Bruins

Spooner determined to play way Bruins want

Spooner determined to play way Bruins want

BOSTON -- Ryan Spooner had an inkling going into Bruins training camp that this season was going to be a challenge.

The Bruins were planning to move the 24-year-old from his natural center position, and instead install him on the left wing with David Krejci and David Backes on a forward line featuring three natural centers all at once. He was also coming off a 13-goal, 49-point season that saw him establish himself as an NHL caliber center with even greater offensive upside based on his blazing skating speed, and ability to create offense, particularly on the power play.

So the expectations were elevated for Spooner in his second full NHL season, and they would be there even while playing the wing position for the first extended time in his professional career. That would be a demanding spot for anybody and Spooner has been just okay thus far: three goals and eight points along with a minus-2 rating in 21 games for the Bruins.

He’s also been relegated to the fourth line for the last few games, and at times even been taken off the power play despite it clearly serving as one of his specialties. When asked about those moves, Claude Julien would either glibly chalk it up to general “coaching”, or simply turn questions about Spooner’s status back toward the player for his own explanation.

Clearly the Bruins have tried to get Spooner to adopt some of the same playing style improvements that have worked so well for 20-year-old David Pastrnak this season, but he’s been slower to fully embrace the puck battles and necessary board work. There are moments when it’s all happening for Spooner, and there are still times when he fades to the background with a passive style to his game.

Knowing all that, it was a good sign on Sunday afternoon when Spooner won a key battle along the side boards that eventually led to Dominic Moore’s opening goal in the 4-1 win over the Lightning. It was exactly what the Bruins want to see more out of with Spooner, and it’s something he’s still trying to drag out of himself.  

It’s also no coincidence that he found good skating legs in that game as well, and was noticeable despite limited ice time on the fourth line with Moore and Jimmy Hayes.

“I felt a lot better than I have in the past. I was playing a little bit, I guess, timid and kind of afraid [to start this season], but I’m 24 now. So I just got to go out there and I just have to play, and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Spooner. “I have been taken off the power play [at times]. I think that’s kind of a message to me that if I’m not playing how they want me to, then they are going to take that away from me.

“So at the end of the day, I think the power play is something that I do well and I think I can help out. I just have to go out there and I have to play, use my speed and my skill. That’s what I have been trying to do.”

It hasn’t been an awful start by any means for Spooner, who is on pace for 12 goals and 31 points and has managed to pump in a pair of power play goals already this season. It just hasn’t been all that it can be, and that part is up to the player.

Clearly there are other players with bigger names and bigger paychecks, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to name a couple, that have underachieved offensively for the Black and Gold as well. But most of those other players help the Bruins in different areas aside from pure offensive production, and those are parts of the game that Spooner hasn’t mastered despite working on his face-offs, trying to play stronger on the wall and simply attempting to survive defensively at a left wing position that asks for size and strength defensively.

What the Bruins wanted to see out of Spooner more than anything else was an aggressive, determined mindset, and a willingness to push the pace with speed and assertiveness that could exert pressure on the opposing team’s defense. Spooner did some of that with an assist and a plus-2 rating in 10:38 of ice time in the win over Tampa, but it merely registers as one game moving into the right direction for a player entering some organizational crossroads.

If he can provide the speed and playmaking natural to his skills then he might remain a member of the Bruins for the foreseeable future, and that would certainly serve Spooner just fine as he’s grown comfortable in Boston.

But more development detours in his still-maturing game could lead to a new start elsewhere, and a chance to establish his skill set with a different group. Spooner holds value around the league given his promise and skating game combined with last season’s production, and there’s little debate over that simple hockey fact.

One has to wonder about those possibilities if he continues to be an ill-fitting piece for Claude Julien’s system: would Spooner be one of the main pieces for a top-4 D-man Boston has searched far and wide for over the last couple of seasons, and is it inevitably trending toward an exit with things making the way like perpetual fourth line demotions and an organizational unwillingness to keep him at his preferred center position?

One thing is for certain: Spooner has the kind of tools that aren’t exactly plentiful in the Bruins organization, and he could come back to burn the Spoked B’s, like so many other offensively gifted players, if management makes too hasty a decision with him after placing him in a challenging spot during his second full NHL season. 

