Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make some fundamental offensive changes

Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make some fundamental offensive changes

BOSTON -- It might not be quite a “passing of the torch” moment for the Boston Bruins, but it’s clear a couple of months into the season that the Boston offense needs some fundamental changes with their existing pieces.

The Bruins outshot the Maple Leafs by a 33-20 margin, they out-chanced Toronto and they should have probably won on Saturday night, but instead they dropped a 4-1 game to the young, fast and skilled Maple Leafs at TD Garden. It was the 20th time in 29 tries this season that the Bruins offense has mustered just two goals or less, and it reveals a flaw in the Black and Gold group that could be fatal if it’s not addressed and solved in a timely fashion.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now,” said Claude Julien. “Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games.”

Well, despite losing three games in a row -- including a pair to Colorado and Toronto teams that they need to beat if they want to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs -- the Bruins are still in a playoff spot with a two point cushion on New Jersey, Tampa Bay and Florida in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately things are unlikely to stay that way for the Bruins if they continue down their current pathway, and Saturday night was a reminder that there are issues to be addressed.

The Bruins couldn’t do anything with a first period power play when they were en route to outshooting the Maple Leafs by a dominant 11-2 margin, and perhaps even more concerning the second PP unit completely outplayed the first unit. While Torey Krug, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, David Backes and Ryan Spooner struggled with zone entries and any kind of possession in the attack zone, the second unit pressured Toronto’s penalty kill with Zdeno Chara feeding David Pastrnak for one-timers that handcuffed Frederik Andersen.

This is where perhaps the biggest fundamental change needs to come for the Black and Gold. Patrice Bergeron led the Bruins with 12 PP goals and 25 PP points last season, and was a revelation in the middle “bumper” role as the point man distributing pucks and making decisions with the slot. He was part of a Bruins power play that ranked in the top-10 all season, and was a big force behind any success Boston did have last season.

But opposing coaches have adjusted to the Bruins power play and clogged the area around No. 37 in the slot, and Bergeron has lost some of his offensive edge this season. The Bruins franchise center has just one goal and two points on the power play in 26 games, and the other offensive players on the top PP unit haven’t been able to make opposing PK’s pay for blanketing Bergeron in the slot.  

So the time has come to reconfigure the Bruins power play, and at least get 20-year-old David Pastrnak on the top unit where he and his dazzling offensive skills can be the featured attraction. The Bruins players understand that the NHL is a meritocracy and a results oriented business, and they know the PP is headed for a change if it doesn’t produce.

“You know when it’s not working that you can only bang your head against the wall hoping for different results for only so long,” said Backes. “We need to take it upon us to really seize the opportunity with a power play unit that gets a lot of looks, and make good on it.

“[We want] to keep that group together and have that success as a group by putting the work in that get the results out. If we don’t do that then they obviously have that ability to make the changes, and I expect that they would if we continue to go down the road that we’re on. We need to get better, and we need to take that opportunity.”

If the righty shooting Pastrnak is going to work off the half-wall that will require the Bruins coaching staff to flip the PP formation to the opposite side of the ice, and it might take away some of the one-timer capabilities for the righty shooting Bergeron.

But if a player only has one PP goal through 26 games on the season, how many great one-timer chances are they getting in the first place?

Pastrnak showed his heat-seeking missile of a one-timer in the second goal he scored in a losing effort against Colorado, and that looks every bit the kind of Steve Stamkos-like bomb that should be the featured weapon on the power play. It also shouldn’t take that much coaxing to push the player with 18 goals in 24 games into a star on the top power play group, and also maybe even push the guy (Brad Marchand) that scored 37 goals last season into a bigger role as well.

Pastrnak already leads the Bruins with four power play goals in a secondary role through the first two months of the season, and both Pastrnak and Marchand are tied with David Krejci for the team lead with five power play points this season. Those numbers will grow exponentially for Pastrnak and Marchand if the coaches come up with something to feature the two offensive talents, and it certainly sounds like Julien and Co. are already considering making the change.

“It’s a very fine line…that much I’ll tell you. It’s a very fine line,” said Julien prior to Saturday night’s loss about the coaching staff’s stance between sticking with their current PP plan and making significant alterations. “They know that now. We need more out of them and you can only put so much trust, and put so much patience, in a power play that had been successful and needs to get it going. The line is fine.

“We’ve talked about it, and there are some options that we have prepared [for the power play] if it doesn’t go well.”

So what do to about the 5-on-5 play that has also failed the Bruins offensively this season?

