Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins, Savard make the right decision

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Haggerty: Bruins, Savard make the right decision

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Marc Savard and the Boston Bruins arent about to make the same mistake again.

Savard suffered whats looking more and more like a career-altering concussion from an unpunished Matt Cooke elbow a hit that was dirtier than the grime beneath a mechanics fingernails that continues to haunt the playmaking center.

The 32-year-old is such a competitor that he, in retrospect, pushed himself back a bit too early when he returned for the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers last spring. Savard has since admitted that post-concussion-syndrome symptoms recurred as that postseason series went on.

The tipping point for Savard came when he played 23 minutes in Game Four following David Krejcis season-ending wrist injury. He hasnt been the same since.

His team needed him, and he obliged with as much as he could possibly give against the Flyers. But he paid the price, suffering through a summer filled with fatigue, depression and symptoms associated with post-concussion syndrome.

Savard finally cleared that hurdle this season for a semi-triumphant return, but the damning fog returned after hits from Deryk Engelland of the Penguins and Matt Hunwick of the Colorado Avalanche two weeks ago.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of last season, when Savard perhaps pushed his body past the breaking point in the name of capturing a Cup, the Bruins are doing the right thing while leaving no wiggle room for themselves or their player.

General manager Peter Chiarelli announced Monday afternoon theyll be shutting Savard down for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs in the hopes of giving him the proper time to convalesce.

We feel that its best for his short-term, medium-term, and long-term welfare, security, his family, said Chiarelli. There are obviously a lot of consequences that flow from this.

Savards teammates, coaches, managers and friends all were uniform in their feelings on a day that felt more like a funeral than anything else: its about Savard the person getting better way before its about Savard the player returning to the ice.

I know he was working hard to come back and get to where he was at. I think he was frustrated at times, because it didnt come all the way back, said Chiarelli of Savard, who had 10 points and a minus-7 in 25 games. So those hits, I think they were in the gray area. Yeah, there was a concern, as a manager and as a friend . . .

Patrice Bergeron, along with fellow team captains Zdeno Chara and Mark Recchi, attended the press conference. He couldnt help but flash back to himself three years ago while watching Savard pale, frightened, withdrawn answering questions.

Bergeron could have been in the same situation had the Bruins advanced past the Montreal Canadiens in the 2007-08 playoffs. A Boston victory could have led to Bergeron returning from a concussion that cost him almost the entire regular season.

Looking back on it in retrospect, Bergeron said the Bruins dropping Game Seven to the Habs might have been the best thing that ever happened in his recovery from a sickening hit handed out by Philly defenseman Randy Jones.

You never want to see that happen to anybody, and when it happens to your teammate and friend its even worse, said Bergeron, who said hes texted back and forth with Savard about the symptoms hes going through in the latest concussion. Hes the one that knows his body the most, and he needs to make sure hes honest with himself.

Its not easy sitting out the rest of the season and Im sure that he really wants to come back this season. People talk about money, but thats not even an issue. This is our passion and we love to play this game. Hes shut down for the rest of the year and Im sure he doesnt even know what to do with himself. Hes probably going to take a lot of time to think about his future. Hes got to think about himself first and make sure hes feeling normal before he makes any decisions.

Bergeron knows how frustrated Savard feels about missing the upcoming postseason, and also knows itll be doubly frustrating if hes feeling fully back to health.

But sometimes professional athletes used to pushing their bodies past the limits of exertion need a concerned outside party holding them back from hurting themselves, and thats what the Bruins are doing.

Bergeron needed it when he was raring to hop into the playoffs in 2008, months before his body was again strong enough to take the NHL pounding.

Savard needs that kind of patience now.

Ive been through it. When the playoffs came around I was really itching to get back, said Bergeron. I was feeling better, but not returning was probably the best decision for me. The doctors making that decision and then me eventually agreeing with that decision was the best thing for me.

Looking back on it, I dont regret anything I did while recovering because I needed that full time to get back to normal, feeling confident and catching up to the speed of the game. For Savvy its about getting back to normal, working hard over the summer and getting ready for training camp.

Savard admitted to suffering fatigue, short-term memory loss and bouts of vertigo, along with random headaches and clear personality changes obvious to anyone familiar with him during his five years in Boston.

It made Savard seem like a ghost, or a haunted hockey soul, on a sad Monday afternoon at TD Garden.

Im having still some headaches off and on, said Savard. I think the things that scare me the most is little memory things or you know, I forget Ive asked someone a question or little things like that that scare me, and the odd dizzy stuff. So thats some stuff thats worried me.

Several times during the 24-minute press conference, Savard expressed frustration, sadness and obvious signs of depression while his eyes welled up as he vocalized his plight.

Savard was clearly thinking about hockey, but also 100 percent worried about the effect it might have on his career and life.

I think its just a mix. Ive got a lot of feelings going on. I think Im frustrated, mostly. Its tough to understand why this happens and obviously the most frustrating thing is to not be able to just know exactly whats going on and how to cure it, said Savard. And I think its just time and patience and those are things I feel like I dont have much of, so that makes it tough.

Nobody that watched Savard rolling around on the ice at the Pepsi Center, openly sobbing into a towel as he skated off the ice and asking Bs trainers Donnie DelNegro Why? Why me? can ever forget how damaging concussions have become in the NHL world.

The hope is that Savard can someday be a happy, healthy hockey player again bringing life and vivacious energy to the Bruins locker room. The Bruins made the bang-on correct decision by shutting down No. 91 to get him on that path.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Rask out tonight as he recovers from practice collision

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Rask out tonight as he recovers from practice collision

BRIGHTON, Mass – The string of injuries for the Bruins continues as Tuukka Rask (upper body) is out for tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden after getting trucked by Anders Bjork in practice Wednesday.

Rask was wobbly-legged while being helped off the ice after the violent collision and the 21-year-old Bjork looked like he’d also needed a couple of stitches on his chin after bloodying his practice jersey.

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The big concern is Rask still being evaluated by Bruins medical personnel for a possible concussion. It will be Anton Khudobin stepping in place for him against the Canucks with Providence Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre serving as his backup.

“Tuukka is out tonight. He’s going to get reevaluated today and we’ll have a better idea tomorrow,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Anton will start [against the Canucks].”

Clearly, Khudobin didn’t like seeing his goaltending partner get drilled in a spirited practice, but the 32-year-old is clearly feeling confident after a strong camp and a winning season debut last week against the Arizona Coyotes.

“You don’t want to see that, but at the same time we’ve got to keep moving forward and hopefully he’s going to get better soon,” said Khudobin, who stopped 29-of-31 shots in the win over Arizona last weekend. “I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year. My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

Otherwise, it looks like the Bruins will at least be getting some of their healthy bodies back with David Backes in the lineup and Patrice Bergeron a game-time decision against the Canucks. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings based on Wednesday’s practice:

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork
DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak
Schaller-Kuraly-Backes
Beleskey-Nash-Agostino
 
Chara-McAvoy
Miller-Carlo
Krug-McQuaid

Khudobin 

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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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