Bruins

Bruins' patience getting tested as young players learn

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Bruins' patience getting tested as young players learn

GLENDALE, Arizona – The Bruins have committed fully to the youth movement, so they’re fully aware of what they signed up for this season with young, first-year players Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy filling important roles.

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They reaped the benefits on opening night when all three provided offense and led the Bruins to an impressive victory over Nashville. They’ve also witnessed an ensuing valley afterward when things leveled off. Bjork and DeBrusk have been a combined minus-10 with zero points in a pair of back-to-back losses to the Colorado Avalanche and McAvoy registered a season-low 17:49 of ice time in the Wednesday night loss in Colorado.

The two stunning losses clearly aren’t all on the rookies. There were plenty of veteran core players who struggled as well, but the difference in play for the team, and the rookies, within the first three games has been noteworthy. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said shepherding the rookies through tough times was about two things: 1) Striking the balance between nurturing patience and challenging them and 2) those young players getting back to the basics of hockey.

“Probably [needing to] play inside a little more and getting to the net," Cassidy said. "We’ve talked about that they’re going to get a feel for how hard it is to hold onto to pucks in this league, so they know that. We’re trying to coach them up as far as the structure. I thought some of their reloads could have been better as far as going back through the middle of the ice, and their line gave up some rushes coming back at us. But that’s all stuff on the [coaching] staff to make sure they get up to speed.

“It’s up to them to do what they do best, which is attack, play inside and get to the net. Hopefully, they do a little bit more of that as a line. Some guys catch on quicker than others. We knew there would be consistency issues as every young kid goes through them. So we saw highs in the first game and some lows in the second game, and we saw them starting to come out of it in the third period [in Colorado]. We’re going to try to keep them confident, but also on their toes and aware of what needs to be better. Sometimes that’s a fine line for the young guys. They take it to heart, or they don’t take it to heart sometimes. We’re working our way through that with them. There are plenty of veteran guys here to pull us through while [the rookies] learn the ropes, and that’s what they need to do.”

DeBrusk had four shots on net against Nashville and scored his first NHL goal while attacking the net with speed and assertiveness. He’s had a combined three shots on net in the two games since and is looking to get back to aggressively attacking the net while using his surprising speed and growing strength to get there.

“I remember one of the big things last year [in the AHL] was staying consistent every game," DeBrusk said. "Obviously it’s a different league and it’s an 82-game season. It’s a long season. The last two games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to go as a group, and me myself there have been some mistakes and learning curves. It’s frustrating and it’s something you don’t want to have happen. You just learn from it and move on.

“The good thing is we have back-to-back games [vs. Arizona and Vegas], so you’ve got a chance to get back to .500 and fix some of those things. I think it’s the details in my game. It’s not just in the defensive zone, but all over the ice. I was a little too reckless on the fore-check and just lost my guys. It’s about wanting to do a little too much. It’s also just fronting more pucks and getting to the net more. That’s what I’m doing when I’m playing well and pucks seem to find me there.”

Bjork might have had his best game in the matinee defeat against the Avs when he had three shots on net but didn’t come away from with a point after notching an assist on opening night. The injury to Patrice Bergeron might be toughest of all for him after he’d build up chemistry with No. 37 and Brad Marchand throughout training camp as their probable right wing.

Still, the harsh truth is that Bjork has had zero shots on net in two of his first three NHL games after a very strong camp and needs to make himself more of a consistent factor for the Bruins with the speed and hockey smarts to make it happen.

McAvoy, 19, has had just a single shot on net in each of the two losses and is a minus-3 in those games but he hasn’t struggled to the degree that his fellow rookies have the past couple of games. He wasn’t generating enough offense, to be sure, but he did level Nathan MacKinnon with a clean, punishing open-ice hit while trying up the energy in the Monday matinee.He’s a little bit ahead of DeBrusk and Bjork in the physicality department and that’s allowed him to get assimilated pretty quickly to the NHL.

“We’re not using him a lot on the PK, so if it’s not a defenseman penalty then [McAvoy] and Krug are going to be our last pair we’d use because we’re saving them for offensive situations. He made plays [in Colorado], he’s up the ice and kept pucks alive and contributed to the goal doing that,” said Cassidy. “I’m fine with Charlie. On the first night, he got a little lesson against Nashville about trying to defend standing still, and he’s tried to play his 1-on-1’s with better angles. So he’s been good.

“[He’s got] composure. He’s a confident guy without being arrogant about it. He’s coachable, but when the puck drops he’s got good instincts for the game. I also think he’s a little underrated in his skating with the puck. I think he’s faster with it than he is without it. He fools some people with his ability to separate, and he’s strong on it. For a 19-year-old that’s rare. We’ve talked about some of the young guys learning the ropes on that, but he’s got some of those gifts that take a few years to develop.”

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the rookie wingers or other scuffling Bruins (Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano): The B's have some talented reinforcements in the AHL that are red-hot right now. Peter Cehlarik is off to a strong start in Providence with two goals and five points in two games for the P-Bruins and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson has two goals in as many games for Providence. Likewise, Kenny Agostino has a goal and five points in those two games for the P-Bruins and can go back and forth between the NHL and AHL for the next month after clearing waivers at the end of the preseason.

That line has been tearing it up for the P-Bruins to start to start the season and it won’t be long before those players are getting auditions for NHL jobs if the incumbents continue to struggle after a very promising start. It’s harsh, of course, but that’s also the way of the NHL world where it’s a bottom-line business based on present-day results, productivity and consistency. The Bruins need to see more of all of those from their young guys this weekend in Arizona and Vegas as they look to stop the bleeding of a two-game losing streak.  


 

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

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Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while battening down the hatches for Thanksgiving week.
 
-- When longtime Bruins follower Clark Booth opines about the Black and Gold, I tend to listen. And he's not happy with the Bruins' salary cap situation at this point in time. It should be noted that this was written before they won the last two games. But some of those truths still remain self-evident when it comes to the B’s.

-- Kevin Bieksa will never stop talking about former teammate Rick Rypien, or about the factors that ultimately led to his tragic passing.
 
-- Alex Ovechkin is truly living up to the “Russian Machine Never Breaks” mantra these days, which led to the creation of an entire blog about the Capitals.
 
-- This Saturday Night Live skit with Chance the Rapper playing a clueless hockey reporter was funny, even to people that have been covering the league for 20 years and still struggle to pronounce a name like Brady Skjei.
 
-- The good, the bad and the ugly courtesy of FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mitch Melnick from last night’s Montreal blowout loss to the Maple Leafs that probably could have just been called the ugly, the ugly and the ugly.
 
-- It’s 20 games into the season, and the Buffalo Sabres media are wondering what’s wrong with their team, and star Jack Eichel.
 
-- For something completely different: It sounds like some of the NFL rank-and-file players want to know why Roger Goodell deserves $50 million and a lifetime private plane.