Bruins

Haggerty: Is the NHL getting even with Bruins?

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Haggerty: Is the NHL getting even with Bruins?

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

TORONTO Perhaps the balance has now been paid in full by the NHL after a week of Bruins-related fines, suspensions and assorted supplemental discipline goodies.

The league has been under fire by crazed Montreal fanatics, Air Canada executives and even the Canadian Prime Minister among others since Zdeno Chara escaped official vilification for his collision with Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre two weeks ago.

The hockey play hit aside from being your garden variety interference call resulted in nary a suspension or fine for Chara a decision aided by his record of clean living within the NHL for the past 13 seasons.

That courageous, principled decision led to a firestorm of criticism and a ridiculously simplistic role for Chara as the NHLs version of Frankensteins Monster terrorizing the hockey hillside while abusing smaller, weaker hockey players.

Its actually pretty easy to imagine the more imbalanced Habs fans grabbing pitchforks and torches to chase around the 6-foot-9 defenseman after they burned police cruisers in the streets three years when the No. 1 seed Habs took down the No. 8 seed Bruins in a first round playoff series.

The NHLs Hockey Operations people seem to have responded to the criticism in the way only they can in the handful of games since the CharaPacioretty unfurled on the ice.

The league has called a lopsided ratio of penalties against Boston (20 power plays for the Bs opponents and only 11 for the Black and Gold) in the last four games since Chara and the Big Bad Bruins did the deed that evening in Montreal.

The NHL has also seemingly gone above and beyond their customary methods to show theres no favoritism toward the Boston franchise or from Colin Campbell toward the team his son skates for.

One wouldnt think the NHL feels the need to prove a guy like Jumbo Joe Thornton not to be confused with one of the great hockey MENSA candidates of our times wrong after he expressed an opinion that the league has always favored the Bruins.

After all Thornton cited a Milan Lucic cross-check in the playoffs two seasons ago that the Bs power forward was actually suspended for when referencing some fictitious double-standard in favor of Boston.

Jumbo was never one to let the actual facts get in the way of one of his half-baked philosophies, but Thorntons conspiracy theory does speak to a whispered perception around the league when it comes to the Bruins.

The NHL appears to have gone out of their way to strike at the Bs and show a little tough love when ruling on a pair of incidents in back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators.

Brad Marchand clocked R.J. Umberger in the back of the head with a blindside elbow earlier this week that momentarily dropped the Blue Jackets forward, and caused a minor skirmish in its aftermath.

No penalty was called at the time, Umberger walked away from the incident and he actually took a dastardly run at Rich Peverley on his very next shift on the ice for the Jackets.

For that the 22-year-old Marchand was slapped with a two-game suspension and over 6,000 in lost game checks, and the pesky Bs forward gamely accepted his punishment like a man. There was no crying about injustice or where he intended to hit Umberger, or where his elbow made contact.

Marchand simply served the time after doing the crime.

But this is where things get a little dicey.

The Bs were involved in another elbowing incident Thursday night in their overtime loss to the Preds.

Patric Hornqvist charged in on Tyler Seguin during the closing minutes of the first period and smashed his pointed elbow into the side of Seguins head as he finished his check. Seguin had little time to protect himself after flipping the puck away, and took the full brunt of impact behind his ear.

Hornqvist drove his elbow into Seguins head with such force that he ripped apart the bottom of the Bs rookies left ear lobe an injury that required seven stitches to simply put things back together again for Seguin.

The rookies gruesome ear looked like a Mike Tyson chew toy for the better part of three periods, but Seguin somehow avoided a concussion-type injury on the play.Predators coach Barry Trotz gave some mealy-mouthed explanation that Hornqvist kept his elbow in on the hit following the game, but numerous replays along with Seguins cauliflower ear seemed to indicate the exact opposite happened.

It was expected Hornqvist would get some kind of suspension similar to what awaited Marchand and Dany Heatley each of the last two days: a two-game suspension and a warning flare throughout the league that head shots were going to be closely scrutinized.

For reasons that NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy hasnt made abundantly clear, the NHL opted to simply slap Hornqvist with a light 2,500 fine and a warning not to do it again.

Thats all well and good if the league is trying to breed uncertainly and confusion about head shots.

