Bruins

Backes on Sabres loss: "We were backfiring on everything"

sabres_wilson_bruins_goal_121018.jpg
AP Photo

Backes on Sabres loss: "We were backfiring on everything"

BOSTON – When a hockey team is as hot as the Bruins had been for the last three months with a 27-4-4 record in their last 35 games, it’s only a matter of time before a disappointing dud gets mixed in with all of the high quality efforts. That mistake-filled no-show finally arrived on Saturday night when the Bruins simply never matched the work ethic and energy level of the lowly Buffalo Sabres, and never led at any point in a 4-2 loss to Buff at TD Garden.

So much of what was going on was tremendously uncharacteristic for the Black and Gold: Boston’s top line was dreadful with a combined minus-6 rating and just two shots on net, the Bruins defense allowed odd-man rushes and got gashed by Buffalo’s transition attack and the Bruins forwards never got their all-important fore-check on track at any point during the game.

Other than that, the hockey game was great, Mrs. Lincoln.

“I think we were flat and just like the Anaheim game, I mean, when you do that you just don’t deserve it, plain and simple,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We didn’t respect the game plan and I really thought it was at the blue lines on both sides. [There were] a lot of mental mistakes if you want to put it that way. They were coming back at us and you saw a lot of two-on-ones and breakaways, and stuff you don’t want to see."

“We should have played a simple game and went back to just going in there and establishing some good fore-check and some O-zone time. We didn’t do that.”

Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning won big on Saturday as well and have begun re-widening the gap to a five point lead over Boston with the B’s still holding a couple of games in hand. But it wasn’t about any of those things on Saturday when Adam McQuaid had his worst game since coming back from injury with a minus-2 that included a turnover and blocked shot that directly led to two of Buffalo’s four goals during the evening. It also included Tuukka Rask getting his 21-game point streak snapped when he was beaten on three of the 27 shots that he faced, and was probably Boston’s best player on the ice in a forgettable 60 minutes of hockey.

The Bruins had done a remarkable job of not falling into the trap against a lousy opponent for most of this season, but that wasn’t the case for the second time this season against the Sabres.  

“That was kind of the word I thought of too, was “flat”…that they had good sticks, and they had good energy. I’ve been on that side of the ledger where you’re a team that’s not expected to win, and you’re playing a good team, and it kind of scares you into playing perfectly with good sticks and energy all over the place,” said David Backes. “They had that, which should not have been an issue if we played our game the way we need to and get pucks behind them and have 10-foot support.

“We were looking to hit a lot of home runs tonight, and they were in good spots. They transitioned against us, and the goals they scored, those are instances where Tuukks [Tuukka Rask] sometimes makes those saves, but he’s not supposed to make those saves. We needed more from everyone throughout the lineup, and we were backfiring on everything that we were trying to shove into the engine tonight. I don’t know if it was too excited to play Buffalo, we were looking at the standings or what, but if we stick to our principles, we’re having a different conversation.”

The bad news for the Bruins is that it wasn’t a different conversation in one of Boston’s worst efforts since the middle of November. The good news is that the Black and Gold will get a chance to redeem themselves 24 hours later with a Sunday road game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

TORONTO – It doesn’t take much searching on the Google machine to uncover noteworthy accomplishments from the Bruins this season. 

The Bruins are top-five in the NHL in offense, defense and penalty kill, and they have gone an amazing 31-6-4 since the middle of November while storming to the very top of the NHL standings. Along the way they’ve overcome injuries, tough losses bad starts, one lengthy Brad Marchand suspension and a fan base that was only half paying attention until the season ended anticlimactically for the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago. 

MORE BRUINS

They also did all of this while introducing a lineup with five or six rookies in it every single night, and playing for a head coach in Bruce Cassidy in his first full year running the NHL team after 13 years between NHL gigs. They’ve been resilient and filled with fighting character all along, and they’ve overwhelmed opponents with their depth and quality of players on the vast majority of nights. 

They’re an entertaining and fun hockey club to watch, to be sure, and they are a group that sticks up for each other and genuinely likes one another while also sitting mere points behind the top dog Tampa Bay Lightning. That was all evident when the entire team enjoyed a night out together in Toronto on Wednesday, and wound up using the team-wide get-together as quality content for their Instagram accounts. 

Long story short, the Bruins have been extremely good this season on a consistent basis and look primed for an intriguing run into the postseason as the NHL trade deadline beckons. 

With all that in mind, it’s a delicate balance for Bruins management between making necessary roster improvements and not upsetting a tangle team chemistry that’s been notably special this season. The always candid Cassidy admitted as much when asked that question while meeting with reporters at the Bruins team hotel on Thursday morning. 

