Bruins

Haggerty: Not many fans of face-off changes among Bruins

Haggerty: Not many fans of face-off changes among Bruins

BOSTON – It may just be that all of these slashing penalties and face-off violations will become a training camp fad of sorts and the preseason period of adjustment will give way to business as usual once the regular season opens.

The NHL can’t possibly hope to sell fans on games like the Bruins' 2-1 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at TD Garden that included 16 penalties and 12 power plays that completely marred the normal game flow. Some of it was about the seven slashing penalties handed out by the officiating crew and the ensuing special teams flow that never allowed either team to truly find their 5-on-5 footing.

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Even more prominent, however, is the frustration that many players from both teams are feeling for the strict enforcement of the face-off rules and the impact it’s having on the flow of the game. Brad Marchand called it “an absolute joke” a couple of days ago after watching the first night of preseason hockey. He doubled down on his criticism after watching it play out in a game.

He said it was so bad that players from both teams were laughing at the sheer absurdity of the standstill face-off posture and just how much it’s taking away from the enjoyment, whether it’s fans, the media or even the officials, of a free-flowing NHL game.

“It’s really taking a lot away from the game. You can’t have a winger taking all the face-offs. I mean if you look at the percentages of how many times guys got kicked out tonight, and what it’s taking away from the teams, it’s not worth what’s coming with it,” said Marchand. “Literally both teams were laughing out there about how bad the rule is. It’s becoming a big joke, so there’s got to be something tweaked with it.

“These games are painful. I thought it was a bad rule before I played, but it’s even worse after going through it and actually seeing what it’s like. It’s basically an automatic [face-off] win for the other team. The only thing you’re worried about is not moving before the puck is shot.”

The choppiness resulted in some pretty bad nights in the face-off circle for the Bruins. Ryan Spooner lost 9 of 10 draws and Riley Nash 12 of 19 face-offs while Claude Giroux somehow won 20 of 25 draws despite the difficulty all around him. While Patrice Bergeron was a solidly respectable 9 of 18 in the face-off circle for the evening, the four-time Selke Trophy made no bones wondering aloud what exactly is the point of all this.

Bergeron is rarely critical of anything despite his standing as a prominent, respected player in the league, but he seemed to take major umbrage with rules that are totally messing with his considerable face-off skills. The Bruins top face-off man likened it to Pee Wee hockey when he was 12 where everybody would just stand perfectly still in the face-off circle until the puck was dropped. That little tweak wrings every last bit of competitiveness and 1-on-1 battle out of the ultimate hockey showdown and has left Bergeron with a bad taste in his mouth.

“I think that the face-off is definitely an adjustment. I think that the face-off is a skill and you work your whole career to develop that and you work on your hand-eye and timing and everything and try to take that away. You have to adapt I guess. It’s something that I’ll definitely do, but I don’t think I’m a huge fan,” said Bergeron. “I wonder what they’re really trying to get out of it. I understand that it’s feet above those lines and sticks and whatnot. That being said it also kind of sucks. Hockey is a fast game and they’re really slowing it down.

“Faceoff is a skill and you work on timing, you work on hand-eye, and you know when the linesman is going to drop the puck. And I was thinking more about him kicking me out than dropping the puck. That’s what makes you second guess. It just makes you hesitate and everyone is just standing there. There’s no battle right now. It’s like face-offs when I was 12 years old. Everyone is just standing still and no one is really moving.”

In an interesting wrinkle to the face-off debate, Bruins forward David Backes is a member of the NHL Competition Committee that came up with the stricter enforcement. 

“[Marchand] probably won’t like it, but I was on the competition committee that changed [the face-off enforcement]. I get to hear his gripes and it makes me chuckle a little bit. I think the intent was that all face-offs tended to be ‘scrum draws.’ It wasn’t win the draw. It was ‘don’t lose the draw’ and get the wingers in there, and everything looks like rugby where it’s bash each other together to figure it all out,” said Backes. “The intent was to have a cleanly won face-off whether it’s the second center in there that’s petrified to get a penalty, or it’s the first line center that’s got to be honest.

“The draws are won more cleanly [now] and you can watch it in the games. The puck is dropped and it’s not two guys colliding and banging heads like they’re football players. It’s certainly a skill that needs to be developed. [Bergeron] didn’t like it and he was 50 percent [in his first preseason game], but I bet you the next time he plays it will be 85 percent and it will be a great rule. Because he’s that good on draws and he’s smart enough, he’ll adjust. You’ve just got to be honest. We’ll all maybe have a hug, and life will go on.”

So, what’s the ultimate answer from an NHL that wasn’t tremendously forthcoming with these preseason tweaks and now has a stand-up, influential player like Bergeron kicking it around just like everybody else? It might be time for the league to revisit their face-off crackdown and perhaps get a little more advice from accomplished players like Bergeron for the next time around. But Bergeron, Marchand and others aren’t exactly holding their breath for any more changes. Instead, they simply hope that some of the referees apply a common-sense approach once the regular season begins. 
 

Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

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Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

After a blip in Vancouver, the Boston Bruins got right back to business.

Brad Marchand scored his 22nd goal 3:36 into overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday, less than 48 hours after the Bruins lost 6-1 to the Canucks.

"We ran into a hot goalie in Vancouver. Their goalie played great tonight, but we were resilient," Marchand said. "We were much better in the defensive zone and had a better game overall."

David Pastrnak also scored for Boston (36-13-8), which moved within one point of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who are 12-1-2 in their last 15 road games, have two games in hand on the Lightning.

Boston has lost only three times in regulation in the last 28 games (21-3-4).

"It starts at the top with leadership, and just having that constant belief we can do it, we can get the job done regardless of who we're playing against," Riley Nash said.

