Bruins

Haggerty: B's hope trades get them over hump

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Haggerty: B's hope trades get them over hump

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

OTTAWA Theres a simple mandate for this Boston Bruins team.

The promise has been weighing them down since they shriveled up like the old"Shrinky Dinks" toysagainst the Philadelphia Flyers last spring, and it greeted them this fall with higher pressure and farless tolerance for mediocrity.

Some Bs players have noticed and commented privately that the pressure on the team seems more concentrated and unwavering this season than ever before, and theres a golden reason for that.

The Black and Gold have made it to the Stanley Cup semi-finals two years running, havent advanced beyond that second round of the postseason since way back in the rookie season ofTed Donato in1992 and havent won a Stanley Cup since way back in the pre-Hacks with Haggs year of 1972. To put that in perspective, Donato has been retired for five years and is the head hockey coach at Harvard University -- so it's accurate to say it's been a hell of a long time since the Bruins have done anything significant during Lord Stanley's tournament.

Stuff needed to change significantly this year for the Bruins, or things aregoing to start getting awfully uncomfortable for coaches, managers and players that just cant seem to get over the hump in Boston -- a place where "getting over the hump" has become child's play.

Credit Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli for stepping up strongly and announcing with actions rather than the truculent, hollow bluster preferred by others among hisNHL brethren that he waswilling to provide his hockey team with exactly what they requiredown the stretch this season.

The Bs needed TomasKaberle to elevate a sagging power play sputteringat an 18 percent success rate, and now they have him. Two years ago Chiarelli hit a bullseye with a dealfor Mark Recchi and a draft pick thats still benefitting the Bs long after former Bs prospects Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff are done with the Tampa Bay Lightning -- andout of hockey.

But that same year Chiarelli missed a chance for a better defenseman after settling for depth D-man Steve Montador who was a good player, but wasnt skilledenough to stepupfor the Bs once injuries hit their defensemen group and knocked down both Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick. A year ago the B'strade for Dennis Seidenberg looked like it was going to help strengthen their blueline in time for the postseason, but the team lost him to injury before the playoffs.Last year's Bruins alsonever truly found the scoring up front among group of forwards simply didnt have the right stuff, and that also goes on Chiarelli's trade deadline watch.

Neither of those teams had the right combo of personnel, and Chiarelli didnt quite go for broke in either scenario with big names potentially available each of those past two years. There was probably a sense particularly last summer -- that the Bruins general manager didn't have a killer instinct during the trading season, and perhaps lacked the willingness to overpay for a potential championship run.After the team's moves this week, Chiarelli and the Bruins are going for it this season, and leaving no doubt about it with their bold moves more than a week before the Feb. 28 deadline.

They want to go for it. The Bruins front office really want to do it. These trades mean that theyre giving us every opportunity, and that means its essentially up to us to go out there and do it, said Recchi, who has a pair of Stanley Cups on his resume among his 20 plus seasons of NHL experience and knows what it takes in an NHL dressing room. Were still working at consistency and working for 60 minutes. Its a process and we want to be going full steam ahead for the playoffs."

The Bruins paid a heavy future price in their 2011 first round draft pick, former first round selection Jumbo Joe Colborne and a conditional second round pick if the team A) signs Kaberle to a contract extension or B) gets to the Stanley Cup Finals this season.

Theres plenty of argument about the actual real value of the package sent in the form of a 6-foot-6 NCAA center trying to shed the tag that he doesnt play close to his massive size, and a first round pick that could be as low as the 25th selection in the first round. One thing that can't be denied: the immediate "Kaberle Effect" on the power play that helped set up a key Dennis Seidenberg goal in the third period of Friday night's 4-2 victory over Ottawa.

It brings more confidence into everybody to have a guy like Kaberle in our lineup, said Chara, who is going to get his fair share of goals blasting away from the right point. With him in there you know hes going to make plays and have some confidence, and that gives everybody else confidence.

Weve tried to make those moves in the last few years. It shows commitment and belief that we have in all of our players.

Theres little argument that securing Kaberle and to a lesser extent Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly makes the Bruins a serious, speedy threat for aStanley Cup in the wide open Eastern Conference. The Penguins are beset with injuries to their superstars, the Capitals are still undisciplined andbeatable, and the Flyers are relying on inexperienced rookie goaltending.Slotting Kaberle at the left point and Zdeno Chara on the right point has the makings of a special power play combo, and that's the kind of efficient, consistent power play production that the Bruins will need on a long run through the tough and tumble Eastern Conference.

The Bruins could afford to part with a young, unknown center given their surplus of pivots (Bergeron, Krejci, Campbell, Seguin, Kelly, Peverley, Savard), and the fact they still own Torontos No. 1 pick from the Phil Kessel deal that once again seems like itll be a Top Five pick.

But no matter how bare one potentially views Bostons cupboard of prospects orpicks after a slight overpayment to the Maple Leafs, theres always somerisk in sending talented young players and unknown draft choices in exchange for a veteran rental player for the durationof the current season.Kaberle is in the last year of a five-year contract he signed with the Maple Leafs, and both sides indicated some level of willingness to discuss contract extensions at a later date. The deal will essentially be judged by how Boston fares the rest of the season, and whether Chiarelli can lock up Kaberle long term over the summer. The B's have needed a puck-moving defensemen and power play specialist since Sergei Gonchar left town before the NHL lockout, and Kaberle is that guy.His 157 power play assists over the last six years rank him third in the NHL behind only Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby, and that tells anyone all they need to know.

Chiarelli said he viewed this season in much the same way he approached the Dennis Seidenberg trade a year ago a player that could help the Bruins in the short term as a midseason acquisition, and could also potentially be contract extension material if a mutual fit existed on both sides. The next two months give a good window for both player and team to make some determinations.

Much the way Seidenberg evolved into a good fit in the Boston dressing room from a player and personality standpoint, now the Bruins and Kaberle both get to try each other on for the next three months. It was pretty clear what happened on the ice: during the first four power play in Friday nights 4-2 win the Senators were draped all over them.But the fifth PP showed off Kaberle's ability to distribute the puck, and eventually it earned Seidenberga power play goal on a nifty open look at the Senators net.

Its important. I looked upon this trade as we looked upon the Dennis Seidenberg trade, like hes a guy that we want to resign. It gives you, having the time you acquire him to the time you sign him, it gives you the flavor of how the player fits in with the group, said Chiarelli. And of course there is a chance we wont resign him but I want to resign him. We want to resign him. "Ive had some brief conversations with Rich Curran, his agent, and nothing is forthcoming and nothing will be forthcoming until after the season. But Ive had a good history with Rick Curran and Orr Hockey Group and weve had a good history. I think it would be smooth sailing to sign him when it comes to that time. So its an important part of this deal because we are giving up significant assets.

Most important of all, the Bruins players truly believe that management has made an unmistakable push with the right kind of players, and that unifying thought is that its Stanley Cupor bust this season in Boston.B's management has done everything possible to improvea team with some weaknesses, and now it's up to the remaining players to make good on it.

Chiarelli and the Bruins have gone all in on their hand this season, and now its time to see how good they can possibly be.

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

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.

http://www.nbcsports.com/boston/bruins/bruins-goalie-decisions-may-become-tougher-you-might-think?int

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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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