Hagg Bag: The Bruins' backup goalie problem

Hagg Bag: The Bruins' backup goalie problem

With the NHL holiday roster freeze set for Monday, the Bruins are looking at settling in for a cramped Yuletide schedule with their current group minus Matt Beleskey and David Pastrnak that makes their roster look a little skimpy up front. Skimpy usually isn’t good once the dog days of winter show up with a schedule that’s been as challenging as it is unrelenting for the Black and Gold.

So what do we do at times like this? We open up the Hagg Bag mailbag to answer a few questions as one final Christmas present to the readers prior to the big holidays showing up. As always these are real tweets to my twitter account using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails to my email account and messages to my CSN Facebook fan page. So without further ado, on to the Hagg Bag:


At this point in the season we most likely are going to hear the drums beat for the canning of the coach.  Not sure what that might accomplish though seeing as the parade of newbies to the lineup is relentless. You kind of have to figure Krejci and Bergeron will turn it around anyhow.  A new coach probably isn't going to get better results, especially with a system that has been in place for so long.

On another note, have to admit Stranger Things is pretty cool, definitely for those of us who grew up in the eighties.  You might want to read some of Joe Hill's work, he has one nostalgic foot firmly planted in that decade.  Be warned though, there is a bit of creep to his work as the apple did not fall too far from the tree.

Steve, RI.

JH: Thanks for the recommendation, Steve. Glad you liked Stranger Things as much as I did. I was happy to see the show get recognized by the Golden Globes as more than just a populist, nostalgic phenomenon, and I’m looking forward to another 1980’s icon (Sean Astin from Goonies) being in the sequel. I’ll have to check out Joe Hill, as I had no idea that Stephen King’s kid was writing under a pen name.

As for the coach, I do agree that Claude Julien might ultimately be the guy that pays the price if the Bruins drop into an elongated tailspin over the next few months. In fact I think he might have been in trouble if the Bruins had struggled on the two-game road trip through Montreal and Pittsburgh after dropping some really disappointing losses at home to Colorado and Toronto. It’s not Claude Julien’s fault entirely because the roster has some real dead weight on it, but at a certain point he just might not be the perfect fit for a team that’s turning more toward offense, skill and speed.

I would hope that Bergeron really turns it on at some point, but I still continue to suspect that No. 37 is playing through some kind of injury that’s hampering his offensive explosiveness. He looks slower and less able to cleanly win battles than usual, and doesn’t get any burst or separation from defenders to get the really good scoring opportunities for himself. If that doesn’t change or improve over the course of the season, the Bruins offense will only improve in small increments from its current state as a bottom-feeder ranked 24th in the NHL.

Hey look at that: Krug -2 again......

--Doug Inflorida (via CSN Facebook page)

JH: Hey look…Krug is still one of the best four guys they have on defense and leads all Bruins D-men with 14 points in 32 games. How about that?

Hey Haggs,

Don Sweeney made a terrible mistake signing Anton Kabooobon. Lol. He is just terrible. Bruins need a better backup for Rask. All those lost points could cost them at the end of season.

--Keith Nessen (via CSN Facebook page)

JH: The name is Khudobin, Keith, but I think you already know that. There’s no doubt the Bruins need more wins from their backup goaltenders with just the one victory against Carolina in nine tries. That isn’t going to cut it. Khudobin has a 3.20 goals against average and an .882 save percentage thus far this season, and hasn’t built on his stellar, winning performance against the Hurricanes back on Dec. 1.

There’s no doubt that the Bruins will need all the points they can get this season, and they need a player behind Tuukka Rask that they have confidence in when it’s time for their No. 1 goalie to get some rest.

I think Khudobin may get another chance or two to right the ship, and certainly he’s shown in the past that he can be very, very good.

But I don’t the answer is sitting very far away if Khudobin isn’t it. Zane McIntyre was okay in his two appearances with the Bruins earlier this season even if the numbers weren’t very impressive, and he’s been dominant at the AHL level in Providence. He’s 6-0-0 with a 1.36 goals against average and .952 save percentage, and is just screaming for another look as Rask’s backup if their free agent backup continues to struggle for consistency.