Talking Points: DeBrusk provides energy in win

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Talking Points: DeBrusk provides energy in win

GOLD STAR: Jake DeBrusk gave the Bruins all kinds of energy out of the starting gate, and made a couple of plays that allowed his team to hold a lead despite getting outplayed in the opening 20 minutes. DeBrusk went hard to the net splitting a couple of San Jose defenders on the first goal, and fired a shot on net that created a rebound for Peter Cehlarik to cash in on. Then DeBrusk scored a little bit later on a rush where he beat Brent Burns in a foot race to a loose puck, then whistled a wrist shot past Aaron Dell for his fourth goal of the season. DeBrusk finished with a goal and two points along with a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net while falling just short of 16 minutes of ice time in the victory. It was a strong effort from DeBrusk shortly after being a healthy scratch, and showed what he’s capable of when he gets his skating legs going.

BLACK EYE: Brent Burns was a complete mess for the Sharks. He was burnt by Jake DeBrusk in each of the first two Bruins goals in the first period with the B’s rookie going right at him with the attack. He also didn’t make it to the net with 12 of the 16 shots that he attempted and Burns finished with seven giveaways as well. It’s been a rough follow-up season for Burns after last year’s Norris Trophy season where he’s tried to do too much for the Sharks, and his game has suffered as a result. That seemed to be the case for Burns against the Bruins as well where his mistakes played a big role in the Sharks dropping the game.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins won the game when they managed to survive an opening 20 minutes where they were outshot 17-5, and even better they had a 2-1 lead based on some offensive fireworks from Jake DeBrusk. They were also aided by a couple of video reviews where the Bruins took a San Jose goal off the board when it was ruled that a crashing Joonas Donskoi punched a puck into the net with his glove. The Peter Cehlarik goal was also upheld at the other end after a challenge from the San Jose bench. It looked like DeBrusk was tripped before he partially crashed into Aaron Dell that set up the Cehlarik goal, and that’s clearly how the referees saw it after reviewing the play.

HONORABLE MENTION: It’s got to be Anton Khudobin, who stopped 36-of-37 shots and improved to 5-0-2 on the season with another strong win aided by a stalwart defensive effort in front of him. Khudobin now has 12 of the 20 points that the Bruins have amassed on the season, and he absolutely rewarded the B’s for opting to go with the Bruins backup for a second game in a row as they ride the hot goaltender. Khudobin was helped by a number of Bruins blocked shots in the third period when the game was still very tight, but it was also about Khudobin coming up with 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were getting outplayed by the Sharks.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 – the number of Bruins rookies that have scored their first NHL goals this season, including Peter Cehlarik finally getting his first NHL score Saturday night in his 14th career game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We need them. They’re in the lineup and they’re playing significant minutes. We need them to produce for us. Tonight we needed some offense early, and they provided it for us.” – Bruce Cassidy, on the role of the rookies in the win where it was all first-year players Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen doing the scoring vs. San Jose. 

Khudobin stops 36 shots to help Bruins beat Sharks, 3-1

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Khudobin stops 36 shots to help Bruins beat Sharks, 3-1

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Anton Khudobin stopped 36 shots to lead the Boston Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen scored to help the Bruins get their second straight win after a four-game skid (0-3-1). Boston had totaled nine goals in its previous five games, scoring more than two for just the second time in nine November games.

Khudobin remained unbeaten in regulation (5-0-2) and improved to 4-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average in five games against the Sharks.

Timo Meier scored and Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves for the Sharks, one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. San Jose has been held to two of fewer goals in five of their seven games this month.

Meier gave the Sharks, losers of two straight following wins in six of seven, a short-lived 1-0 lead after tapping in a rebound 4:50 into the game. Daniel O'Regan, making his season debut, won the puck behind the net and skated around to take the shot that bounced to Meier. It was O'Regan's first career assist and second career point.

Cehlarik, in his 14th game, scored his first career goal about 1 1/2 minutes later to tie it for the Bruins.

Boston took the lead on DeBrusk's goal with 9:14 left in the first. Charlie McAvoy cleared a puck in his zone that DeBrusk chased down and easily beat Dell 1-on-1.

Heinen made it 3-1 with 5:51 left in the third. Kevan Miller skated down the ice, drawing all the attention on the right side. He passed across the crease, from where Heinen tapped it in.

The Sharks had a goal negated for the second straight game, this one two minutes in.

NOTES: Sharks F Danny O'Regan was recalled before the game. He's the leading scorer for the Barracuda of the AHL. ... The Sharks have had three consecutive goals reversed after challenges dating to Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers. ... Sharks F Joel Ward has recorded points in six of his last eight games. ... DeBrusk, who assisted on Cehlarik's goal, recorded his first multi-point game since Oct. 14, a span of 14 games.

UP NEXT

Bruins: At the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

Sharks: Host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.