Bruins

Haggerty: Don't cry over blocked shots

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Haggerty: Don't cry over blocked shots

There seems to be an obsession with blocked shots out there in the world of hockey these days.

The pundits say that shot-blocking teams have snuffed offense right out of the playoffs and dulled down the game at the most important time of the year.

The courage and willingness to step in front of slap shots has always been a part of playoff hockey, and always will be. It was a giant part of the Caps upset of the second-seeded Bruins, and helped them push into the second round of the postseason.

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers series certainly highlighted the art of throwing ones body in front of speeding pucks, and it was underscored when the Blueshirts blocked 26 shots in their 3-0 shutout win over the Devils in Game 1 of the conference finals.

There is no doubt its a factor, but there are also some myths slowly becoming fact as this years playoff run unfolds.

The stats through the regular season dont back up the shot-blocking complaints emanating from the four corners of the whining hockey world.

Eastern Conference teams are averaging 2.5 goals per game during this years playoffs in 40 games thus far and the final numbers could rise depending on the offensive output between the Rangers and the Devils in the conference finals.

Last year Eastern Conference teams averaged 2.74 goals per game during 41 playoff games prior to Boston ascending to the Stanley Cup Finals. Theres a slight drop in offense there, but nothing so dramatic that it could be starkly noticeable.

Hockey teams mimic other teams when they create successful formulas for winning, and the blocking shots by any means necessary hasnt truly borne that out.

Of the four teams left in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the New Jersey Devils (30th) and the Los Angeles (29th) Kings blocked the fewest shots in the NHL this season, and the Phoenix Coyotes ranked 19th in blocked shots during the season.

The Rangers are known as the shot-blocking kings on the hockey block, but they only finished seventh in the NHL in blocked shots this season. Five of the top shot-blocking teams in the NHL this season (Canadiens, Stars, Islanders, Oilers and Maple Leafs) didnt get a sniff of the postseason this year, and the San Jose Sharks were bounced in the first round after finishing second with 721 blocked shots during the regular season.

What do all of these numbers mean?

The number of voices grousing about the quality of game during the playoffs or decrying the decline of hockey civilization as we know it are overstating things quite a bit. There really isnt much difference from last years playoff run that seemed to electrify everyone with a highly entertaining Stanley Cup Finals.

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

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It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

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