Haggerty: Bruins need to be better after ‘getting punched in the mouth’

Haggerty: Bruins need to be better after ‘getting punched in the mouth’

BRIGHTON, Mass. – For a Bruins team that’s enjoyed a pretty good go of things over the past few months, the re-entry coming out of NHL All-Star weekend was a little rougher than expected.

The Bruins were beaten on the scoreboard, 3-1, by the Anaheim Ducks thanks to a rough first period and an excellent performance between the pipes from the Ducks’ John Gibson before a lower-body injury forced him out of the game in the third period. But they were also beaten and bullied all over the ice by a strong, heavy outfit that came into the game looking to hit first and ask questions later.

“I thought they did a good job of coming out and punching us in the mouth metaphorically speaking. There were times that it seemed like they were hitting us and we weren’t hitting back. We’ve got to focus on ourselves and make sure that we’re using our legs,” said Torey Krug. “It’s pretty clear that they are a bigger team and that’s the style of play they want to be but if we come out and use our legs to check, then we can be more effective.”

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Certainly, it looked like the Ducks were leaning on the Bruins early and often, outshooting them 15-5 in the first period while a Francois Beauchemin cross-check to the left arm of Anders Bjork knocked Bjork out of the game. There was a mild response from David Backes to that hit, but no real reaction at the end of the first period when Josh Manson basically punched Danton Heinen in the face as he separated him from the puck.

Once the Ducks were up 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes the Bruins got a little hungrier, adjusted to Anaheim’s heavy attack and began to get a little traction in the latter 40 minutes. But they never really pushed back at an Anaheim team bullying them on the ice and Nick Ritchie made a point of showing that when he clobbered David Backes with a late, high hit in the waning minutes of the third period.

Once again, there was some pushing and shoving afterward and Zdeno Chara finally responded by clocking Adam Henrique and nearly fighting Ryan Getzlaf with just a couple of minutes to go in the game. Still, by that point, the Bruins were already down two players and down on the scoreboard, effectively both getting beaten on the ice and beaten up by a determined Anaheim crew.

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“Nobody wants to see your teammate being carried off the ice,” said Chara, when asked if he was sending a message with the late hit that led to penalties on Boston’s captain and Anaheim’s captain for scuffling. “This part of the season everybody’s really playing desperate hockey; they’re chasing every point for either a better position into the playoffs or trying to get to the playoffs.

“We’ve got to realize that every team we’re going to play, they’re going to fight for their lives. We’ve got to match that intensity – the emotional part of the game – and make sure that we are ready to play from the first puck drop and not waiting for the other team to set in play and then we respond. We’ve just got to be more engaged right from the start.”

Fortunately for the Bruins, Backes practiced on Wednesday and is going to be okay after the high, late hit from Ritchie after spending the last few minutes of the third period in the Quiet Room. Bjork, on the other hand, is going to be out for a bit and the Bruins are already down one heavy player with Noel Acciari out as well.

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There were no penalties called on either play, which is certainly eyebrow-raising given the injuries in such a physical game. But simply relying on the officials to police things on the ice isn’t what hard-to-play-against hockey teams do. 

Nobody is expecting the Big, Bad Bruins of old with this group, and the days of truly slugging it out with a heavy, hard-hitting opponent are a thing of the past as well. But the loss to the Ducks should be a good reminder to a largely young group of Bruins that the intensity is going to pick up in the final few months of the season. As easy as they made things look in December and most of January while ringing up points in 18 consecutive games, it’s going to take equal parts toughness, emotion and hard-nosed tenacity to go along with their speed/skill combo if they want to truly compete in a playoff-style atmosphere.

Everyone in the Bruins dressing room should assume they’re going to get smacked with the other team’s best punch over the final two months of the season and they need to be much better prepared than they were versus the Ducks. Certainly, they got a little more locked in as the game went along and the chances were there even if the finish was not, but the bottom line is that they mostly got pushed around by big, strong Anaheim group.  

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“I thought the last 40 minutes they had a tougher time dealing with us than we did with them,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Now, they are protecting a lead, so the natural thing to do is to make sure you don’t get exposed. But I thought we certainly got better. It’s a good test for us. We haven’t seen as many of those as we did early on in the year.

“I thought we handled it well in LA and San Jose and some of those buildings, so we’ve just got to get re-acclimated with it. I think we did as the game went on. [Thursday night against] St. Louis will be more of that, so ask me again [after that game] how we handle it. I suspect we’ll be better prepared for it.”

One would certainly hope so as the Bruins will be facing desperate, hungry teams for the balance of the season, and they simply need to be better prepared to “get punched in the face, metaphorically speaking” as Krug said after the game.



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.