Bruins

Notes: Bruins win with altered defense pairings

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Notes: Bruins win with altered defense pairings

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Claude Julien needs to know who can -- and sometimes more importantly, who cannot -- be relied on in big moments.

He's done a good job of identifying those players to this point in the playoffs and hit some home runs with the patience hes shown. Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly stand out as the biggest beneficiaries.

Juliens faith yielded dividends with both players, but there was also a key change in Game 3 at the Bell Centre that helped stabilize things for the Bs and spark three straight victories.

The Bruins' top six defensemen were held scoreless in the first two losses to the Canadiens, but a new group of pairings have combined for eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) and a whopping plus-10 in the last three straight wins against the Habs.

The Bs turnaround versus Montreal coincided with several events, but perhaps the biggest was the decision to pair Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. That was actually the plan when the Bruins re-signed Seidenberg last summer, as both can maintain their level of play under the duress of a big workload. They got away from it during the regular season, but put them together in Game 3.

I think you make adjustments throughout the series and you see certain things, said Julien. We decided to put those two guys together and as far as their play is concerned its been pretty good. Theyve been pretty steady and theyve been two of our steadiest Ds all year.

Having them together makes them a force and they are certainly capable of handling a lot of ice time, as well. So we feel comfortable with that and we also felt very comfortable with the other pairs we put together because basically all three pairs have changed.

Seidenberg, 29, is probably the best embodiment of the improvement brought about by the changes. He was a minus-4 with no points while skating with Tomas Kaberle, and was more noticeable for defensive breakdowns ending up in the back of Bostons net.

That mistake-prone shakiness has turned around in the last three games with a pair of assists and a plus-1 in three games skating with Chara.

Youre just trying to go forward with the puck and avoid soft plays, said Seidenberg. Just getting the puck behind their Ds and making them move their feet. There might be a couple of minutes more for me, but its the same kind of responsibility. Playing with Zee is great. I love playing with him.

Im always really critical of myself, so I always feel like Im not playing as well as I want to. Its been okay, but there are always those little things happening on the ice that annoy the crap out of me. But I need to look past that stuff and think positive.

Seidenberg was a monster in Game 5, blocking six shots, tallying four hits and firing five shots on net while filling up the scoresheet and providing consistent offensive pressure while pinching into the rush. The blueliner admitted he started feeling a little fatigue in his body after pushing past 38 minutes of ice time, but it was difficult to notice in his play.

I think most of us are pretty tired and its good to have a day like Sunday to recover, said Seidenberg. The more the game went on the more tired I started feeling, but overall I felt surprisingly good. It shows that I did something right this summer, I guess. It feels good that I felt so good in such a long game.

The biggest side benefit of the reconfiguration?

Its moved Kaberle into a bottom pairing with Adam McQuaid and shaved down his ice time. That, in turn, negates some of the conditioning issues that Kaberle has shown since arriving from Toronto, and he's has managed assists in each of Bostons last two wins. Kaberle set up Michael Ryders breakaway goal in Montreal, and Brad Marchands score Saturday night, with some silky smooth passing.

You just have to focus on every shift and every little play can make a big difference, said Kaberle. Everybody knows McQuaid is a stay-at-home defenseman and a big kid, and Im the opposite. I love to move the puck, advance the puck and help the forwards where I can. Weve been confident together, we talk on the ice and its been good.

Every game there are different heroes, and thats the way we have to take it from now on. It starts with defense first, but its a simple game. Go deep, play in their zone and get bodies in front of the net.

The power play still hasnt clicked under Kaberle, but it looks like hes beginning to put things together 5-on-5 and taking some chances offensively while knowing that McQuaid has his back defensively.

The pairing of Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference has also flourished in the last three games, and Ference has been rewarded for walking that fine line of aggression and poise with the puck while guarding the blue line.

It was Ference -- with help from Milan Lucics coolness with the puck in double overtime -- who helped set up Nathan Hortons game-winner Saturday night, and he's been a huge presence in Bostons comeback in the series.

While its easy to point to guys like Ryder and Horton raising their game, Juliens key defensemen change has been just as vital to the Black and Gold revival going on over the last week.

