Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins determined to start streaking again

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Haggerty: Bruins determined to start streaking again

WINNIPEG It was bound to happen eventually, and it seemed inevitable it would be in Winnipeg on the second night of road back-to-backs with Tyler Seguin scratched after missing an Xs and Os with Cheerios session with his teammates Tuesday morning.

So it was for a Bruins team that had won 14 out of 15 games and hadnt lost a regulation game since before Halloween.

The Bruins battled through some tired legs and a couple of defensive gaffes courtesy of Joe Corvo, but couldnt find ways to finish off scoring chances in a 2-1 loss to the Jets at the MTS Centre.

The emotion of Mondays statement victory over Sidney Crosby and the Penguins didnt leave much in the Bs gas tank, but the players werent making any excuses after landing in Manitoba during the early morning hours on Tuesday.

You always want to win, and its a little extra frustrating when you felt like you had some pretty good chances, said Andrew Ference. A loss is a loss. Nobody likes it in here and thats obviously what makes us successful.

We werent flying on top of a rainbow when we were winning all those games, so were not going to beat ourselves up over a loss now. We just need to move on.

Winnipegs building proved to be a fearsome ice advantage for the Jets, and the noise after the Jets game-winning goal in the third period could rival any other NHL barn across Canada. So the Bruins will have to prepare for the hostile atmosphere in future meetings with the Jets, and they shouldnt have the same kind of play-finishing issues when Seguin jumps back into the lineup Thursday night against the Florida Panthers.

Boston probably could have actually used Seguins elite finishing abilities among those 39 shots that were snuffed out by Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, or the 0-for-3 performance on the power play that couldnt quite break through.

But they soldiered on without him, and had their chances to pull out points while operating at less than their best. In fact it seemed things had swung in their direction when Shawn Thornton tipped home a Daniel Paille offering in the third period, and tied the game up at 1-1 apiece.

After all the Bruins have outscored opponents by a 40-18 margin in third periods this season and have used the final 20 minutes to bully teams with their strength in both numbers and physical might.

But it wasnt going to happen this time around. Instead old friend Mark Stuart found himself in the middle of a winning sequence when he earned a roughing call from David Krejci in the third period. Stuart quickly turned his back toward a charging Krejci while holding the puck in the corner, and went down hard after his face smacked violently into the glass above the boards.

Bryan Little weaved through a stunned Bs penalty kill unit and managed to squeeze a shot through Tuukka Rasks hockey pants for game-winning goal on a rush off his face-off win, and that was it for the Black and Gold. No stunning heroics and no last-minute goal to push things into overtime for the charity point.

Instead the Bruins felt the sting of an empty loss for the first time in 38 days, and no winning streak can soften the blow for a crew of hockey players that have become accustomed to winning.

It was a loss, but now we need to turn the page and start another streak, said Johnny Boychuk, who endured his share of pain when he took a shot off the knee. We did some positive things. We knew we werent going to win for the rest of the season and we had to lose eventually. But it always sucks to lose.

Whats most impressive about the Bruins is their ability to hang in games even when theyre not close to their best. There hasnt been a single opponent thats outclassed the Bs this season, and six of Bostons nine losses have been one-goal defeats that saw them fall just short.

The loss to Winnipeg doesnt take any luster away from Bostons 15-game run that pushed them all the way to the No. 2 spot behind the Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings. But it does act as a bookend to one lengthy, impressive run by the Black and Gold, and offer a challenge to start another one against the Panthers and Blue Jackets prior to some off-time next week.

The best thing the Bruins can do: bottle up their feelings of frustration and measured anguish after a rare loss to Winnipeg and take it out on their next few opponents with the same precision theyve showcased since the beginning of November.

Now it becomes about proving the Bruins epic 15-game run was the rule rather than the exception.

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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