Austin Czarnik is being given a long audition with the Bruins as an undersized college free agent, and the 24-year-old has shown flashes at points. But he also has just two points in his last 15 games, and shanked a golden shorthanded scoring chance in the third period on Saturday vs. Toronto that could have tied the game.

Instead Czarnik missed wide on the bang-bang play in front off Dominic Moore's centering feed, and Toronto scored in the ensuing seconds to plunge the dagger into Boston’s back. It underlines a season-long struggle for the third line to produce any consistent offense with players like Riley Nash, Czarnik and Ryan Spooner, or the now-injured Matt Beleskey, unable to generate enough to be considered a scoring threat.

Similarly, the Bruins have gone through a revolving door at second line left wing alongside David Krejci where both Tim Schaller and Spooner have tried to provide an answer, but haven’t been the idea fit for Krejci and David Backes. Young playmaking forward Danton Heinen was given another shot on Saturday night, and was once again kind of invisible with one shot on net in 14 minutes of ice time.

Perhaps former first round pick Jake DeBrusk gets a look sooner rather than later as he starts to find the scoring range in Providence, or big-bodied Peter Cehlarik and his 10 P-Bruins goals could get an audition in Boston?

The long term hope is that left winger Frank Vatrano can come along quickly and provide the goal-scoring punch this Bruins team is currently lacking, and that is entirely possible given that the 22-year-old scored 44 times between Boston and Providence last season. His shot and release could give both the 5-on-5 offense and the power play another weapon that they badly need right now, but it also could be a slow road to a full bounce back after foot surgery in September.

The Bruins may not get the Vatrano they absolutely need until months down the road when he’s up to full speed, and even then they’ll be relying on a player that scored just eight goals in 39 games at the NHL level last season.

The one area they won’t be getting immediate help: on the trade market. The NHL holiday roster freeze goes into effect on Dec. 19 and it’s difficult to see any move that Don Sweeney could make to secure a difference-making, goal-scoring forward between now and then. There just aren’t any good players to be had in trade this early in the regular season.

The Bruins would have to massively overpay, and invest in a hockey club that might not ultimately be worth spending the kinds of future assets it would require to get anything of consequence done. So the Bruins will have to look internally to find the answers to their offensive struggles, but the good news is that they should be there for them.

“I don’t think it’s because of line [combinations] because the chances are there, the scoring chances are there. Every line is getting scoring chances but nobody is finishing,” said Julien. “We could change lines to please everybody, but it doesn’t mean the puck is going to go in the net.

“When you look at individual statistics and you look at the number of chances they’ve had and you look at the number of goals they’ve had, it just doesn’t add up. It really isn’t about lines. If it was I wouldn’t hesitate to make changes. We are moving guys around at times as you can see, but one line that has been pretty steady for us and is scoring goals is the Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] line.”

Turning Pastrnak into the featured star attraction on the top power play unit would be a good start for a Bruins team that needs their special teams unit producing, and some fingers-crossed hope for a Christmas miracle that Bergeron busts out of his offensive slump wouldn’t be all that unreasonable either.

The one thing the Bruins can’t afford to do is nothing with their offensive problems, and Saturday night’s offensive constipated loss to Toronto was another convincing piece of evidence in that case. 

Morning skate: Does everyone owe Don Sweeney an apology?

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Morning skate: Does everyone owe Don Sweeney an apology?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while amazed that another Major League Baseball season is right around the corner.  

*In the best news that I’ve heard over the last 24 hours, FOH (Friend of Haggs) Eddie Olczyk announced on the air that he is cancer-free after a waging a battle against the disease over the course of this season. Great stuff, Edzo!

*CBC takes a look at the potential playoff scenarios coming together in the next couple of weeks with the Bruins and Maple Leafs seemingly on a collision course to face each other in the first round. That’s been apparent since about January.

*Interesting conversation at about whether or not everybody owes Bruins general manager Don Sweeney an apology after the way the Bruins have developed this season. I’m with Wysh that the Bruins stumbled and made some bad moves out of the gate, but it’s clear that their overall long term plan was a sound one that’s now playing out. So no apologies for Sweeney, but certainly appreciation for the good job he’s doing running the Black and Gold.

*Clayton Keller talks about his Calder Trophy candidacy that’s kind of faded in the second half of the year, and his first full season in Arizona.

*The frustrated Detroit Red Wings are out of playoff contention for a second straight year as they sit amidst a crossroads for a once great organization.

*For something completely different: An oral history of the amazing Outsiders movie done by Francis Ford Coppola that was basically a Who’s Who of young stars in Hollywood from the early 1980’s.