But this situation seemed tailor-made for supplementary discipline and will instead fuel speculation this whole week has been a weak NHL effort to make up for something people feel they missed with Chara and Pacioretty. Given the makeup mentality that the league has long practiced -- and the downright head-scratching manner they mete out justice -- it's a legitimate question to be asked.

The NHL continues to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to making a clear and present stand against head shots and did it again by giving the kid gloves treatment to Hornqvist.

It was an elbow to the head meant to send a message after Seguin scored an early goal in the game, and those are exactly the kind of murky plays most players want the league to sanction right into extinction.

As always, Patrice Bergeron is the voice of reason on these situations after his career was almost snuffed out by one of those borderline hockey plays three years ago.

I thought Hornqvist certainly deserved the match penalty, said Bergeron. He led with an elbow instead of his shoulder, so it was clearly an elbow. I dont know what their take on the hit was. Maybe they thought the elbow hit Seguins shoulder and then went up into the head. I dont know.

But like Marchand said on his hit, theres nothing you can say about it. The league did whatever they had to do about that one, and on this hit it could have been either way. The fine is one thing. But maybe one game would have been nice to kind of right away send that message to everyone. Heatley got a two-game suspension and Marchand got a two-game suspension. But at least with the Hornqvist fine theyre being consistent in that theyre looking at way more dangerous plays than they used to. I think the NHL is going toward the right direction.

Bergeron is right.

The NHL is heading toward the right direction, but letting Hornqvist off easy after an elbow to the noggin of one of the NHLs brightest young stars proves theres still plenty of progress yet to be gained.

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

Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

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Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Perhaps part of the confused look from the Boston Bruins on the ice Sunday night in Las Vegas was a nagging feeling of déjà vu they never could shake. The Vegas Golden Knights took a 3-1 win over the Bruins for their fourth win in five tries this season, and handed the Bruins their third truly dreadful-looking defeat in five games played on the young hockey season.

It was tough to avoid the feeling that the Golden Knights were basically “Boston Bruins West”, and that was never too far away from notice as things played out on Sunday. Old friend and former Bruins play-by-play man Dave Goucher and ex-B's defenseman "Sheriff" Shane Hnidy are the friendly faces on the Vegas TV telecast, and were on the Jumbotron pregame in a skit with Carrot Top, of all people, to run down the arena's safety rules in a funny and well-produced video.

Former Bruins PR guru and Beverly native Eric Tosi is in charge of the media relations with the Golden Knights, and has been a busy, busy man along with the rest of the Vegas franchise getting the expansion club off the ground. He was even busier this past weekend, albeit with a relaxed smile on his face, as 20 members of the Tosi clan made the road trip out to Vegas to see the first NHL game between the two franchises.

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And there were the actual familiar faces on the ice with ex-Bruins Malcolm Subban and Colin Miller excelling against their old team. Subban only needed to stop 21 shots in the victory, but was able to finish his first NHL start and earn his first career NHL win against the Bruins franchise that left him unprotected on waivers just a couple of weeks ago.

The Bruins didn’t make the 23-year-old Subban sweat much during the game with pedestrian shots that hit the first-round pick squarely in the jersey crest, and pretty much zero attempts to beat his questionable glove hand.

"We know Malcolm well," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "He's a good first-shot goaltender for the most part. We wanted to put some stress on him and make him uncomfortable on those second ones, and I don't think we did a good job on that."

But give Subban credit for calming down his mental approach and refining his technique enough to play solid positional goaltending against the Bruins, and gaining some sweet revenge in the process.

Subban wasn’t gloating about it or basking in any kind of vengeance against his former team, but instead just expressed happiness at doing the job after stepping in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. It remains to be seen if Subban is going to be able to hold down the fort against the teams that will inevitably test him more than the hapless Bruins did, but he gave his team a good chance to win on Sunday.

"It's a great feeling. I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I'm just happy to get the win. The biggest thing was just not thinking, staying focused, and staying in the moment. It feels really good to get the first win in your first game," said Subban, "My first shot I got good control on it and that got me in the game a lot. You never know how the game is going to go in the NHL. It’s really technical. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of shots, so you gotta stay focused, and I felt I did that tonight.

“I thought I played pretty good. The biggest thing was my depth and not getting too deep in the net. Give myself the better opportunity to make the save. I feel like I did that (Sunday). There weren’t too many high chances. [There were] a lot of textbook saves and just having good rebound control. I’m happy to get the win.”

