Don't look now, but healthy B's looking like a damn good hockey team


Don't look now, but healthy B's looking like a damn good hockey team

PHILADELPHIA – Don’t look now, but the Bruins are getting healthy and starting to rack up the wins.

Both David Krejci and Anders Bjork returned to the lineup for Saturday afternoon’s matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers, and helped push a stronger, deeper Bruins lineup to a 3-0 win over the Broad Street Bullies at Wells Fargo Center. The victory meant Boston has six wins in their last seven games for the Black and Gold, and continued to fortify their position in the Atlantic Division where they’re one point out of a playoff spot with four games in hand against the Montreal Canadiens.

“We’re defending well and keeping the puck out of our net. Some nights it’s good goaltending and others it’s stopping momentum. We’re scoring enough, but as we get healthy I think you’ll see us [score more in the three or four goals per game range]. The offense is coming. It was more 2-1 [scores] out West, and now you’re seeing us score a little more and hold leads even against good teams,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’re a resilient group and we like the feeling of winning. That’s what is going on in the locker room. You hear a lot of that chatter on the bench…positive talk about what we need to do and talking about the details. That’s a good sign of our leadership.”

Clearly it’s not exactly where the Bruins want to be, but it’s a stunning turnaround from just two weeks ago when the Bruins were tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference and facing a very challenging schedule ahead. The Bruins managed to grind their way through those weeks thanks to some red-hot goaltending from Anton Khudobin and some very good performances from B’s youngsters, fill-ins from Providence and the few remaining healthy veterans.

Now they’re getting back to the original game plan where they can score enough to do offensive damage. Tuukka Rask seems to be back in a confident place after a few well-earned wins and the Bruins have a better lineup after going through November’s trials and tribulations. Wins in games over Tampa Bay and Philly are much closer to the blueprint that Bruce Cassidy drew up prior to the start of the season: Start strong early, build a lead, and then strangle your opponents with heavy pressure, smart defense, and reliable goaltending.

It's been a complicated formula for Cassidy, having to mix and match due to injuries. Then there has been the added pressure of teaching AHL players, integrating the youth, and even a goalie controversy to spice things up. But we can now say the Bruins look like an impressive hockey club that has every reason to believe they’ll be a playoff caliber group, and could surprise once they finally, believe it or not, actually have their opening night lineup for the first time this season.

Saturday was just the second time all-season David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and David Backes were in the lineup together for the B’s season, and Boston is now 2-0 while outscoring their opponents by a 9-3 margin in those games.   

“It was only a matter of time, and we knew that. Anytime you have a lot of young guys starting in the lineup you need to give them time to adapt earlier in the year. We might have played one game all year with our full lineup, and it makes a big difference when you’re missing guys like [David] Krejci, [Patrice] Bergeron and [David] Backes, and [Adam] McQuaid. It’s difficult with guys like that out of the lineup."

“But with everybody back and the young guys hitting their stride, we’re a pretty deep team. We know that we can compete every night, and we just want to keep building.”

With a healthier and increasingly successful lineup, difficult decisions arise for Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Both Frank Vatrano and Matt Beleskey were healthy scratches on Saturday, with Krejci and Anders Bjork back in the lineup. It's only a matter of time before Jake DeBrusk is also ready to return as well.

This is the type of situation a coach would much prefer. It could also lead to increased trade chatter for players like Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner, who scored his first goal vs. the Flyers. Matt Beleskey that has yet to really find his game this season, and the team may be inclined to cut ties with him. It would be a major, costly decision to target Beleskey as the player to subtract from the roster, but it wasn't hard to read between the lines when Cassidy deployed seven defensemen last week with Beleskey as a healthy scratch. 

It seems clear at this point that Danton Heinen has earned his spot in the big leagues, aside other players including Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk. 

Cassidy said he welcomes tough choices for the game-to-game lineup, but there will also be challenging decisions for Don Sweeney when the lineup becomes more and more healthy.

“It’s a good problem to have. I don’t like telling any player that they’re out of the lineup, especially if they’ve been helping us win. But that’s the business,” said Cassidy. “I think it makes you a better team when guys are pushing one another.”

It’s taken nearly two months of the regular season, but the Bruins are finally looking like the team many thought they’d be after last month's abomination.