Hagg Bag: It just feels like it’s the Bruins' year

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Hagg Bag: It just feels like it’s the Bruins' year

With 10 games remaining in the season, the Bruins have clinched a playoff berth with plenty of room to spare and get healthy for the postseason. It remains to be seen if all of Boston’s banged up players can sufficiently heal up for a Stanley Cup playoff run that’s set to begin three weeks from now, and it remains to be seen if the Bruins still have any chance whatsoever to pass the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

So with the Bruins in the home stretch, it felt like an opportune time to crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag and answer some questions. As always these are real tweets using the #HaggBag hash tag, real emails to my email address and real messages to my NBCS Facebook Page. Now, onto the bag:

What a surprise this year. They've been so much fun to watch. Kudos to [Don] Sweeney and [Bruce] Cassidy.

--Ross Mullin (@scoopsdad)

JH: Yeah, and Cam Neely too. You’ve got to give the Bruins management group credit for taking their lumps when they missed the playoffs a couple of years in a row, learning from their missteps early on in that transition process and then really focusing on the things that qualify as their strengths be it drafting or development.

The Bruins have been a ridiculous 39-10-4 since the middle the middle of November and really have been the NHL’s best team since that point with no consistently discernible weakness. They’re top-10 in just about every major category and top-5 in the NHL in both offense and defense, and the mix of proven, battle-hardened veterans and energetic, dynamic young players is exactly how you’d want it on this roster. Really when you think about it, the Bruins have hit it right on just about everything this season from leaving roster spots open in camp for Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk, to benching Tuukka Rask back in November, and all the way to picking up Rick Nash, Brian Gionta, Tommy Wingels and Nick Holden at the deadline and signing Ryan Donato late in the season. Everything has worked for Sweeney and Cassidy, and that’s one of those things that make you start thinking something special is happening when you witness it firsthand for a while.

One thing that you can’t really quantify is the mental toughness and heart the team consistently shows as well. Coming from three goals down in the third period in Carolina, or shutting down the East’s best team while missing your two best defensive players…the last few weeks have just been a window of what we’ve seen all season from a team that’s surprised at every turn with how ready they are to compete already this year. It all adds up to an “aura of greatness” that you start to sense about this year’s team. Not “greatness” in the sense that they’re the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, but “greatness” in the sense that they are capable of something great this season.

It just feels like it’s their year with the way everything has gone right for them amidst a sea of adversity and injuries, doesn’t it?


Hey Joe how are u? I'm a listener of The Big Jab Radio station... Got a question: What do u think is going to happen with McQuaid are they going to keep him or would u say he could possibly be on the way out the door?

--Brandon Knight

JH: It’s never easy parting with a Stanley Cup winner or a gritty, tough competitor like Adam McQuaid that always selflessly stands up for his teammates, so you don’t come at this question with a very easy answer in your head. As long as McQuaid is in Boston, he’ll always be a warrior in the defensive zone and a player that you want on the ice for his sheer toughness alone.

That being said the Bruins are going to need to start paying their young players after next season, and they are going to need salary space in order to do just that. It might not make it vital that McQuaid is moved this summer, but it might be a situation where the Bruins will be it might be a situation where the Bruins will be pushed into moving on from him in free agency a year from now. That being said, McQuaid spent a fair portion of this season as a healthy scratch and was left unprotected in last summer’s expansion draft.

So if the right deal that made sense came along for the Bruins this summer, they would certainly think about it. That being said, they also don’t have a ton of organizational depth on the right side of their defense beyond Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo and McQuaid. So if they traded McQuaid they’d still have to spend money to go out and get a replacement for him that could play at the NHL level as well, and he certainly wouldn’t bring some of the intangibles to the table that a guy nick-named Darth Quaider already does for the Bruins. So I wouldn’t be so quick to move him with just a year to go on his contract.

Any idea what the @AHLBruins Star Wars jerseys are going to be for this Friday? If anyone knows it would be you

RossDaLostCauze @RossOliveira1

JH: I don’t know and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it down to Providence for the Force-filled festivities, unfortunately. Now if the P-Bruins want to send along some cool photos or a video of their Star Wars sweaters for this weekend, I’d be happy to promote it for them. I’m just glad they’re finally joining the party with all these other minor league organizations that have enjoyed majorly successful events by holding these Star Wars and superhero nights. They’re great for business and the team usually makes a lot of dough for a worthy charity by raffling off whatever Star Wars jerseys they wear during the game. I think this would be my all-time favorite Star Wars hockey jersey worn by the Fort Wayne Komets, and yes I do own one of them.


