Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins out to right last year's wrongs

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Haggerty: Bruins out to right last year's wrongs

RALEIGH, NC The Bruins just keep blazing through the checklist and righting some of the wrongs from last season.

The biggest and most overarching hockey penance for Boston involves making everybody forget their stupefying, disappointing first-round loss to the Washington Capitals. But there are smaller, easier missions to be accomplished in the short term, and one of them was knocking around the Carolina Hurricanes after the young, hungry 'Canes club slapped them around last season.

Carolina swept them in a four-game regular season last year, outscored them 14-5 in those four games and gave the Bruins as much trouble as any team in the NHL has over the last few years. So the Bruins went out Monday night with a purpose and scored a pair of goals in the first seven minutes of the game to make a clear, dominant opening statement.

The Hurricanes made a comeback in the middle of the game, of course, but the Bruins opened and closed with authority to take the 5-3 victory at PNC Arena that elevated them to 4-0-1 on the season.

We still remembered what happened last year, said Nathan Horton. They took all four games from us. They really play us hard and we knew that coming in. We knew it was going to be a tight game going in and thats exactly what it was.

We played well and the big thing is that we got the win. In the end that was all that mattered.

The Bruins certainly hit some valleys within the 60 minutes in Carolina. Shawn Thornton and the fourth line couldnt get the puck out of the zone at the end of the second period, and that turned into a Jeff Skinner goal when he got the puck with a clear angle toward the net.

Less than a minute later, the Hurricanes scored again when Dougie Hamilton had already sped up the ice on an anticipated offensive rush, and Chris Kelly was left to lug the puck out of the D-zone with Alex Semin bearing down on him. That turned into an Eric Staal bomb from the slot that tied up the game after Kelly turned the puck over near the blue line, and things looked dicey.

Thats when Claude Julien reminded his skaters they still had 20 minutes to exact their revenge on Carolina, and they looked properly motivated while outshooting the Hurricanes by a 17-8 margin in the final 20 minutes.

If anything those two goals we gave up at the end of the second, we got caught standing still or the defense got caught moving the wrong way, said Julien. I went in and said Guys, the last time I checked weve got a 3-3 hockey game so you cant afford to hang your heads and drag it into the third. Weve got to go win a 20 minute third period. The guys did a good job of answering that call.

It eventually took a Hamilton cross-ice beauty of a pass to David Krejci during a wild scramble in front of the net in the final three minutes of regulation to bring the Bruins their fourth victory in five games. Tyler Seguin's empty net score for the puck prodigys first goal of the season was simply icing on the cake.

The game contained much more positive than negative for the Bs despite the tight score: the Bruins scored a pair of power play goals, their PK unit continued to dominate and kicked in a shorthanded goal, Horton scored on a breathtaking rush from the neutral zone that trumpeted just how solid hes been to start the season, and Boston got a resounding yes on the question of whether Anton Khudobin will be capable stepping up as the clubs backup goaltender.

They came back there at the end of the second and we were still tied, said Horton. We knew we could win, so we kept pushing and it came right down to the goals at the end.

If you told us that we would be all even going into the final period against them we would have taken that.

With Carolina licking their wounds after a physical defeat at the hands of a Bruins team that has yet to be beaten in regulation, the Bruins now move on to new peaks to scale.

Whats the new challenge for the Black and Gold?

Its about proving they can handle the back-to-back game situations that will arrive fast and furiously during the abbreviated season, and coming to play against a New Jersey Devils team that has not yet lost a game in regulation this season. The Devils had the luxury of sitting around in Boston last night waiting for the Bruins as the B's resided in NASCAR country for their game in Carolina.

Now Boston is the hunted rather than the hunter.

Thats because the Bruins dominated the Devils in four games last season despite New Jersey making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Talented layers like David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk will be looking to reverse that trend on the Black and Gold without their captain, Zach Parise. Unlike the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers, the Bruins are off to an excellent start this season while taking full advantage of the familiarity and large number of players coming back from Europe that gave them an early advantage on the competition.

Now the challenge is on for the Bruins to keep the Black and Gold train moving as Monday night kicked off a stretch of playing four games in six days. On the bright side, they were 9-4 in the second game of back-to-back situations last season and outscored their opponents by nearly 30 goals.

