Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out

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Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out

BEDFORD, MA. The Bruinscrushed their cushy home schedule over the seasons first three months, they had their time offat home during the holidays and they took full advantage while rocketing back up to the top of the standings.

The Bruins are first in nearly every statistical category and have been embarrassing teams since the calendar turned to November. It's not often that a hockey team rips off a stretch where they go 20-2-1, so it's to be appreciated andduly noted.Theyre on a pace to match the franchises best season when they won 57 games during a 1970-71 campaign that featured the best that the Black and Gold have to offer during the regular season with the caveat that blockbuster B's bunchcame up short when it mattered most during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The most robust, optimistic Bs fans couldnt be blamedwondering if things can only get worse from here. The Bostonhockey clubhas put together some of their best hockey over a two-month stretch, and it's a long way down from the top. First a couple of admissions before bursting into full alert mode: its not a hot streak when it lasts two months as it has for the Bruins in November and December.The Bruins are among the NHL's best teams this year, and their roster depth, toughness, talent and Cup experience makes them a monster on most nights. But the B's prolific two-month performancealso begs a perfectlypessimistic question: how much better can things get between now and the playoffs.The quick and dirty answer would be "not much."

Injuries, suspensions, the natural fatigue of an 82-game hockey schedule, trades and the inflated egos borne out of great success could all gnaw away at the Bruins between now and the end of April. Thats a genuine New Englanders view of things when they appear to be going too well, but its also the approach the Bruins are taking in a roundabout way by dominating right now.

The Black and Gold banked as many points as possible leading into the Christmas holiday because theyve looked at the schedule, and the players know it wont be nearly as favorable in the second half of the year. They're a team built on lineup depth and they've shown good organizational depth with Zach Hamill's emergency performance in December, but that will be severely tested over the next three months.

It starts with a Western road trip through Phoenix and Dallas that begins Wednesday night, and the Bs players acknowledged the pros and cons of hitting the road as they prepared to board the team charter at Hanscom Air Field Tuesday morning.

Were a team that plays pretty well on the road historically and we like being on the road. It felt like we were at home for pretty much the entire month of October, so now were getting into the thick of it over the next few months, said Shawn Thornton. So its back to eat, sleep, play hockey and thats about it.

My whole time with Claude Julien hes been really good about days off. Maybe there have been a couple more this year, but weve been home a lot more this year and theres been an opportunity for it. Were probably going to have to find days here in the second half, but were all aware that we played until mid-June last seasonand rest is important.

The Bs have 48 games remaining in the regular season schedule, and 28 of those will be on the road with largeroad trip chunks inboth the months of January and March. Its something the Bs knew was coming when they played 13 of the first 17 at TD Garden to open their Stanley Cup defense along with a schedule givingfew days off once the Bruins hit Dallas for a New Years Eve tilt.NHL All-Star weekend in Ottawa looks to be the only real oasis for most of the players as they get into the grind of the campaign.

So the chances are legs will start getting heavy, shifts will get laborious,raw emotions will be more difficult to summonand the results wont necessarily be there once the dog days of the season hit the Bs. Couple itwith the overlap effect from last years Stanley Cup run, and Boston has a good test coming up if they want to remain at the top of the conference. The Cuphangover is most assuredly over, but it will be interesting to see just how much gas the Bs have in the tankduringthe latter moments of the regular season.

It looks like a pretty tough schedule coming up here. It looks like they tried to give us some time at the beginning of the year to recover and rest up as much as we could, said Brad Marchand. Were just going to have to rest up as much we can to prepare for whats coming ahead.

Theres little doubt the Bruins will be one of the best teams if things remain as theyve been over the last 60 days, but there will be some very real challenges facing this team in the coming months.

Health and good fortune were on their side last season, and its going to take some luck from the hockey gods for that to happen once again for the Bruins. Theyve been the best team in hockey over the last two months, and the challenge nowis to sustain that over thelong haul from now until the playoffs.

Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

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Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Perhaps part of the confused look from the Boston Bruins on the ice Sunday night in Las Vegas was a nagging feeling of déjà vu they never could shake. The Vegas Golden Knights took a 3-1 win over the Bruins for their fourth win in five tries this season, and handed the Bruins their third truly dreadful-looking defeat in five games played on the young hockey season.

It was tough to avoid the feeling that the Golden Knights were basically “Boston Bruins West”, and that was never too far away from notice as things played out on Sunday. Old friend and former Bruins play-by-play man Dave Goucher and ex-B's defenseman "Sheriff" Shane Hnidy are the friendly faces on the Vegas TV telecast, and were on the Jumbotron pregame in a skit with Carrot Top, of all people, to run down the arena's safety rules in a funny and well-produced video.

Former Bruins PR guru and Beverly native Eric Tosi is in charge of the media relations with the Golden Knights, and has been a busy, busy man along with the rest of the Vegas franchise getting the expansion club off the ground. He was even busier this past weekend, albeit with a relaxed smile on his face, as 20 members of the Tosi clan made the road trip out to Vegas to see the first NHL game between the two franchises.

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And there were the actual familiar faces on the ice with ex-Bruins Malcolm Subban and Colin Miller excelling against their old team. Subban only needed to stop 21 shots in the victory, but was able to finish his first NHL start and earn his first career NHL win against the Bruins franchise that left him unprotected on waivers just a couple of weeks ago.

The Bruins didn’t make the 23-year-old Subban sweat much during the game with pedestrian shots that hit the first-round pick squarely in the jersey crest, and pretty much zero attempts to beat his questionable glove hand.