I know some didn’t have a problem with Khudobin in that last loss to Anaheim, but he needs to be able to stop Kevin Bieksa on that breakaway out of the penalty box in the second period. That’s the kind of stop, or lack of a stop in this case, that really helped swing that game in favor of the Ducks.

Hey Joe,

It's nice to see some mental toughness from the B's against the Caps. BTW, I've got a bone to pick with Julien. His team is struggling to score goals, and your PP is pathetic. Yet, Pasternak and Marchand received less than one minute of PP time. That's absurd. And the B's can't use the, "they need to earn it" line. Krejci, Backes, Schaller were a -7 combined and they received 7 minutes of PP time. That's unacceptable. It's time to break up the first PP until, or make the 2nd unit your top unit. Something needs to be tweaked.

 Josh, Dedham (via CSN Facebook page)

JH: You got your wish this week, Josh, when the Bruins coaching staff installed David Pastrnak on the top PP unit and started running stuff through him. He was getting set up for one-timers, and I think you’ll see even more plays being designed to get Pastrnak the puck in places where he can shoot, take it to the net or create scoring opportunities for others given the kind of attention he’ll be getting from opposing penalty kills.

As for Marchand, I think he’s a good fit on that second PP unit given his ability to shoot and score. But he also makes some high risk plays and that’s exactly what led to that Kevin Bieksa breakaway vs. Anaheim when he tried a high-risk, cross-ice pass to Ryan Spooner as time expired on the PP. The pass was off the mark, and turned into an easy breakaway chance for Anaheim with Bieksa coming out of the box as Spooner couldn’t get to the puck to keep it down low in the offensive zone.

My thing is keeping offensive black holes like Jimmy Hayes off the power play as much as these other two suggestions. He just doesn’t do anything positive right now for the Bruins, so why reward him with PP time just because he’s got a big body that never becomes a factor in front of the net? I feel for Hayes because so much of his struggle is up in his head at this point given his dropped confidence level, but the NHL is a performance-and results oriented business. And Hayes isn’t getting performance or results.

Neither is the Bruins power play that’s 2-for-24 during the month of December, but at least they did get a goal in the loss to the Ducks after the B’s coaching staff made their changes. Perhaps that’s progress.

Hope you have a great holidays. Curious will we see Frank Vatrano in the lineup [on Sunday]?

--Michael Gillis (@MichaelGillis1)

JH: I wouldn’t be stunned if it happens, Michael. We’ll see, but I think things change when you take David Pastrnak out of the equation for a few important games with the Bruins offense already struggling like it is. Happy holidays to you and to everybody else out there. Thanks as always to everybody for reading, commenting and engaging with me while I cover a Bruins team that always makes it interesting, and entertaining, for everybody.

Hey @HackswithHaggs

Last 2 years all we heard of was McDavid/Eichel and Matthews/Laine. Any studs coming out in 2017? #weakdraft ?

--kfals (@kfalsTI)

JH: At this point Nolan Patrick from the Brandon Wheat Kings is the only player I am familiar with as he’s likely the consensus No. 1 overall pick, and should be entered into the hype machine like those other players. Unfortunately for him he’s battled injury in the early going this season, so perhaps there hasn’t all that much to get hyped about. He won’t be playing in the World Junior tournament because of a nagging upper body injury, and that’s a major bummer for scouts everywhere. I’d expect that to change as the junior season moves along, but I think it’s a fair point that this draft doesn’t seem as full of quality as the draft a couple of years ago when the Bruins made 10 selections (including Brandon Carlo already in the NHL).

This is crazy to me. Who retires first: the Simpsons or Jaromir Jagr?

