Haggerty: Early returns are undeniably good for Cassidy, Bruins

Haggerty: Early returns are undeniably good for Cassidy, Bruins

BOSTON – It’s so far, so good, two games into the Bruce Cassidy Era with the Bruins.

Boston’s 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden wasn’t quite as impressive, obviously, as the initial game when the Bruins pounded the San Jose Sharks while scoring six goals in the process.


But the Bruins showed good resolve after taking a pretty good punch from the Canucks in the second period while getting outshot 15-3 and giving up a tying goal with just 0.6 seconds left. It was a spot where the Bruins stopped skating and lost their aggressiveness, and where Cassidy thought they deserved a little damage after veering too far away from the game plan while playing tentatively all over the ice.

“We almost needed to get scored on [in the second period] because we became disrespectful to the game, I thought. We weren’t managing pucks, we were circling and not making the easy plays," Cassidy said. "So, if you win, you hope you learn some of those lessons throughout the course of the game and hope you don’t learn too hard of a lesson that costs you the game.

“But we bounced back very well, just like the goal in the third, the PK goal, we kept playing, we didn’t sort of sit back and say ‘maybe we’ll get this thing to overtime if we’re lucky.’ We kept playing, we wanted to score the next goal and that’s a credit to the group and the leadership in there to keep the guys focused on going forward and not looking back.”

In essence, Cassidy said that his Bruins played to win in the third period rather than playing not to lose, and they managed to score a couple of goals to make certain they got the two points in regulation. It served as a good lesson for a team that too many times buckled under adversity in the recent past, or deviated from their game plan to simply play it safe and conservative in the third period. 

In many ways, Cassidy has been trying to change the way Bruins players think situationally in many aspects of the game. That was one of the lessons from a victory they had to grind for to earn on Saturday.

The game ended on a David Krejci cross-ice stretch pass to David Pastrnak for the game-winner in the closing minutes of the third period. The 20-year-old Czech winger appreciated that the Black and Gold weren’t simply playing for overtime.

“They tied it [in the second period]. They didn’t get the go-ahead goal, so the win was still 50-50,” said Pastrnak, whose goal was his 25th of the season and his 100th career NHL point. “It’s great we didn’t sit back, and we went after it. We had a couple good shifts after the goal and it went in for us and it was great.”

Clearly, the push by the Bruins to win it in the third period was noticeable. The aggressive offensive tweaks pushing the D-men to the rush paid dividends with a pair of goals from the back end. There are things on the ice that the Bruins are doing differently, and some would say better, under Cassidy while winning each of the last two games.

There will also be times when the aggressive approach will backfire and turn into mistakes at the wrong time. There will undoubtedly need to be a balance that’s reached between risk-taking and picking the proper spots. But even the line changes are working since Cassidy tweaked things up front as well.

Installing David Backes with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand got goals from all three players in the win over San Jose, and a third line of young, offensive-minded players in Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes set up a pair of goals in the one-goal victory.

Vatrano, Spooner and Hayes is the kind of combination that Claude Julien simply wouldn’t, or couldn’t, go with because the longtime B’s bench boss felt there were too many potential liabilities defensively with three forwards that think offense-first. But it paid dividends on Saturday afternoon, where the B’s third line won a game for them for one of the first times this season when it had been “top six or bust” for most of the year.

“We played with a lot of speed and a lot of pace, and I think that helps us a lot. We kind of talked about it. I felt, in the last game, we were kind of staying to the outside, and we had to get some pucks to the net, and we did that, and we scored. So that’s good,” said Spooner, who fed Kevan Miller with a cross-ice dish in transition for Boston’s first goal. “I think with our team now, we’ve got [25] games left, it’s going to be about being more of a consistent team. I think if we can do that, we should be fine.”

Consistently scoring goals and playing well on home ice have been big issues with the Black and Gold for most of this season. They’re now 2-0-0 at home under Cassidy while having scoring a combined 10 goals in those two games. The early returns have been good, but the Bruins now they have their stiffest test on Sunday night against the arch-rival Montreal Canadiens, who would love to kick the Bruins back down a few notches. Fortunately for the B’s, the Habs have their own problems right now. They're 3-5-2 in their past 10 games while scrambling to find their own top level of play.

“I’m going to leave that up to you guys [in the media],” said Krejci, when asked the biggest differences between Julien and Cassidy behind the bench. “It’s been two games, but it’s been good. So let’s keep it going. We do have different lines and we’ve kind of balanced the scoring a little bit more, but it’s only been two games.”

Well, if Krejci is looking for this humble hockey writer’s opinion, here it is: The early returns are in and very good for Cassidy and a Bruins team playing faster, more aggressive and more decisive offensively at a time when they clearly needed something different if the outcome was going to be any better at the end of the season. 

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.


Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.