Bruins showing some fight when it comes to defending teammates

Bruins showing some fight when it comes to defending teammates

BOSTON -- A nasty hit in the first period of Wednesday night’s Bruins/Senators game resulted in some of the best and worst developments of the season.

Ottawa defenseman Fredrik Claesson drilled Noel Acciari with a shot to the head in the first period of the B’s 5-1 win over the Senators, and that spurred Tim Schaller to drop the gloves and bludgeon Claesson to the ice with a series of right-handed punches. The fact that Schaller stood up for his teammate -- as many Bruins players have been doing this season -- was good.

Claesson was handed a match penalty for his nasty, high shot to Acciari’s head.

“That was a headshot,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I am not going to comment on the intention or not; I just know it was a high shot."

The bad? Schaller was given an instigator penalty for challenging the Ottawa defenseman after the dangerous hit on his linemate. However, he also given deserved props from his teammates for stepping up to protect Acciari, who eventually returned to the game after a temporary stay in the Quiet Room. 

"Noel will go to bat for anybody on this team, so it’s good to see Timmy do it [for him]," said Cassidy. "It is well-received in the room. People will have different opinions on hey, ‘Clean checks in hockey and you should be able to take a number.’ I don’t disagree with that, but I think that was a high hit, and Timmy reacted accordingly.”

Schaller waited to make certain Claesson was ready to defend himself before dropping the gloves, and it was entirely called for given that the head shot was bad enough to get the Ottawa D-man bounced from the game. But Schaller was still called for 17 minutes worth of penalties with an instigator call, just as Jake DeBrusk was whistled last month under similar circumstances for a fight with Casey Cizikas after a hit on Charlie McAvoy.

An argument could have been made it was a cleaner hit on Cizikas that started the DeBrusk fight, and that the referees were in the right for going instigator in that instance. But on Wednesday night it was a high, reckless hit by Claesson on Acciari, exactly the kind of dangerous plays where teammates should be allowed to step up and defend a teammate provided the hitter is ready to defend himself.

Instead Schaller was slapped with the instigator call after doing the right thing on the ice, and this humble hockey writer was struck with a major case of annoyance at the referees overreacting. Clearly an instigator is called for when a player jumps somebody not ready, or willing to drop the gloves, but that wasn’t the case -- in any way, shape or form -- with Schaller and Claesson.

“That was a really bad hit, so I had to step in,” said Schaller. “That [instigator call] was interesting. I talked to the ref before I got in the box, and I said I was polite about it. I made sure he [Fredrik Claesson] said yes. So I was surprised when I got it, but it was worth it [to defend Acciari].”

That’s the bottom line with instigator calls when a player is stepping up against a legitimately dangerous, dirty hit: NHL teams with character and good chemistry are going to continue to defend their teammates even if it comes with 17 minutes of penalties. And the instigator call will continue to vex a large faction of the fan base that remembers when the rules didn’t interfere with so much of what makes hockey special.

The good news in all of this: Acciari was okay following sitting out the rest of the first period, and finished out the game after a hit that could been a lot more damaging.


Morning Skate: Donato's stock rising with each Olympic victory

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Morning Skate: Donato's stock rising with each Olympic victory

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while Team USA continues its uphill journey toward an Olympic medal.

*Ryan Donato potted a couple more goals in a decisive win for Team USA over Slovakia in elimination play and has been one of the top American hockey players at the PyeongChang Winter Games in South Korea. Donato showed a little bit of everything in the performance with a sniper shot off a loose puck, another goal off the rush and he played through a nasty hit up high that appeared to bloody his nose. It’s no exaggeration at this point to say that Team USA goes as Donato goes after he’s secured two-goal performances in each of their victories.

Even better, Donato did it after a surprise visit from his old man, former Bruins player and current Harvard coach Ted Donato, after it was up in the air whether he’d be able to get away to South Korea to watch his son play. From a Bruins perspective, it’s all good things watching Donato score and lead the Americans on a large, global stage while his prospect profile grows with each play that he makes. It’s clear he’s going to sign with the Bruins and go pro shortly after the Olympics, with the only question being whether it makes a quick detour back to Harvard to finish up his college season prior to signing with the Black and Gold.

What’s less clear is the immediate future for Donato, 21. He continues to show high hockey IQ and a scorer’s toughness that’s allowed him to basically be a goal-per-game performer for the Crimson this season. Those will serve him well in the pros. But it would be unrealistic to think that Donato can jump right in and play for the Bruins at this late point in the season. It’s far more likely that he instead spends some development time in Providence after finally inking his entry-level deal.