Kaberle was asked about general manager Peter Chiarellis comments last week concerning the organizations disappointment in him since he arrived from Toronto. Chiarelli told 98.5 the Sports Hub that he expected better out of Kaberle after trading away Joe Colborne, a first-round pick and a conditional draft pick at the end of February, which is a reflection on the poor power-play performance after the Toronto defensemans appearance on the Bs scene.

Kaberle said that he took the critical comments as a motivating tool, and his play has ticked upward since his minutes were cut down three games ago.

I always put a lot of pressure on myself and hopefully I can prove why Im here, said Kaberle. Id like to help every little thing with what I do on the ice. Obviously Im one of the guys on the PP and Id like to do something to help there.

I felt like the first couple of games I could have been better, and the last couple of games Im feeling confident and feeling better. Well take it from there.

Brad Marchand bit his tongue a bit when asked about the Max Pacioretty tweeting that was going on while Game 5 was being played on Saturday night. The injured Canadiens forward tweeted that the double-overtime classic felt as long as Marchands nose before quickly deleting it in the middle of the game. Shortly after the tweet Marchand scored Bostons first goal to incite the home crowd, but said he had no idea about the Pacioretty tweet until he retired to the dressing room between periods.

Marchand had an uncharacteristically understated response, and it was a sign of just how focused the fun-loving winger is in helping his team close out the series.

I walked in between one of the periods and saw it on TV. But stuff happens. I didnt know I scored quickly after . . . its always nice to just kind of rub it in a little. Twitter is not for me. Ill try and stay away from that stuff, which would get me in trouble.

Chiarelli announced over the weekend that the club has decided not to renew the contract of Providence Bruins coach Rob Murray. Murray has been offered a position in the Bruins organization in another capacity. No decisions have been made regarding the other members of the P-Bruins' coaching staff as of now.

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

Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

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Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, watching a "Rocky" movie marathon on in the background. Good times.

*A good piece from SI about colorful NHL referee Wes McCauley, who was seemingly made for his job on the ice in stripes.

*Boy it really feels like the Ottawa Senators are laying the groundwork for defenseman Erik Karlsson to be traded, doesn’t it? Clearly, Karlsson is a special kind of player, but it begs the question behind Ottawa doing all this. Do they merely not want to pay him, or do they feel like he’s a tad overrated based on the adoration he gets from the fancy stats crowd. The truth might also be that if he was that much of a game-changing force, the Senators would consistently be better than they’ve been over the course of his brilliant, Norris Trophy-winning career. So the Sens might be looking to cash out before the inevitable decline begins to happen in his game, or the foot injuries begin to catch up to him.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did a guest spot on with FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan talking about what’s behind such a stunningly good season from the Boston Bruins. Always a pleasure talking hockey with Wysh and Emily.  

*Taylor Hall has been very effective for the New Jersey Devils in his second season there, and there are some good reasons behind it.

*In a big blow to the New York Rangers, puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been lost indefinitely to knee surgery.

*For something completely different: These days they do trailers for the seasons of animated "Star Wars" shows as well. I’ve been in and out on "Star Wars Rebels", but I’ve also been entertained whenever I’ve actually watched it.

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Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

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Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

There is no exaggeration or sports writing hyperbole when we say the Bruins are the NHL’s hottest team.

They secured points in their 15th game in a row (11-0-4) with a 5-2 demolishing of the New York Islanders on Thursday night, and are pulling away from the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs with a five-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division. Oh, by the way, they also hold three games in hand over the Leafs. Amazingly, the Bruins are just five points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning with a game in hand on them as well while boasting the NHL’s second-best goal differential with a strong plus-36 mark.

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Basically, the Bruins are kicking butt, scoring goals and taking names all across the league.

Taking all this into account, it’s also no longer a leap to say the Black and Gold are one of the best teams in the league after showing no signs of slowing down the past two months. They’ve embarrassed the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and spanked the Islanders, Senators and Canadiens multiple times in their stretch of dominance while outscoring opponents by a whopping 60-18 over those past 15 games.

It looked like they might slacken a little bit when they were a tad bit rusty coming off the five-day bye week with a couple of close, slightly sloppy games against the Habs and Dallas Stars, but they’ve bounced back with dominants wins over the Canadiens and Islanders.  

“We feel so good about our game that we know over the course of 60 minutes that we’ll get our chances if we’re working hard and stick to you know our layers and stick to our defensive posture that will turn into offense,” said Torey Krug. “For us, you know, it’s just confidence in our system and the way that we’re rolling right now. Guys are stepping up, we’re getting contributions from everyone and that’s a big part of it.”