 As it turns out, this Bruins hockey club has a shot to be pretty damned good. 


A return "imminent" for McQuaid after two-month absence


A return "imminent" for McQuaid after two-month absence

BRIGHTON, Mass – It sounds like the toughness quotient might be going up quite a bit higher for the Bruins in the near future.

Adam McQuaid may be cleared to play as soon as Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, or at least later on in the week if it doesn’t happen against the rough-and-tumble, Metro Division Blue Jackets. The 6-foot-5 hard-nosed defender has been out for nearly two months with a broken right fibula, but has been back skating with the Bruins for a couple of weeks.

“I don’t know if Monday he’ll be cleared, but he’s getting close. He’s practicing with us, so it’s imminent for him. I just don’t want to pinpoint an exact day,” said Cassidy of McQuaid, who was one of a handful of players along with Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Frank Vatrano, Paul Postma and Anton Khudobin that skated on Sunday at Warrior Ice Arena.

There certainly may be some rust in McQuaid’s game after missing the last 24 cgames dating back to the Oct. 19 injury. Ddding another tough customer and D-zone warrior certainly won't hurt the Bruins. In the short term, the presence of McQuaid could protect some of B's top players like Brad Marchand who has received some questionable hits over the last couple of months. In the long term his presence adds more size, strength and toughness in the defensive zone.

In terms of pairings it would be logical to swing Kevan Miller back over to the left side, and potentially pull rookie puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk out of the lineup once McQuaid is ready to play. But Bruce Cassidy indicated it won’t be that simple, and there may be times when the Bruins roll seven defensemen given their strength in numbers once McQuaid comes back.

“If you take the last guy in, Grzelcyk, [out of the lineup] then you’re back to your four righty [defensemen]. We had mixed levels of success with that, and then it’s a matter of who on the right Is going to come out if he stick with the three lefties,” said Cassidy. “That’s an internal discussion that we’ve already started to have. He will definitely help the penalty kill. It could be a different lineup every night where we go with six D one night, and then go with seven D the next night. It will create good competition.”

McQuaid wants to temper the excitement now that he’s on the verge of a return, and is simply putting in work until he’s given the green light to play. The busy NHL schedule and the lack of quality practice time isn't the perfect scenario for the 31-year-old defenseman to return, so it’s simply a matter of doing what’s best for player and team.

“I’d like to get back as soon as I can obviously. I’ve missed a lot of time, but it’s a process. I just try to approach it like I’m not getting my hopes up too much,” said McQuaid, who had an assist and a minus-3 in the six games he did appear in. “We’ll have a better idea tomorrow. The more and more game-like situations you get in [can help].

“We haven’t gone too far down the road so I don’t know exactly [when I’ll return]. I’m just out there trying to get closer, but I’m excited about where I’m at and the possibility of moving forward. It’s been fun watching the guys, but I can’t wait to get back in there and be part of a winning hockey team again.”


Morning Skate: Senators kind of a mess right now


Morning Skate: Senators kind of a mess right now

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while I still remain pretty conflicted about my thoughts on the Last Jedi. See yesterday’s morning skate for the full review.

*Happy Holidays from the Boston Bruins, who all wore spiffy Christmas-inspired suits into TD Garden for Saturday night’s game against the Rangers. The clear winners are Christmas Elf Brad Marchand and bedazzled Patrice Bergeron, but everybody is a winner when they’re in the holiday spirit.

*Here’s a blueprint for all 31 NHL teams to get an outdoor game next season if you’re really looking to run the concept into the ground.

*Everybody loves a goalie fight, and the Providence Bruins had one last night even if it was more like slightly angry hugging than actual fighting.

*This quick snippet from an Ottawa Senators radio broadcast this weekend is one of the oddest things I’ve heard in a while. No idea what took them down that path.

*Speaking of the Senators, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says he has no idea why the Sens are having such big attendance problems at their arena. I can think of one reason: location, location and location.

*Larry Brooks goes over the Sean Avery memoir just in time for Christmas for all those looking for a stocking stuffer, or just looking for the perfect gift for that hockey rat in your life.

*Hacksaw Jim Duggan dropping the puck for a minor league hockey game is definitely something to brag about. Ho!

*For something completely different: 20 years later, the crazy story of how the blockbuster Titanic ultimately got made.