Bruins

Haggerty: Plenty of questions headed into B's camp may not be a good thing

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Haggerty: Plenty of questions headed into B's camp may not be a good thing

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins are saying all of the right things as training camp commences for the Black and Gold on Thursday morning.

It will be a little different this season for a number of reasons, of course. A handful of key players will be missing with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak all participating in the World Cup of Hockey, and the Bruins will be holding their day-to-day practices in a new home at the impressive Warrior Ice Arena practice facility.

So in some ways the Bruins will get to push the refresh button prior to this season in a new home, with some fresh, new faces and a whole different energy to this training camp.

“It’s been a long summer for everyone. I think everybody is excited and ready to go,” said Matt Beleskey, who should be fun to watch this season with another bruising forward in David Backes within the forward ranks. “We’re looking for big things this year. I can tell everybody is excited. It’s been kind of weird without everybody here, but we’re ready to get started.

“It’s been fun watching the World Cup, but you kind of have the feeling like you’ve been killing time waiting for camp to start.”

But that shouldn’t fool anybody out of realizing that many of the same bugaboos still remain with this Bruins group after missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Don Sweeney did nothing to upgrade a defensemen group that was flawed and problematic at best, and borderline disastrous at its worst. Naturally the D-men group was bashed early and often for being substandard last season, and the Bruins finished ranked 19th in the league in goals allowed while saddling Tuukka Rask with the worst numbers of his career.

So the returning group is motivated to shut up the critics, and the Bruins are banking on young blue liners to burst up through the ranks and provide upgrades at some point this season. The question is whether the talent is going to be there this time around for a Boston back end that struggled mightily to retrieve pucks, move pucks quickly out of their zone and execute things like tape-to-tape passes out of the defensive zone.

Perhaps 23-year-old Colin Miller develops into that right shot top-4 defenseman that can check off all the boxes for the Black and Gold, or 19-year-old Brandon Carlo is far ahead of Boston’s development plan for him with a game that’s expected to be NHL ready within the next year either way. Or maybe Sweeney gets around to making a trade for an established veteran defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk or Cam Fowler during training camp to at least give the Bruins something approaching an NHL caliber defensemen group.

Either way, the Bruins front office believes that the defensemen situation will be improved for the Black and Gold this year. That doesn’t necessarily make it true, but one would hope their optimism is based on more than willing it to come into being.

“Basically from April to now everybody is talking about our back end, and not being able to land a top-4 defenseman. We still have an opportunity as far as cap space goes if something shakes free, and I know Don [Sweeney] has been working hard trying to do something,” said Bruins President Cam Neely to CSN NE’s Great American Hockey Show podcast earlier this month. “But I feel like as a group we can do better than we did last year.

“I think Tuukka [Rask] can play better than he did last year. If that happens we should be a better club. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to be competitive. But I feel like the changes we’ve made through the organization, and not just in player personnel, that there’s opportunity for our group to improve.”

One thing that should be readily apparent during this training camp is the influx of youthful talent that’s expected to be continuous over the next few seasons. 2015 first round pick Jake DeBrusk and former University of Denver standout Danton Heinen should be flashing their offensive games for open winger spots, and 2015 draft picks Brandon Carlo, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon will all be pushing to show how close they are to NHL readiness.

The Bruins are a couple of years away from young talents like Charlie McAvoy and Zach Senyshyn joining the fray as well, but the next month of preseason hockey should do plenty to illustrate just how good this group of young players could make Boston a couple of season down the road.

“We need to put the best players on the ice,” said Sweeney. “If [a young player] can pass somebody or the opportunity is there then take hold of it. Because this is really about competition from [rookie camp] on out, and I think we were very specific with that.”

“Is there opportunity for a guy to make a jump? Yeah, there absolutely is…every day. I told [all of the prospects] that the best players are going to play. If they far and away exceed the guys that are here, the incumbents that are here, then they’ll have an opportunity at the end. There are no blockers [for roster spots]. We’re in a situation where we need to get better and I’ve been adamant in saying that. If that [young player] is better [than the veteran] then he’s going to play.”