Miller didn’t factor into the scoring for the Golden Knights against the Bruins, but he was extremely active with three shots on net and eight shot attempts in 18:25 of ice time. He got plenty of power play time, was a plus player and looks like he might get the chance to develop his game in Vegas that hadn’t quite played out over the previous couple of years in Boston.

The Bruins won’t return to Vegas until next season, but the hope has to be those same Golden Knights’ familiar faces won’t get the best of the B’s when they come for their one-and-only visit to TD Garden at the beginning of November.

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

LAS VEGAS -- Even though it's only five games into a new regular season, it feels like the Bruins are in danger of going off the tracks.

They finished their three-game Western road swing Sunday with an aimless 3-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, which came on the heels of a wretched defeat in Colorado and a victory over the winless Coyotes. Sunday was particularly disheartening, as they never tested their ex-goalie, Malcolm Subban, putting only 21 mostly harmless shots on net against a player they gave away on waivers just a few weeks ago,

They may only have three losses in five games, but it sure feels like there's trouble starting to brew in Bruins land.

“It could be a lot of different things,” said Brad Marchand about the loss to Las Vegas. "We may not have been as mentally prepared for that game as we thought we were. They wanted it more than we did. They out-battled us in a lot of areas and they were the better team. We were making it hard on ourselves. We were trying to do too much with the puck, and not directing enough of the pucks toward the net. You can’t get rebound and you can’t get bodies there if the puck isn’t going there.”

That is a lot of different things. A lot of different problems:

-- They couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net against a rugged Vegas defensive group that was going to make them battle to get there.

-- Once again they had too many passengers along for the ride, with both Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano failing to even be a blip on the game’s radar screen. Spooner suffered a lower body injury midway through the game, but while he was out there he was a non-factor once again. 

-- It felt like there was no flow at all to Boston’s game, with breakouts dogged by sloppy passing and players who weren’t hard enough on the puck.

-- When they did get a chance to create something they either missed the net with their shot, or opted not to even take the shot in the first place. 

-- They lost 67 percent of the 57 draws taken during the game, and saw Spooner, Riley Nash and David Krejci and Ryan Spooner go a combined 8-for-29 in the face-off circle.

-- They chased the puck for long stretches and certainly didn’t ever put together anything approaching a consistent, driving pressure in the offensive zone.

Missing stalwart veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Backes certainly isn’t helping. It makes the Bruins a much smaller group up front that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger defensive units.

But even so, there’s a sense the Bruins can’t consistently bring their 'A' game to the rink with them and don’t seem to have much fight when they fall down by a couple of goals. Trailing by just two goals going into the third period, the Bruins had four shots on net for most of the final period until a late flurry produced a score by David Pastrnak.

Perhaps of more concern, though, is the growing feeling that the Bruins aren’t all on the same page.

Marchand vaguely referenced that the Bruins weren’t prepared to play Sunday, and Tuukka Rask said he’ll no longer comment on anything except his own goaltending. Rask has always been candid and willing to be frank about any shortcomings after Bruins losses, but it appears that’s not something that is any longer welcome inside the B’s dressing room.

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

Meanwhile, Krejci was similarly short in his postgame thoughts and started talking about avoiding pointing fingers after a frustrating loss.

“There’s no reason to point fingers," he said. "Yeah, we lost a game and it was a frustrating loss. But it’s just the fifth game of the season, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of it. We’re going to back to Boston, we’re going to work hard in practices and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”

Clearly, the fact this stuff is coming to the surface just five games into the season is a cause for concern. But it makes sense, given the way the Bruins are letting an easy portion of the season slip through their fingers.

In their first 10 games of the year, they're facing only one team that made the playoffs last season and they've got plenty of spaced-out stretches in the schedule to get off to a strong, healthy start. Instead they’re losing to subpar teams and highly unproven goalies, and doing so with a real lack of energy or purpose on the ice.

Certainly management would be smart to think about shipping underperforming players like Vatrano back to the AHL in place of Peter Cehlarik or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. And a few more games like Sunday’s snooze-fest could advance trade talks for a player like Matt Duchene.

But there aren’t going to be any easy answers. It comes down to hard work and hunkering down together as a team, and Sunday’s pitifully inept loss in a very winnable situation was yet another sign the Bruins aren't even close to being there yet.

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