The Bruins may have to burn off the first year of the entry-level deal when they sign Donato as has become customary with many of the college prospects, but it would be in his best interest to gain experience in Providence rather than sitting and watching as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson did last season. That experience has done him little good as he’s spent this season in Providence working up to being ready for his shot in the NHL.

What Donato could do for this year’s Bruins team is something else, however. His mere presence as a prospect about to join the pro ranks would allow the Bruins to part with one of their young players on the wing in a deadline deal trade. Anders Bjork would be the NHL-ready prospect most likely to move if the B’s had to give up one of their best and brightest in a big deadline move.

Bjork has speed and skill in large amounts and showed it in flashes when he was in Boston earlier this season, but the Bruins are dealing with a massive surplus of skilled wingers and left-shot defensemen in their prospect ranks right now. You can’t play them all in the NHL and Donato’s presence could and should allow Don Sweeney to deal one of them away ahead of Monday afternoon’s deadline.   

*Petr Mrazek is officially now in the playoff chase and also the newest goalie hope in Philly after getting traded to the Flyers from the Red Wings.

*Mat Barzal has overcome any bitterness about his previous experiences in pro hockey to become a Calder Trophy favorite with the Islanders.

*Interesting look at a typical practice with the struggling Montreal Canadiens from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Arpon Basu, who sees meaning in the mundane daily ritual.

*Larry Brooks seems to be dreaming of a lottery pick for the New York Rangers, who have not had one at the very top in a long, long time.

*Women’s Olympic Hockey will be expanding from eight to 10 teams for the next Winter Games, which is great news.

*For something completely different: Kurt Cobain would have been 51 today. Wow, that makes me feel wicked old.


Bruins trade for defenseman Nick Holden from Rangers

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Bruins trade for defenseman Nick Holden from Rangers

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was active and out ahead of the pack with the NHL trade deadline looming next week and he’s made his first move. The Bruins have sent defenseman prospect Robbie O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick to the New York Rangers for left-shot defenseman Nick Holden, who fills one of the big needs that the Black and Gold had entering this month.

Holden, 30, has been a solid player for the Rangers and Avalanche the past couple of seasons with career highs of 11 goals, 24 points and a plus-13 rating last season to go along with 20:38 of ice time per game for the Blueshirts. Holden has been a little less effective this season with three goals, 12 points and a minus-3 in 55 games for the Rangers, but he’s been a solid top-four, two-way D-man for the past few seasons.

This kind of move gives the Bruins exactly the kind of depth they were looking for on the left side of their back end and adds somebody else on the left side who can play penalty kill and shutdown-type roles behind Zdeno Chara. It also would seem to preclude them from being in the mix for any potential blockbuster for Rangers D-man Ryan McDonagh, but that’s a good thing given that the Bruins didn’t give up anything from their NHL roster to make this deal.

One interesting thing about Holden is that he can play either on the left or right side as a left shot D-man, so it adds flexibility to Boston's back end while also potentially opening up some of their other, younger D-men for corresponding trades if that's the direction Sweeney wants to go. 

O’Gara, 24, is a solid, stay-at-home prospect for the Bruins who's played in 11 games in Boston the past two seasons, but wasn’t the kind of battle-hardened veteran that the B’s were looking for in a playoff run. It also gives O’Gara, from Massapequa, New York, the chance to play for one of the teams he grew up watching and rewards a prospect who has done absolutely everything the B’s have asked of him since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2011.

Presumably, this move will allow Holden to slot in on a pairing with Charlie McAvoy and gives the Bruins the possibility of reuniting Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo as a shutdown pairing that enjoyed all kinds of success holding down other team’s top offensive players. It gives Bruce Cassidy the versatility to mix and match those four D-men to find the best combos and it should drop Torey Krug down to the bottom pairing where he’s probably best suited as an undersized power play maestro.

The bottom line is this gives the Bruins some back-end depth if injuries hit them hard as they did toward the end of last season. It also addresses a big need without giving up anything from an NHL roster that’s vying for the President’s Trophy. The price was a reasonable one for a player the caliber of Holden and could actually be much less than some other GMs pay for D-men closer to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Sweeney deserves some credit for being an early bird and a tone-setter when it came to making this deal.