Bruins

Haggerty: Thornton's season should be letter-worthy

191545.jpg

Haggerty: Thornton's season should be letter-worthy

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

Leadership in hockey can be a funny thing.

Any successful team is built on the bedrock foundation of tireless work, controlled anger and the willingness to stand up for wronged teammates. The Bruins had all these traits last winter.

Zdeno Chara became only the second European to hold an NHL captaincy on a Stanley Cup winning team last June and boasts all three qualities in high order.

Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi were Charas trusted assistant captains from Game 1 at the O2 Arena in Prague all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Canucks.

The Black and Gold leadership was as good as it gets. Those three players helped navigate the Bruins through a challenging regular season and chose the correct times to call together players only meetings at key points in the season.

It was Recchi, Bergeron and Chara who convened a meeting in Pittsburgh in January after the Bruins had imploded in the third period against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. It was the same three individuals who managed to prevent any potential front-office tension from spilling over into the dressing room during times of trouble, and kept the team focused once the CharaMax Pacioretty zoo was created in Montreal.

The leadership truly couldnt have been any better for a hockey team full of big personalities and considerable talent, and they were fully supported by a strong cast of veteran characters like Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Chris Kelly and Shane Hnidy.

But times change and hockey teams evolve, and the balance within the leadership group was significantly altered when three-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi decided to call it a career at age 43.

Recchis calming, paternal effect on young players was uncanny, and his unyielding toughness while playing through kidney stones in the 2008-09 playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes was the stuff of legend.

Theres no way to replicate that in the Bruins room.

Signing a marginal vet like Chris Clark to a camp tryout isnt going to get it done either. But life will go on for the Cup champions in their attempts to repeat, and the team needs to go about the business of naming another assistant captain.

Claude Julien and the Bruins have a couple of choices: Go back to their previous policy of rotating the second A around the team and giving it to three or four players for a period of time through the season, or simply name one high profile leader of hockey men as the assistant captain.

Julien made it clear during the State of the Bruins that it would be a decision made by the group inside the walls of their dressing room without feedback from the outside.

If its a permanent assistant captain chosen to replace Recchi, then there can really be only one choice: Shawn Thornton.

The Bruins' tough guy is universally respected within the Bs dressing room, is now one of the longest tenured players on the roster, and is the only player whos decided to make Boston his permanent home. The hard work, emotion and courage so intrinsically linked to hockey greatness serve as the framework to his game, and Thornton already boasts everything but the letter on his sweater.

It was the Bs enforcer, after all, who helped create one of the turning points in the season when he scored a pair of goals and single-handedly helped the Bruins beat down the Atlanta Thrashers as the vultures circled around Julien during a team slump last December. It was Thornton who went after Matt Cooke two years ago to clean the slate with the Pittsburgh hatchet man, and right the ultimate wrong.

Thornton is always the honest voice within the dressing room, telling teammates what they might not want to hear and demanding accountability from everyone up and down the lineup.

It was Thornton who always offers to help a new players transition to the Bruins' way of doing things. It was Thornton who opened his home in Charlestown to Byron Bitz several seasons ago when the rookie didnt have a permanent place to live, and has similarly taken young players from Tyler Seguin to Tuukka Rask under his wing.

There may even be some truth to the whispers that it was Thornton who finally approached Brad Marchand during his wild, shirtless week of celebration in Boston following the Cup victory and advised the Bs rat to cool down and head back to Halifax for a while.

While its true there arent many enforcers wearing the C or A on their sweaters around the NHL these days, Thornton has become the heart and soul of the Bruins as much as any other player on Bostons highly successful hockey club.

No. 22 is coming off his best season as a pro and knows exactly what it takes to win as the only two-time Stanley Cup champ on the Bs roster headed into camp. The positives of giving Thornton the A on his sweater far outweigh any potential negatives that could be out there.

While Ference or perhaps even a younger player like Milan Lucic might be a reasonable selections as an assistant captain in Recchis stead, theres really only one name that could lend the kind of leadership Boston will need in their attempts to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

The Bruins should vote Thornton in 2012 if they again want to be on a winning ticket this time around.

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

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

philadelphia-flyers-radko-gudas-111717.jpg

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

bruins-rask-khudobin-rask-111717.jpg

Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

MORE BRUINS:

It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE