Neely: B's "certainly need to correct" their performances in big games

Neely: B's "certainly need to correct" their performances in big games

BOSTON – Count Bruins President Cam Neely among those that can’t figure out why his hockey club faltered so badly, and so often, during high profile games last season.

There have been hints of it going back three seasons ago when the Bruins looked tight and anxious in their last few playoff games against the Canadiens. But it was a full-blown problem last season that was most pronounced on their own home ice.

The fragile mental state of the Bruins cropped up in big game blowout losses at the Winter Classic, during Milan Lucic’s return to Boston with the Los Angeles Kings and most painfully in that final, ugly loss to the Senators with the playoffs on the line. There were plenty of other examples sprinkled throughout the season to confirm it was a bona fide team pattern rather than simple coincidence.

It’s something both Claude Julien and Neely identified in their respective press availabilities over the last week, but it’s a problem that also remains to be seen how the Black and Gold address it for next season and beyond.

“I don’t know if it’s nervousness or the pressure. It’s hard for to climb inside the guys’ heads, but there were a lot of times this year where we could have won and got to first place in the division…the Winter Classic game…the last game of the season,” said Neely, ticking off the individual big games where the Bruins wilted under the pressure. “It happened a lot this year where we could have really separated ourselves from those teams behind us and we laid an egg. Those are things we certainly need to correct.”

Some of it is clearly about the erosion of certain glue guys from the Bruins dressing room with Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk and Shawn Thornton all moving on to other NHL locations, and some of it last season was about missing a key leadership presence with the leg injury to Chris Kelly. Some of it is also about the growing youth movement being introduced to the Bruins roster that’s not as adept at the high-pressure NHL situations.

Some of it might even be impossible for the Black and Gold to ever quantify, or identify in their team-building process. But Bruins management had better find a way to fix it for next season, or they’ll be doomed to repeat.

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.


Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.