We learned from last year. We had a pretty bad start. This year we were ready to go and we know its important to get points in a short season, said David Krejci, who smoked the game-winning shot with 1:50 left to go in the third period. Weve got nine out of ten points and thats pretty good. But we need to keep it going.

Its time to prove they can pile up points when the season starts transforming into a compacted grind rather than the leisurely pace they experienced over the first week-plus of the season.

Just mark that one down as more goal on a season full of prove it moments for the Black and Gold as they make the slow, laborious march back up to the NHL mountaintop.

Miller, Krejci game-time decisions tonight; O'Gara called up

Miller, Krejci game-time decisions tonight; O'Gara called up

BRIGHTON, Mass – It wouldn’t be a Bruins game this season if there weren’t some health question marks entering a game night, so the B’s will once again have a few players up in the air for the lineup tonight against the Buffalo Sabres.

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David Krejci (back) and Kevan Miller (upper body) were both on the ice prior to morning skate and Krejci participated in the optional practice, along with Patrice Bergeron and a handful of others on Saturday morning at Warrior Ice Arena. Krejci and Miller were termed game-time decisions based on the way things went this morning and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy could have more lineup juggling in front of him based on those players.

Krejci said he was taking things “day-by-day”, but didn’t think it was going to be a long-term injury even if he misses the game.

“We’ll kind of take it day-by-day and we’ll see. I feel better than two days ago, so I guess we’ll be taking it day-by-day,” said Krejci. “I got hit in the last game and that forced me to leave the game. It’s a brand new injury and it just happened the other day. So that’s what it is.

“I don’t think it’s an injury that would be long term. It’s just one of these things that happens [during the games]. I wouldn’t lie to you if it was something that was a week or two weeks. We’ll just see how I feel later tonight. Injuries happen to every team. Hopefully, this is it for us here early in the season, and down the stretch, we’ll be healthy pushing for the playoffs.”

First the definite situations for the Black and Gold: Bergeron will play for the second game in a row and Paul Postma will be in the lineup, with Adam McQuaid shelved for the next couple of months with a broken leg. Beyond that, the Bruins could swing Miller from the left side to the right side if he plays, Charlie McAvoy could be added to the penalty kill and David Backes could end up playing some center if Matt Beleskey draws back into the lineup.

“We’ll probably move people around. [David] Backes, [Tim] Schaller has played some center over the years and obviously [Patrice] Bergeron looks like he’s going to play,” said Cassidy. “I think we’ll be okay. We sat out a forward the [Thursday vs. the Canucks], so we’ll move people around.

“Kevan will be a game-time decision, so we had a discussion about that and we’ll look into that as well. [Krejci] got hit in the lower back the other night, tried to finish and it’s one of those ones where at puck drop we’ll know.”

Robbie O’Gara popped on the Bruins roster on their team website early on Saturday afternoon, so the Yale alum will get the call if Miller can’t answer the bell on Saturday night. Another piece of good news: Noel Acciari skated with the injured players ahead of the morning skate and appears to be progressing slowly from his broken finger.  

Anything, it seems, is possible for these banged-up B’s as another body drops with each passing game or practice. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings vs. the Sabres based on an optional morning skate:

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Schaller-Nash-Backes

Beleskey-Kuraly-Agostino

 
Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

O’Gara/Miller-Postma

 
Khudobin

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

BRIGHTON, Mass – The good news for Tuukka Rask on Friday is that there was no dark, quiet room required for the Bruins goaltender when he reported to the Warrior Ice Arena practice facility for treatment for his concussion.

Instead, the Bruins goalie got going on the concussion protocol after getting steam-rolled by Anders Bjork at practice on Wednesday morning and started the road back to recovery from his first concussion suffered at the NHL level. In the further good news department, Bruins backup netminder Anton Khudobin stepped up in Rask’s absence and stopped 26-of-29 shots in a winning effort over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

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So now Khudobin has twice as many wins as Rask in half as many starts in the opening two weeks of the season. That’s certainly good for the Russian backup that stumbled out of the starting gate last season but has really fortified his spot early this year with a strong training camp followed by a .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average this year.  

“I’ve been there before. I’ve played many games in a row before in the AHL and the NHL, so it’s the same routine. It’s just harder to be honest when you’re playing one game every two weeks or something,” said Khudobin. “I’ll talk to Goalie Bob about what I did good or bad, get ready for practice, stretch it out and warm it up, go get it at practice and get ready for the games.”