But this season’s training camp is still about this year’s team first and foremost, and that means keeping Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, David Krejci, David Backes, Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak all in one piece until the regular season begins. It also means finding out how Claude Julien and his staff plan to deal with an NHL roster that could have Bergeron, Krejci, Backes, Ryan Spooner, Noel Acciari, Dominic Moore and Riley Nash in a huge surplus of centers down the middle of the ice.

At this point the sheer number of Bruins center-men doesn’t even make sense for the Black and Gold unless there’s a trade planned for one of them over the next few weeks, or Julien and Co. plan to get really creative with their forward group.

On the bright side, these roster questions and unknown scenarios should make things interesting for Bruins fans over the next month. On the not-so-bright-side, so many question marks and unknowns in training camp don’t portend great things when the top NHL teams are pretty locked and loaded right from the start of main training camp.

A little of this and a little of that with no real hopes for NHL dominance has been the sobering reality for the Bruins for each of the last two seasons, and it unfortunately sounds very much like more of the same as camp gets going at their shiny new practice home on Thursday morning. 

Haggerty: For first time in series, Bruins feeling the heat

Haggerty: For first time in series, Bruins feeling the heat

TORONTO -- For the first time in their first-round series against the Maple Leafs, it looks like the Bruins are a little shaken, somewhat rattled, and more than a little frustrated.

The Bruins' top line was held off the score sheet for the third time in the best-of-seven series in Boston's 3-1 loss in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre Monday night, which tied the series at 3-3 and set up Game 7 Wednesday at TD Garden. Not coincidentally, the Bruins are 0-3 in the series when getting zero point production from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

DJ BEAN

But this was markedly different from the first couple of Boston losses in the series, where it seemed like Toronto was basically holding on for dear life. In those games, it felt like goalie Freddie Andersen and the Maple Leafs managed to escape rather than accomplish anything sustained or significant against a Boston attack that felt relentless and inevitable.

This time, a stouter Leafs defense blocked 21 shots and battled every step of the way with speed and admirable tenacity. And, of course, Toronto received another standout effort from Andersen, who seems to be getting into the heads of the Boston players.

Especially Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. They still managed to squeeze off 26 shot attempts and a half-dozen scoring chances, but, by the third period, Marchand and Pastrnak both seemed to be feeling the pressure of not scoring. They began doing things they hadn't previously done in the series, getting overly fancy with a lot of their moves in the offensive zone and turning the puck over rather than pushing with precision and hard work toward the net.

"That's playoff hockey," said Marchand. "Regardless of what happened tonight or any other game, you've got to let it go. You just need to worry about the next one. We'll focus on that and let this one go . . . They just kept coming. They're a good team. They've been resilient all year, so you've got to give them a lot of credit.

"If anybody told us at the beginning of the year that we'd be in a Game 7 in the first round at home, I think we would have taken it. It's tough given the position that we're in, but we're just going to look forward to the next game. That's all that we can control. Whatever happened in the last six games doesn't really matter anymore. We're going to be fighting for our lives, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

It sure didn't seem like Marchand was having much fun in Game 6. He couldn't hang onto a loose puck in the D-zone slot late in the second period, and the sequence ended with Mitch Marner snapping home a backhander that broke a 1-1 tie and put Toronto ahead to stay. Whether it was forcing plays that weren't there, over-passing at points when a simple shot would have been better, or missing the net too often while trying to be too fine picking corners against Andersen, the frustration showed for Marchand and his linemates.

That's not a good look for a top-heavy team like the Bruins, which relies on those top forwards to score for playoff success. After piling up 20 points in the first couple of games in the series, the top line has no points and a minus-16 plus/minus rating in the three losses.

"Maybe there was a little bit of [frustration], but you need to go back to the drawing board and find the character that we've shown all year," said Bergeron. "Now it's all about that one game. You can look back all you want, but now that's where you're at and that's the position that we're in. You have to prevail and be good.