After TJ Brodie's turnover deep in the Flames end, Nash's pass sprung Marchand on a breakaway and he made no mistake, slipping the puck through the pads of rookie goaltender David Rittich for the ninth overtime goal of his career.

"(Nash) made a phenomenal defensive play," Marchand said. "I knew that they had three guys low and I just tried to get out of the zone. He made a great play to get it up."

Brodie accepted the blame.

"Tonight was on me," the Calgary defenseman said. "I tried to pass to Johnny (Gaudreau). I could have passed it to (Sean Monahan), I could have shot it. It's one of those things that looking back now, I definitely could have done something different."

Matthew Tkachuk scored for the Flames (30-21-9), who fell to 1-3-4 in their last eight home games. They began the day one point out of third place in the Pacific Division.

"It's like any slump - the harder you try, the more you grip the stick, the worse it is," Brodie said. "It's not like we've been playing bad at home. We've gotten chances. It's just one of those things where a bounce here and there, we could be talking about the same record as the road."

With the teams meeting for the second time in six days, Calgary was territorially outplayed by a wide margin in the first period but Rittich kept the Flames in it.

Calgary tied it 1-all at 5:28 of the second, scoring on the power play. Monahan's shot was stopped by Tuukka Rask, but as the puck lied at the feet of Zdeno Chara in the crease, Tkachuk knocked in his 22nd goal.

Rittich was starting his fourth game in a row, with veteran Mike Smith (lower body) still sidelined. Rittich was pulled Saturday night after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

"Huge bounce-back for Rittich," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "That team is a hard team to beat. You look across the league, not many teams are beating them. You can't really beat them without goaltending and we got it tonight and it gave us a chance."

The 25-year-old Czech goalie was especially sharp in keeping the score even at 1.

A minute after Calgary tied it, Rittich slid across the crease to get a glove on Marchand's backhand out of midair after he was set up by Patrice Bergeron.

Late in the second, Rittich stabbed out his glove to rob Ryan Spooner on a breakaway. In the third, the goalie stared down Pastrnak on a breakaway and acrobatically got the toe of his left pad on a dangerous chance.

Rittich finished with 30 stops but fell to 6-3-3.

"It's frustrating," said Tkachuk, who has 14 goals in his last 22 games. "They're a really good team. Didn't give us many chances at all. The ones that we did get, we've got to capitalize."

Rask also was coming off a shortened outing in his previous start, pulled after giving up four goals on eight shots in the first period against Vancouver.

This time, he made 28 saves to improve to 24-10-4.

Boston struck first at 5:59 when Michael Frolik coughed up the puck along the sideboards in his own end and Pastrnak pounced on it, quickly firing a shot past Rittich on his blocker side.

NOTES: Flames D Travis Hamonic played in his 500th career game. ... Calgary LW Morgan Klimchuk, drafted in 2013, made his NHL debut on a line with C Matt Stajanand RW Curtis Lazar. Every player selected in the first round of that draft has now played an NHL game. ... The Bruins improved to 9-1-3 in their last 13 games against Calgary. ... Boston is 23-1-5 when scoring first.

UP NEXT

Bruins: Tuesday night at Edmonton.

Flames: Wednesday night at Vegas

Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

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Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak busted out of a mini-slump with a nice performance as he scored the B’s first goal of the game, and made a nice play picking up a loose puck off the side boards before curling to the net and beating David Rittich down low. Pastrnak finished with a team-high four shots on net, blocked a whopping three shots and generally played a committed, intense 18:38 of ice time after showing some quirks in his game over the last three or four weeks. Pastrnak still has just two goals in his last 12 games after Monday afternoon’s lamp-lighter, so the Bruins could use their 21-year-old right winger going on a scoring binge now that he’s broken through.

BLACK EYE: It was a pretty well-played game on both sides, so there aren’t a lot of easy, ready-made candidates, so Michael Frolik gets it by process of elimination. Frolik was stripped of the puck along the side boards by Patrice Bergeron, and that kicked a loose puck out to David Pastrnak for his successful scoring curl to the net. Frolik finished with a couple of shots on net, had a couple of giveaways in his 17:19 of ice time and wasn’t much of a factor for the Flames in a game where one mistake turned out to make a huge difference. All that being said, it was mostly a well-played game for both sides with Frolik’s early miscue playing a major role. 

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was about Tuukka Rask holding strong in the third period and overtime after he’d been just okay over the last week, and he did that with a good effort in the third period (12 saves) and a superhuman effort in overtime (five saves) when he stoned Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk prior to Brad Marchand’s game-winner. The overtime session was extremely impressive for Rask as he stood tall with a very important result on the line in terms of the defense/goaltending earning a good result after some subpar performances lately. Without Rask standing on his head, the Bruins don’t get the two points at the other end near the end of the overtime session. 

HONORABLE MENTION: With Pastrnak nailing down top honors after breaking his slump, Brad Marchand gets the honorable mention by “just” ripping home the game-winner in overtime on a breakaway. Marchand made his typical forehand-to-backhand maneuver and picked a spot on the five-hole through the leg pads of David Rittich, who was otherwise outstanding for the Flames in a tight game for Calgary. Marchand finished with the goal and a plus-2 rating, and finished with seven shot attempts in a whopping 21:38 of ice time. Both Marchand and Pastrnak had been pretty quiet as of late as the physical intensity has ramped up on them lately, but they responded well by powering the offense against Calgary.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – With Monday afternoon’s OT game-winner, left winger Brad Marchand now stands second all-time behind Dit Clapper and Glen Murray for the most overtime winners in Bruins franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You just stay patient and hope that the puck hits you, and it did.” –a matter-of-fact Tuukka Rask to reporters in Calgary on the overtime session where Rask did more than that in stopping five shots prior to Brad Marchand’s overtime game-winner.