Joe, seems like everyone minus Bjork will be back for playoffs. What do you think the lines will look like when we cross that bridge?

--Dan (@dan_baraniuk)

JH: Good health will be a good problem to have for the Bruins and a major problem for anybody that they play. I think the B’s are going to be a handful for anybody, but I do also think the first round vs. the Maple Leafs might be the toughest matchup for them as well. As far as what the lines might look like, here it goes:





The fourth line is a tough one to handicap because the Bruins could go in a number of different situations, and this would push Sean Kuraly, Tim Schaller and Tommy Wingels to the bench as healthy scratches. Would Bruce Cassidy do that to his fourth line after they’ve been so good, tough and effective all season? Will Ryan Donato continue to play well enough to push his way into a top-6 spot jumping straight from Harvard? It’s too tough to make the call on these kinds of things with weeks to go until the playoffs, and with more injuries potentially coming as the B’s are still in the 16 games in 31 days stretch during the month of March.

But that’s a rough idea of what it might look like to get the conversation rolling. A lot of the decisions may come down to the team that they’re playing in the playoffs as well, and how the series is playing out for both teams.


Who would you rather have right now out of the three…Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller or Colin Miller?

--Greg Ventura

JH: I’d rather have Bobby Orr. He turned 70 years old the other day, you know. In all seriousness, I’d take Kevan Miller as the guy I’d rather have for right now. I certainly haven’t come anywhere close to giving up on Brandon Carlo as a player that could continue to develop and enjoy a long, very solid NHL career as a top-4 defenseman. Certainly Carlo hasn’t really taken a step forward in second season and life has been difficult for him away from the Zdeno Chara pairing, but he’s still a young 6-foot-5 defenseman with size and strength that can also skate very well. Those guys don’t exactly grow on trees and he’s still just 21 years old. All that being said I’m not very surprised by the 10 goals and 39 points for Colin Miller with Vegas. You could see that talent when he was here in Boston, but he wasn’t going to get big minutes on the right side (5-on-5 or power play-wise) in Boston with Charlie McAvoy coming to town. Let’s wait to see what Colin Miller and Kevan Miller do for their respective teams in the playoffs before we start asking these questions. Also, Carlo doesn’t really enter into this equation as he was exempt from the expansion draft and it didn’t ever come down to picking Carlo over Colin Miller, who are two very different kinds of D-men.

Hey Haggs, Is the Sat morning Hockey Show available as a podcast anywhere?

--Guy Cascio

JH: Yes, and my good buddy and Hockey Show host Ryan Johnston (@RJohnston985) tweets it out from his twitter account within an hour or two after the Hockey Show has ended on Saturdays.

Mr. Haggerty, Do you remember in the shortened 2012-13 season the Bruins were referred to as a “Jekyll and Hyde” team as some nights they played outstanding, yet lost to teams that they should have been beating? Do you think that this current team, despite losing some matchups where they should be coming away with two points, has the potential to make a deep rub and get through the teams in the East like Toronto, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Washington? Some nights I feel that I see greatness, some nights I feel that I see a mediocre team at best. I know the schedule is tough with short back-to-backs. I do like the recent acquisitions to this team

--Charlie McLaughlin

JH: A deep rub? No. A deep run? Yes.

What is with the teams and poor line changes!!! Minor hockey coaches teach line changes when the puck is out of your zone and over the red line!!

--Randy Weiler (@hornytoad17)

JH: I think the easiest answer to this is that stuff happens in games. I don’t think the Bruins are any more prone to a bad line change here or there, than any other of the 30 teams in the NHL. It happens to every team over the course of 82 games, and I think stuff like that can be even more prominent when the schedule gets really dense for a team as it is for the Bruins right now with 21 games in 39 days to close out the season. Is it a coach’s fault if a player screws up the dump-in attempt as the rest of the group goes off the ice for a line change? I don’t think so. These guys are pros and should be able to do something like that.

The delay of game penalties are something I’d look at as more of a reflection on mismanagement coming from the bench, and admittedly the Bruins have had a couple of those as well. But when you look at the way the special teams are coached with this group, how each player is held accountable whether they are a rookie or a veteran and when you look at the development of the B’s young guys, I’m not sure how you could view the coaching as anything but a major strength on this Bruins team. Bruce Cassidy has done a hell of a job, and would be factoring much more prominently into the Jack Adams conversation if Gerard Gallant weren’t taking his expansion Golden Knights team to the playoffs. I think it’s even been enough evidence for the Claude Apologist Crew to finally put away their crybaby soup for good.