more specifically the Hockey Hall of Fame, has against goaltenders?

*For something completely different: A great piece from Drew Bledsoe on the tragic passing of former Patriots wide receiver Terry Glenn, and how his death came just as he seemed to be putting all the pieces of his life together.