“I think it’s been factored into conversations between me and Donny [Sweeney] that we have a group with some real togetherness there this season,” said Cassidy. “At the end of the day if you can add and make your team better then you always have to look at it, and Donny is looking at that right now. 

“Adding [Nick] Holden I think he’s done that and we’ve added some more depth. But after that I do worry about if we subtract somebody from the room. If you’re adding and you’re not subtracting, i.e. future assets, then as a coach you always prefer to go that way. But Donnie will do what’s best and as a coaching staff we’ll take it from there so to speak. But there is a good chemistry with that group…a very good chemistry in that locker room.”

MORE BRUINS

Translation: There's a real concern that trading away a young NHL roster player like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Brandon Carlo could be altering the team's DNA a little too boldly. 

This is the factor to keep in mind chasing after rental wingers like Michael Grabner, Thomas Vanek and Patrick Maroon that are unlikely to cost more than a “B” prospect or reasonable draft pick in exchange for them. It’s expected that the Bruins would need to give up at least one young NHL asset, possibly two in a true blockbuster for a player with term, if they chased after bigger ticket targets like Rick Nash or Ryan McDonagh with the Rangers.

Certainly there might be some level of impatience that the Bruins should go for broke at the deadline based on the promise this group has shown this season. Perhaps some are worried the window is starting to close for some of their veteran core players, but the numbers say otherwise with players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand all enjoying vintage seasons. This isn’t a 2011 “Go for the Cup” type situation this season with the Bruins where they were primed and ready for a lengthy playoff run, and deals for Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle helped put them over the top. 

This year’s group is much more reminiscent of the 2008-09 Bruins that blew away expectations with a strong regular season, and enjoyed breakout performances from a number of younger players that saw them soar high above expectations. The youth and inexperience caught up to the Bruins that season when they were eliminated in the second round during a rugged seven game series with the Carolina Hurricanes, but the experience helped grow them into a contender on a steady trajectory over the next three seasons. 

That’s where the Bruins are this season. 

They’re a pleasant surprise team with a group of talented youngsters helping to push them to a higher level, and they’re due for a learning experience down the stretch and into the postseason. That isn’t likely to develop into an extended two-month Cup run unless a lot goes tremendously right for the Black and Gold, but the experience will pay dividends for next season and beyond. 

It might be that there’s just one more player for the Bruins to add ahead of Monday’s deadline, and that it will be more “sensible roster addition” than “take-your-breath-away blockbuster.” But that’s really okay when it comes to the Black and Gold.

MORE ON NBCSPORTSBOSTON.COM

It’s okay because it means Don Sweeney hasn’t attempted pulling the roster apart at any of the seams, and will instead roll with his chemistry-filled Bruins regular season juggernaut to see exactly how good they stack up to be in the postseason. They’ve certainly earned that right after kicking the tar out of the rest of the NHL for the last three plus months, and it’s starting to feel like they’re going to get it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

bruins_anders_bjork_092517.jpg
File photo

Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

TORONTO -- Anders Bjork's up-and-down rookie season has come to an end, as the Bruins' left wing underwent left shoulder surgery this week that’s expected to keep him sidelined for the next six months. 

Bjork was knocked out of a Jan. 30 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when Francois Beauchemin caught him with a cross-check to the left arm, but it’s unclear whether he was already playing through some level of shoulder injury prior to that collision. According to the B’s release, the 21-year-old winger “underwent successful left shoulder arthroscopy and labral repair on Tuesday” at Mass General Hospital. Bjork had been spotted around the Garden in recent weeks wearing his left arm in a sling, but it was difficult to guess the severity of the injury based on what looked like a fairly run-of-the-mill hit from Beauchemin. 

The injury and season-ending surgery ends a bit of a lost year for Bjork, who cracked the Opening Night roster and finished with 4r goals and 12 points in 30 games.

He showed the speed and skill required to be a top-6 forward at the NHL level, but also appeared to need more development time when it comes to battle level and adjusting to the physicality level in the pro game. The former Notre Dame star never seemed to fully bounce back from getting steamrolled in the neutral zone by Matt Martin in the middle of November, and ended up spending time in Providence as well prior to his season-ending injury. 

Bjork’s injury certainly doesn’t rule him out completely as a trade asset ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, but it probably makes him less attractive to NHL teams looking for young, NHL-ready talent that can step into their lineups right now. With Bjork headed for the long-term injured list and Frank Vatrano traded to the Florida Panthers for a third-round pick, that certainly opens the door for both a) a deal to bring on a veteran rental winger ahead of the trade deadline and B) a spot to be opened up in the Bruins organization for Ryan Donato when the Harvard University star, currently at the Olympics, is ready to sign.

Those are both very good things despite the downer news about Bjork, who watched fellow rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen live up to the expectations many had for him.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE