Bruins

Vatrano sits and waits for next chance to break season-long slump

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Vatrano sits and waits for next chance to break season-long slump

BRIGHTON -- Frank Vatrano's been a healthy scratch for the Bruins in each of the last two games, a continuation of a season that clearly hasn't gone his way.

Vatrano appeared to be coming out of his offensive lull a couple of weeks ago with his best game of the season against the San Jose Sharks. But he went right back to being a non-factor in losses to Los Angeles and Columbus, and hasn't played since.

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So now Vatrano sits and waits for another turn . . .  when -- and if -- it comes, considering he has zero points and a minus-2 rating in nine games with just 11 shots on net.

When it does, t’s likely to be in the same bottom-6 spot without power-play time. So Vatrano knows he needs to keep working and grinding to create his own offense with net drives and paying the price in front.

“I need to score goals. Make plays. Be hard on the puck,” said Vatrano. “The one thing I haven’t been doing is scoring goals, and that comes with more and more opportunity. I feel like I’ve been good getting in on the puck and being the best that I can defensively out there. [Scratching me] is obviously their decision and I’ll live with it. I’m a team guy and I want the team to win when I’m in the lineup, or when I’m out of the lineup.

“Everyone goes through it. For me it’s a little bit of a different situation and there’s a lot of young guys and stuff. Those guys are getting the opportunity and they’re doing well with it, so for me it’s just being ready when my name is called. Whether I’m in a fourth-line role or a third-line role with no power-play time while playing 10 minutes a night, you need to play the game that you know how to play. Obviously when you’re in a top-6 you’re out there to score goals and create opportunities for your teammates, and when you’re third or fourth line you’re in a bit of a different role.”

The hard truth is, Vatrano doesn’t have a goal in 25 straight regular-season games dating back to last season, and has just two points over that span. It’s becoming a legitimate question as to whether the 23-year-old is going to find his way out of the personal offensive struggles, or if some kind of change is going to be required for him to tap into the scoring potential he’s shown in the past.

In the meantime the Bruins will work with Vatrano and hope he can eventually work his way into giving them very much needed scoring punch from the bottom-6, and show he can turn his high-end shot-and-release into realized potential at the NHL level.

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

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It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

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