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. 
 

Backes, on mend from bout with diverticulitis, may return Thursday

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Backes, on mend from bout with diverticulitis, may return Thursday

BRIGHTON -- While there will clearly need to be sign-offs from the medical staff, the Bruins aren’t ruling out a return from David Backes for Thursday night’s game vs. the Vancouver Canucks.

Both Backes and Patrice Bergeron returned to Bruins practice with the rest of their teammates on Tuesday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, but it was only the 33-year-old Backes that practiced fully without any limitations.

“He skated a little while we were away and a full practice today, so we’ll consult with the medical staff going forward with his plan,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Potentially he could be an option for Thursday, and I think that should sort itself out in the next couple of days. We’re no different than anybody else, right? We’d like to have our full complement, and some of the guys we’re missing are glue guys that could really add that element to some of the kinds of games that got away from us.”

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After the team practice, Backes said that he’s been skating for the last four days and that he’s lost about 10 pounds over the last couple of weeks while adjusting to the medication and dietary treatments for diverticulitis. It wasn’t a complete shock to Backes given some of his family medical history, but he wasn’t expecting anything like that to hit him in the prime of his professional athletic career at just 34 years old.

“I have a family history of it, but this is kind of unfortunate timing and unfortunate circumstances. Hopefully I take care of this, get it behind me and not have to ever think about it again,” said Backes. “The first couple of days it was tough to just stand up straight or do anything, and then you’re on a ‘no exercise’ regimen for six or seven days. So progress . . . certainly. A return . . . we’ll see. Long-term prognosis we’ll have to discuss with the really smart guys.

“You don’t have much appetite, to deal with pain you take a painkiller and then that slows down digestion and just makes it even worse. So you’re stuck there…and it really drains your energy. I was on a liquid diet there for a few days and lost about 10 pounds. I don’t suggest that as a crash diet for anybody.”

He’s come a long way from being stuck in a Mass General hospital bed during Bruins opening night against the Nashville Predators, and Backes is hoping he’ll be all the way back to playing sooner rather than later. The Bruins right winger skated in a third line spot with Riley Nash and Tim Schaller on Tuesday, and said he’s actually even consulted a bit with former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, who battled his own stomach issues with Crohn’s Disease during his NFL career.

“I was like a kid in a candy store before practice. You have that carrot of Game 1 dangled in front of you and then taken away, and finally you’re back with the guys on the ice after they’ve been gone a week. Knowing what the results have been you want to interject a little energy out there while knowing that we’ve got 77 games left to establish ourselves, and find our game,” said Backes. “I felt good out there and it was nice to be back on the ice. I was smiling most of the day knowing that I’ll hopefully be playing some ice hockey in the future.

“We’re working to get that strength back and to return me to a productive member of this hockey team, which is going to be on the upswing here shortly. It’s not just due to me, but because guys are putting work in as a group. I’m trying to be as educated about it as I can, so I can be available as often as possible and as productive as possible when I am available.”

There are medical hurdles that need to be traversed by Backes before he can return, but once it becomes a matter of toughness and grit then he’ll be suiting up again for the Black and Gold, and that moment might be coming soon.

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'I definitely wasn't mad at our team,' Rask says of Vegas postgame comments

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'I definitely wasn't mad at our team,' Rask says of Vegas postgame comments

BRIGHTON, Mass – Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was acting a bit out of character after the Sunday night loss to the Vegas Golden Knights when he said he wouldn’t be commenting on team performance outside of his own goaltending. 

Clearly, it was a tense atmosphere in the Bruins dressing room following an extremely bad road performance and it would seem very likely there’s probably been some friction in the past between Rask and positional players over his postgame candor.

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That was the backdrop for Rask keeping it laconic, and saying on Sunday night: “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. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

It would seem that some fans and Bruins observers took that to mean Rask was pissed off at his Bruins teammates after a few breakdowns defensively, and a total non-performance at the offensive end of the ice.

Taking all that into account, Rask clarified his comments a bit after practice Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena and said it’s all about focusing on his own performance rather than taking issues with any of his teammates.

“You lose games and you’re not happy with your performance. Somebody just told me that I guess it got spun the wrong way that it was me mad at my teammates or something. That’s definitely not the case,” said Rask, whom at 1-3-0 with a 3.30 goals-against average and .880 save percentage this season, is clearly in need of some improvement as well.

“You lose games and you definitely hold yourself accountable and you want to talk about your performance and what you need to do to get better," Rask said. "So, that’s where I was coming from. I definitely wasn’t mad at our team. I was more mad at myself, so that’s that.

“You always try to give a fair assessment about the game, but I think the biggest thing that I need to worry about, and what everybody else needs to worry about, is how they get better themselves. You start from that, so that’s where I was coming from.”

The prospect of getting Patrice Bergeron and David Backes back healthy would go a long way toward improving the Bruins play on the ice and stabilizing things defensively for Rask and the rest of the Black and Gold. That’s really what’s needed at this point to improve a situation where the B’s are 23rd in the NHL, averaging 3.6 goals allowed per game, and real, rather than figurative, fingers might start getting pointed all around if it doesn’t start looking better in short order.