That’s in stark contrast to Rask, who has a pair of losses to the worst team in the NHL last season, the Colorado Avalanche, and a defeat out in Las Vegas where he was out-dueled by Bruins castoff Malcolm Subban. The defense hasn’t been particularly good in front of him in those games and the team only scored a total of four goals in Rask’s three losses, but the All-Star netminder was also far from sharp with an .882 save percentage to start the season.

The home loss to Colorado, in particular, was a poor performance from Rask where he buried his team with an early deficit once a couple of soft goals by him in the first period. Compounding the lack of quality play from Rask was his odd choice to cease talking about team performance with the media following the loss to the Golden Knights.

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

It certainly sounded and felt like Rask was directed to only talk about his own play by somebody higher up in the Bruins organization, and it was that kind of a development rather than the Bruins goalie passive-aggressively dissing his teammates. But that kind of directive from the organization would also speak to some pre-existing friction between Rask and his teammates where past criticism has perhaps rubbed some of them the wrong way.

It felt that way when Rask and David Krejci spoke about things in a tense dressing room in Las Vegas following last weekend’s loss, and it felt that way late last season when the Finnish goalie stayed home in Boston while watching Khudobin win one of the biggest games of the season in Brooklyn against the Islanders. At times in the past, something hasn’t always felt quite right about the dynamic between Rask and the rest of the Bruins, and it’s not a particularly good sign that both parties seemed to already be headed down that path just five games into this season.

All of this makes for some very interesting timing with the Anders Bjork collision into Rask that knocked him for a loop, and has now opened the door wide for Khudobin to start a few games in a row. Should Khudobin play well and continue to backstop a winning hockey team playing hard in front of him, it will make for a much tougher goalie decision than some might anticipate. Rask is clearly the better goaltender in terms of talent, upside, resume and accomplishments over the last eight years, but the question becomes how much is that offset by the Bruins team potentially playing a better brand of hockey with Khudobin between the pipes.

Maybe it’s because Khudobin is the backup and the Bruins are trying to play tighter defense in front of him, but it’s hard to argue the fact that Boston seems to play a smarter, stronger game when the backup gets the call.  

“That’s what I’m there for, but at the same time, I wasn’t thinking, 'Oh maybe [Rask] is going to get hurt and he’s not going to play [the next few games].' I’m not thinking that way, definitely,” said Khudobin. “I was just focusing on my practice. Whatever coach is going to tell me after the practice, then I will keep moving from that point.”

The best-case scenario for the Bruins is that Khudobin plays good, strong, winning hockey in Rask’s absence and that in turn lights a fire under the No. 1 goaltender after he looked fairly laissez-faire in his first few games this season. That’s what everybody saw out of Rask late last season when he was called out by the Bruins coaching staff and challenged by a red-hot Khudobin pushing for some big game starts.

Perhaps that is exactly the kind of collective kick to the hockey pants that’s needed for Rask to start carrying the Bruins team once he gets healthy again.

A deeper question, however, would involve asking how much longer the Bruins want to hitch their wagons to a $7 million a year goalie that needs to mentally recharge his batteries from time to time, and who begins to wilt performance-wise if he makes more than 55-60 start in an NHL season. Members of the Rask Fan Club will point to his career .922 save percentage, but it's been three years since he's been able to consistently reach that level of performance. 

The older Rask, 30, gets, the more baggage is getting added on with a performance level that’s dropped from his Vezina Trophy-winning days. Some of that is clearly about the defense getting a makeover in front of him, but it’s also about Rask just not always being as consistently good when Boston needs him most in the big games.

Khudobin certainly wouldn’t be the long-term answer for the Bruins, and the jury is out on whether or not Zane McIntyre has a future in the NHL as a goalie. So there’s no long-term solution if they suddenly decided to go away from Rask for any reason. But if this humble hockey writer was coaching the Bruins and Khudobin goes on a winning tear over the next few weeks? A healthy Rask wouldn’t automatically be handed his No. 1 workload upon his return, and it would be a couple of goalies splitting time to decide who wants it more.  

That kind of situation might not be up to goaltender controversy standards at this early point in the season, but there’s nothing wrong with making Rask grind for it a little when he does come back after breezing through some early season losses. 

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