Haggerty: Will this be a season of change for the Bruins?

Haggerty: Will this be a season of change for the Bruins?

BOSTON -- It’s looking like time for some serious smelling salts and a heater when it comes to the Boston Bruins.

Who knows? Maybe they can ask for those underneath the Christmas tree.


The Bruins dropped their sixth game in eight tries on Tuesday by failing to show up against a New York Islanders team flailing its way through the season, falling behind 3-0 before ultimately losing 4-2. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were both a minus-2 with a couple of train-wreck goals allowed in the first period, Tuukka Rask was pulled for the first time this year after giving up three goals on just 13 shots, and both Bruins special teams units were outplayed by a woebegone Isles outfit. Things finally kicked into high gear in the third period with two goals and 23 shots on net, but that only served to underscore how pathetic Boston’s game was during the first 40 minutes against a beatable opponent.

"It’s too late to start playing [in the third period] the way we should be playing for the full game," said Bergeron. "We got back in the game and that was a good third period. That being said, it was way too little too late. It’s really simple. You go back to playing your game and being ready from the drop of the puck.

"We talked about this last stretch before the [Christmas] break. It was three games [remaining], now it’s two, but it was three games that we wanted to get those points from. We needed to do the job and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t show up for the first two periods and we paid for it."

For all intents and purposes it looked like Boston’s best players weren’t ready to go when the puck was dropped, and that’s unforgivable for a Bruins team nearing full tailspin mode. The Bruins have allowed four goals in each of the six losses over this eight-game span, which speaks to the defensive deficiencies. On offense, they're averaging 2.29 goals per game this season -- 26th in the 30-team league -- despite racking up gaudy, Corsi-friendly shot totals because, with an offense overloaded with playmaking centers but short on true wingers who can play heavy and finish off plays in the danger areas, they don’t fight to get close to the net.

While it’s true the Bruins are still in a playoff spot, it’s a precarious position: Just two points ahead of the significantly underachieving Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.Their flaws have been masked by the brilliance of Rask and David Pastrnak (still second in the NHL in goals scored despite having missed seven games and counting), so on nights like Tuesday -- when Rask is bad and Pastrnak is missing -- the weaknesses are clear for all to see.

And going through the motions -- as they did at the start of Tuesday night's game -- shouldn’t be an option.

Claude Julien picked up on that after watching Marchand and Rask smash into each other playing the puck behind the Boston net in the first period, and thereby setting the game’s tone by giving up an easy goal to Anders Lee. It snowballed from there and it looked to Julien like the Bruins simply weren’t ready to play..

“What you saw in the third period, I don’t know why we don’t bring that in the first," he said. "We wait until we’re in a hole, and the desperation, and I guess our work ethic and our compete level, should be that at the first. Not in the third, when you’re down 3-0. So somehow we’ve got to find that. It’s not good enough, and we know that we struggle to score goals. Let’s be ready to play, and the way we gave up goals tonight, it didn’t look to me like we were ready to play.”

We can assure Julien it didn’t look that way to the 17,565 in attendance, either, and it looks like this flawed, half-hearted bunch needs a jolt to snap out of it.

Some of that will come when Pastrnak returns from his surprise elbow procedure. But one has to wonder if the Bruins are also mulling a coaching change at this point.

There are far too many key players who have underperformed in the first three months of the season, and there was no excuse for not being ready to play last night. The power play has been an unmitigated disaster, and it took the coaching staff months before finally installing Pastrnak on the top PP unit just prior to his elbow procedure. All of these things can be filed under the heading of the coach’s responsibility, and anybody looking at it objectively would be hard-pressed to say Julien has gotten the most out of all his players this year.

If the Bruins falter in these last two road games in Florida and Carolina heading into the holiday break, one has to wonder if there will be a lump of coal and perhaps a pink slip in Julien’s stocking this year.

It’s one of the few cards left to be played by Don Sweeney and Cam Neely to spark a stagnant hockey club, and it would make sense given the urgency that all levels of B’s upper management should be feeling after missing the playoffs in each of the last two years. It might not be fair in the grand scheme of things, but one has to wonder if Tuesday night’s half-hearted loss to New York could be a warning sign that a change behind the bench is approaching on Causeway Street. 