So how are they doing it?

Well, the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has gone supernova in January. Marchand (five goals, 14 points in seven games) and Bergeron (eight goals, 13 points in seven games) are averaging two points per game. Not only that, but David Krejci and Ryan Spooner have been point-per-game players on the second line to provide extra offensive support, Danton Heinen continues to bring an offensive element to the third line and the fourth line is bringing energy and physicality while taking regular shifts.

Basically, it’s come to the point where Boston’s top line is arguably the best 200-foot line in the NHL and their other three forward lines aren’t allowing opponents to simply key on the brilliantly flawless Perfection Line. That allows Bruce Cassidy to roll his forward lines, wear opponents down as they get deeper into games and simply overwhelm teams with their depth and quality while playing at a high pace.

“On our team this year I know for a fact that our four lines can play against anybody,” said Cassidy. “That’s the message I want to send to the players. I want them to feel like they can play against anybody, but I also want to be mindful of it and not get burnt by that. People will look at you and say ‘Geez, you’ve got all these great defensive forwards and you don’t use them.’ I’m not going to match David Krejci every night against the other team’s best line, but I don’t mind if for a shift or two they’re out there. That’s just the rhythm of the game, and I’m not going to jerk [players] off the ice [to play hard matchups].”

It’s not just about offense, though, as Zdeno Chara has made it his personal challenge to turn Boston’s penalty kill into Operation Shutdown. The Bruins basically won Wednesday night’s game in Boston when Chara stayed on the ice for nearly an entire, extended 5-on-3 power play for the Canadiens where they didn’t get much of a sniff. The 40-year-old was at it again on Thursday night with 25 plus minutes of ice time while blocking multiple shots killing an Islanders power play. Teams will always need defensive warriors to win big, important hockey games, and Chara is still the biggest, baddest shutdown defenseman warrior on the block.

“[Chara] thrives on it; he wants it. Sometimes you’ve got to grab him by the scruff – well I can’t – but [B’s assistant coach] Kevin [Dean] will try to get him off in [some of] those situations – not in a five-on-three – but he relishes that role,” said Cassidy, of Chara’s penalty killing ferocity. “If you look at our PK all year it has been in the top five, maybe slipped out to seven or eight. Zee is the biggest reason on it – and the goaltender has to make the saves. That’s not being disrespectful to [Patrice Bergeron], who does a great job, or [Riley] Nash, but Zee sees a lion’s share of it, and he sets the tone on it.”

Mix in consistently strong goaltending with the offense and the defense and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are dishing out humble pie to just about every opponent that crosses their path. It will be interesting to see if they can catch a Tampa Bay team without Victor Hedman for the next six weeks and if they can truly lock down home ice in the first round of the playoffs against the Maple Leafs.

But one thing to keep in mind before crowning the Bruins as the NHL’s next big thing: There is a huge youth faction on this team.

The five or six rookies in the lineup on a nightly basis have been instrumental to their success and, at this point, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly are becoming consistent contributors. But they’re only halfway through their first NHL season and Boston’s schedule gets much heavier in the second half. The Bruins, rookies and all, will be playing a taxing 16 games in March and it’s doubtful they’re going to come out of that heavy stretch at full strength.

It’s a very real possibility that Boston’s heralded rookies hit a wall at some point the next couple of months and they’ll need to be able to bounce back.

“I think we will keep an eye on it, but we have no intention of decreasing the workload right now until we see a drop-off because I don’t want to mess up a good thing,” said Cassidy. “You want to be out in front in some situations, but because [Charlie McAvoy] is so strong I think he’s going to be okay. But that will play itself out, and that will be a conversation with a number of guys and not just [McAvoy].

“How will DeBrusk handle it? Kuraly has played a lot of hockey for us, but he’s a little more down the lineup and doesn’t play as many minutes. Grzelcyk has now played a lot of games in a row. We have a few young guys that we’re going to have to monitor.”

The good news is that this Bruins team has been extremely resilient this season and they have a hardened, experienced leadership group that’s going to push them through. The Bruins also believe they’re one of the NHL’s best teams after the past couple of months. They’re absolutely right after the two-month run of awesome that they’ve been on.  

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