"The bottom line is that we need to bear down and be better. It's as simple as that. It's how it should be . . . We have some amazing young players that are in this locker room, and I know they're going to step up. That's the approach that we're going to have, and that's it. There's not much more to be said other than we need to be better."

The question now facing the Bruins is a deep, difficult one.

Should Bruce Cassidy perhaps break up the top line, making the Bruins attack a little less imbalanced and top-heavy? Should he perhaps move Pastrnak down to the David Krejci line while moving David Backes, Rick Nash or Danton Heinen up with Bergeron and Marchand? Should he insert Ryan Donato into the series for a spark of offense and perhaps try him on his off-wing with Bergeron and Marchand in a move that might spark them with a different kind of energy?

By the end of Monday night's Game 6, the Bruins top players almost looked like the weight of carrying Boston's offense had finally begun to wear on them. That's a dynamic that needs to be fixed quickly. Home ice, a couple of adjustments, and the immediacy of a winner-take-all Game 7 might do the trick.

If not, that weight on the collective shoulders of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak will be the thing that ultimately drags the Bruins down.

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Talking Points: Marner lights it up while Pasta struggles

Talking Points: Marner lights it up while Pasta struggles

GOLD STAR: Mitch Marner has been a problem for the Bruins during the regular season, and he’s proving to be a problem once again in the playoffs. The Leafs forward scored the game-winning goal in the second period when he jumped on a Brad Marchand turnover in the D-zone, and snapped a backhanded bid past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. It was part of a two points, plus-2 night for Marner in his 16:44 of ice time where played strong, solid hockey, and stayed patient until Boston’s top line made a misstep that they could jump all over at the end of the period. Otherwise Marner mostly stayed out of the fray in the game and simply played a strong two-way game that was easily their best defensive effort of the series. Marner now has two goals and eight points against the B’s in the six games played thus far.

BLACK EYE: David Pastrnak just wasn’t good in this game. He missed three shots on net, had another six blocked and finished a minus-1 with one shot on net in 19:44 of ice time while clearly looking frustrated at what was going on around him. Both Pastrnak and Brad Marchand were pulling out overly fancy moves, over-passing and missing the net with their shot attempts in a clear sign that Freddie Andersen is beginning to get in their heads. If that doesn’t cease quickly in Game 7 then the Bruins could be in a world of hurt with a big chance to take a nice step this season, and move on to at least the second round if not getting any further than it. But right now the Bruins top line has gone from looking like a well-oiled machine to looking like a sputtering jalopy in need of some service at the shop.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins took over the game in the first period with their puck possession and usual dominance from their top line, and looked really ready to roll when Jake DeBrusk scored little more than a minute into the second period. But the Bruins allowed Toronto to score right back 35 seconds later and that seemed to really knock the Bruins off their pins for most of the rest of the game. It was a long rebound of a Nazem Kadri shot that was kicked out by Tuukka Rask, and then went right to William Nylander for the rebound score. The Bruins were fortunate that another goal was overturned due to goalie interference that would have quickly made it a 2-1 game, but it was clear the Bruins never really controlled the game again after the two quick goals at the start of the second period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk had the only goal for the Bruins, so he earns a little credit in a 3-1 loss. DeBrusk now has three goals in the series and was on the spot firing home a shot after a David Krejci offensive zone face-off win that gave Boston’s second line their third even strength goal of the series. DeBrusk also finished as one of only two players, along with Tommy Wingels, that ended the night with a positive plus/minus rating, and had three hits while playing fast and strong along the boards and in front of the net. There are a few other young players that haven’t looked particularly adept at the playoff-style of play in this series for Boston, but DeBrusk has thoroughly looked like he belongs since the drop of the puck in Game 1.

BY THE NUMBERS: -- minus-16: the combined plus-minus rating for Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in the three Bruins losses where they’ve also been kept off the score sheet by the Leafs defense.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Maybe there is a little bit of [frustration], but you've got to go back to the drawing board and find the character we've shown all year. Now it's about one game." –Patrice Bergeron, on battling the frustration of losing two straight and instead getting ready for a Game 7 showdown on Wednesday night.

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