Morning Skate: Dad's texts and emails reveal enforcer's sad story


Morning Skate: Dad's texts and emails reveal enforcer's sad story

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wishing everybody a safe night before Thanksgiving. Be careful out there, people.

*The New York Times has a very sad story on former NHL enforcer Stephen Peat, as told to the Times through a series of emails and texts from Peat’s dad as he struggles with a number of seemingly concussion-related issues in his post-hockey life.

*There’s nothing better than some Benn on Benn brotherly crime as Jordie Benn lays a hit on Jamie Benn in the Stars vs. Habs game.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Marc Spector has the Edmonton Oilers hitting a new low after they quit in a loss to the St. Louis Blues.

*Duncan Keith said he wants to play until he’s 45 and defy the odds as one of the few that get a chance to play pro hockey for that long.

*Dylan Larkin is flourishing with the Detroit Red Wings as he’s adding more responsibility to his chores in Hockeytown.

*A Happy Thanksgiving to the Boychuks and all the other great people around the NHL, including Matt Beleskey with the Bruins, who take time out of their days to help make sure everybody has a good meal on Turkey Day.

*For something completely different: Excited for my kids that there is going to be more Trolls in their future starting with a Christmas special on Friday.



Bruins won't win Cup with Rask in net, and need to start planning for future

Bruins won't win Cup with Rask in net, and need to start planning for future

One season could be an outlier. Two seasons is a trend. Three seasons is a long-term pattern that doesn’t figure to change.

For the last three seasons Boston’s $7 million man between the pipes, Tuukka Rask, has been more ordinary than extraordinary, and that’s a troubling development. At this point it’s enough to convince this humble hockey writer that the Bruins will never win a Stanley Cup with Rask as their No. 1 goaltender, and that should become a real issue in the next few years as the Bruins build back up to contender status.

Anton Khudobin will make his third straight start Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils, and that makes all the sense in the world: The backup has dramatically outplayed the starter this year. Just compare Khudobin’s NHL-leading .935 save percentage to Rask's pathetic .897, and the fact that the Bruins have pulled points from every single game Khudobin has started.

That’s all short-term stuff, but it's important as the Bruins are desperate for point to stay on the outskirts of the playoff picture. Long term, the B's are aiming toward being a Cup contender in a couple of years, when youngsters like Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo, Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk will be entering their primes, and grizzled, winning veterans like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will still have something left in the tank.

But what of the goaltending?

Rask, 30, still has an impressive career .922 save percentage, and nobody can take away his Vezina Trophy or his All-Star level seasons. But his save percentages have dropped noticeably: It's a combined .915 in the last two full seasons, and is below .900 now. He’s become predictable in his approach to shooters, consistently dropping to give them high, open targets around the net. And it feels like he’s lost some of the competitive fire he had when he was a milk-crate-tossing prospect in the minor leagues.

The stretches where he gives up soft goals have gotten longer, and -- as is necessary with a changing, aging cast of defensive personnel -- Rask rarely steals games when the Bruins are outplayed. The organization has also come to the determination that he loses effectiveness if he plays more than 55-60 times ia season.

In short, Rask is being paid as a $7 million-a-year franchise goalie, but he's not playing like one. And there's four years beyond this left on the contract.

The Bruins will have to play him and pump up his value if they any hopes of trading him in the future. He'll have to be inserted back in the lineup at some point anyway, because let’s face it: Khudobin and Zane McIntyre aren’t the answers as his replacement. The B's need to draft, sign or trade for Rask’s heir apparent, and pave the way for that goaltender to be in Boston a couple of years from now when they're again ready for a Stanley Cup push.

Rask proved he wasn’t good enough to carry a talented Bruins team over the top when he crumbled at the end of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks, and he’s been spotty, and oft-times unreliable, in big games ever since. It’s time for the Bruins to begin the search process for a goalie that can take them on a Cup run when they’re ready for it.

After nine seasons, Rask has proven he isn’t that guy.