--Byron Magrane (@byronm19)

JH: The Jagr. Sadly but truthfully. You’ll never win a battle to defy aging against cartoon characters that never get a day older. Bart Simpson hasn’t aged a day in 27 years on the air. That’s the true Fountain of Youth. Jaromir Jagr has actually looked a bit slower this season in Florida and the numbers are down a little bit, so we may be seeing the very end of a brilliant, legendary career that will officially close the book on a bygone NHL era when he’s all done. I think the BU goalie (Jake Oettinger) may end up being the only quasi-local player taken in the first round this summer, so it’s not a particularly banner year for the local guys like it was with Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Colin White.

I am now referring to Claude Julien as Norman Dale.  Do you remember the end of Hoosiers?  Hickory High has the final shot to win and Norman Dale decides that he wants to give the ball to Merle instead of Jimmy.  That's how I felt when I saw Nash out there for the shootout with Pasternak/Marchand not in the top 3.  It's also how I feel every time the Bruins get a PP and Pasternak/Marchand are not on top unit.  What other team in the history of hockey, doesn't have their top two goal-scorers on the top PP unit?  And it's not like the PP has been any good.  Thankfully, in Hoosiers, the players forced Dale to give the ball to Jimmy.

Also, the only thing more frustrating with the play of David Krejci is the excuse making by fans, media and the team.  This email isn't to defend the play of Ryan Spooner, who has not been good this year, but let's compare both players and how they're treated.  

Two years ago, Spooner and Pasternak were paired together and they were the Bruins best line in the second half of the season.  Last year, Krejci gets to play with Pasternak and struggles while Spooner puts up 49 centering the likes of Jimmy Hayes, Chris Kelly, Matt Beleskey, etc.  This year, Spooner is back and forth between playing out of position next to Krejci or out of position with Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, and both guys are struggling.  Now, here's where I have a problem.  

Every time Spooner's name is mentioned, the response is "he needs to play better" but when Krejci’s name is mentioned, the excuse is "he needs to play with better players."  So everyone is saying is that no matter what, the $1M player should always play well, while the $7M player can ONLY play well when he's playing with other great players?  That makes absolutely no sense.

If David Krejci is truly a $7M player then he should play well no matter who he's playing with. If he's as good as everyone claims then he should make his linemates better.  Again, I’m not defending Spooner, just sick of the excuse making for Krejci.  It's time fans, media and the team to realize he's not that good anymore.

Malden, MA  

JH: He’s also coming off major hip surgery. Krejci has played a lot of hockey over the years and is now at 30 years old after twice leading the entire playoff field in points in two separate Bruins runs to the Stanley Cup Finals. If you can’t see that those things combined with year in, year out production over the last 10 years gives Krejci some benefit of the doubt over Ryan Spooner, I’m not sure what to tell you. Krejci isn’t the biggest or the stronger by any means, but he also gets his nose dirty and gets involved in the battles while Spooner shies away in those areas.

I think you have some points that have validity to them, for sure. I think Spooner hasn’t necessarily been put in a position to succeed this season by being forced to play the wing, and his being forced to watch Austin Czarnik play center instead of him is another way that’s being hammered home to him by the Bruins coaching staff. There’s also the inarguable fact that Krejci hasn’t been as good this season as he’s been in the past, and he needs to be better along with another guy named Patrice Bergeron that’s only got four goals to this point in the season.

But trying to compare Krejci and Spooner as players that should be treated exactly the same automatically wipes away far too much of the excellence that Krejci has displayed for the Bruins over a long period of franchise success. Spooner is still in the “proving it” stage of his career, and Krejci clearly already has to the point where his body might be slowing down a little bit as a result of the sheer wear and tear of all those battles.

I'll give you full credit for the best, and most apt, Hoosiers reference we've ever had in the Hagg Bag mailbag, however. That was totally on point. 

That’s it for this week, everybody. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. We’ll have another Hagg Bag after the holidays. 

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that "wasn't too dangerous"

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that "wasn't too dangerous"

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

MORE - Haggerty: B's make a statement to Lightning, rest of NHL

There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

AP Photo

B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

MORE - Scary incident involving Backes

It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

MORE - Talking Points: B's start strong and don't look back vs Tampa

Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the President’s Trophy and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.