"We know Malcolm well," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "He's a good first-shot goaltender for the most part. We wanted to put some stress on him and make him uncomfortable on those second ones, and I don't think we did a good job on that."

But give Subban credit for calming down his mental approach and refining his technique enough to play solid positional goaltending against the Bruins, and gaining some sweet revenge in the process.

Subban wasn’t gloating about it or basking in any kind of vengeance against his former team, but instead just expressed happiness at doing the job after stepping in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. It remains to be seen if Subban is going to be able to hold down the fort against the teams that will inevitably test him more than the hapless Bruins did, but he gave his team a good chance to win on Sunday.

"It's a great feeling. I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I'm just happy to get the win. The biggest thing was just not thinking, staying focused, and staying in the moment. It feels really good to get the first win in your first game," said Subban, "My first shot I got good control on it and that got me in the game a lot. You never know how the game is going to go in the NHL. It’s really technical. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of shots, so you gotta stay focused, and I felt I did that tonight.

“I thought I played pretty good. The biggest thing was my depth and not getting too deep in the net. Give myself the better opportunity to make the save. I feel like I did that (Sunday). There weren’t too many high chances. [There were] a lot of textbook saves and just having good rebound control. I’m happy to get the win.”

Miller didn’t factor into the scoring for the Golden Knights against the Bruins, but he was extremely active with three shots on net and eight shot attempts in 18:25 of ice time. He got plenty of power play time, was a plus player and looks like he might get the chance to develop his game in Vegas that hadn’t quite played out over the previous couple of years in Boston.

The Bruins won’t return to Vegas until next season, but the hope has to be those same Golden Knights’ familiar faces won’t get the best of the B’s when they come for their one-and-only visit to TD Garden at the beginning of November.

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

LAS VEGAS -- Even though it's only five games into a new regular season, it feels like the Bruins are in danger of going off the tracks.

They finished their three-game Western road swing Sunday with an aimless 3-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, which came on the heels of a wretched defeat in Colorado and a victory over the winless Coyotes. Sunday was particularly disheartening, as they never tested their ex-goalie, Malcolm Subban, putting only 21 mostly harmless shots on net against a player they gave away on waivers just a few weeks ago,

They may only have three losses in five games, but it sure feels like there's trouble starting to brew in Bruins land.

“It could be a lot of different things,” said Brad Marchand about the loss to Las Vegas. "We may not have been as mentally prepared for that game as we thought we were. They wanted it more than we did. They out-battled us in a lot of areas and they were the better team. We were making it hard on ourselves. We were trying to do too much with the puck, and not directing enough of the pucks toward the net. You can’t get rebound and you can’t get bodies there if the puck isn’t going there.”

That is a lot of different things. A lot of different problems:

-- They couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net against a rugged Vegas defensive group that was going to make them battle to get there.

-- Once again they had too many passengers along for the ride, with both Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano failing to even be a blip on the game’s radar screen. Spooner suffered a lower body injury midway through the game, but while he was out there he was a non-factor once again. 

-- It felt like there was no flow at all to Boston’s game, with breakouts dogged by sloppy passing and players who weren’t hard enough on the puck.

-- When they did get a chance to create something they either missed the net with their shot, or opted not to even take the shot in the first place. 

-- They lost 67 percent of the 57 draws taken during the game, and saw Spooner, Riley Nash and David Krejci and Ryan Spooner go a combined 8-for-29 in the face-off circle.

-- They chased the puck for long stretches and certainly didn’t ever put together anything approaching a consistent, driving pressure in the offensive zone.

Missing stalwart veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Backes certainly isn’t helping. It makes the Bruins a much smaller group up front that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger defensive units.

But even so, there’s a sense the Bruins can’t consistently bring their 'A' game to the rink with them and don’t seem to have much fight when they fall down by a couple of goals. Trailing by just two goals going into the third period, the Bruins had four shots on net for most of the final period until a late flurry produced a score by David Pastrnak.

Perhaps of more concern, though, is the growing feeling that the Bruins aren’t all on the same page.

Marchand vaguely referenced that the Bruins weren’t prepared to play Sunday, and Tuukka Rask said he’ll no longer comment on anything except his own goaltending. Rask has always been candid and willing to be frank about any shortcomings after Bruins losses, but it appears that’s not something that is any longer welcome inside the B’s dressing room.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on,” said Rask. “I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

Meanwhile, Krejci was similarly short in his postgame thoughts and started talking about avoiding pointing fingers after a frustrating loss.

“There’s no reason to point fingers," he said. "Yeah, we lost a game and it was a frustrating loss. But it’s just the fifth game of the season, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of it. We’re going to back to Boston, we’re going to work hard in practices and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”

Clearly, the fact this stuff is coming to the surface just five games into the season is a cause for concern. But it makes sense, given the way the Bruins are letting an easy portion of the season slip through their fingers.

In their first 10 games of the year, they're facing only one team that made the playoffs last season and they've got plenty of spaced-out stretches in the schedule to get off to a strong, healthy start. Instead they’re losing to subpar teams and highly unproven goalies, and doing so with a real lack of energy or purpose on the ice.

Certainly management would be smart to think about shipping underperforming players like Vatrano back to the AHL in place of Peter Cehlarik or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. And a few more games like Sunday’s snooze-fest could advance trade talks for a player like Matt Duchene.

But there aren’t going to be any easy answers. It comes down to hard work and hunkering down together as a team, and Sunday’s pitifully inept loss in a very winnable situation was yet another sign the Bruins aren't even close to being there yet.

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