Bruins

Is Bergeron hearing the footsteps of Father Time?

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Is Bergeron hearing the footsteps of Father Time?

BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, it looks like the Bruins might be without a healthy Patrice Bergeron at the start of the season.

The then-31-year-old center re-injured an ankle on the final practice before the start of the 2016-17 regular season, and it ended up costing him the first three games. He played hurt throughout the year and saw his offensive numbers drop as the ankle, and a sports hernia that followed, sapped the high-end speed and explosiveness that’s such a key component of his all-around game.

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The season ended well, with Bergeron taking home his fourth Selke Trophy to match the career defensive accomplishments of Montreal Hall of Famer Bob Gainey. But the reduced skating speed and lack of dynamic burst were startling to see.

Unfortunately for Bergeron and the Bruins, it looks like another lower body injury is nagging at him as this season begins.

The Bruins exercised caution in bringing Bergeron along slowly during the preseason, but the now-32-year-old is again having physical issues crop up. He missed two days of practice, then had to leave the ice early on Tuesday, and once again skipped practice on Wednesday.

Bergeron is a question mark for tonight's opener at TD Garden against the Nashville Predators, and it’s beginning to feel like this might be his new normal. Perhaps the wear and tear of NHL middle age -- this is his 14th year with the Bruins, whom he joined when he was just 18 years old, and he's logged exactly 1,000 total games in the regular season and playoffs -- is beginning to take its toll.

Certainly Bergeron has years of good hockey left, and he'll go through stretches where he'll be the productive, conscientious player who's been a stalwart for the last decade-plus. But it feels like the nagging injuries are going to arrive with a little more frequency at this point, and some of these lower-body issues may begin to slow him on the ice like no opponent ever could.

His hockey smarts, his toughness and his skill level will help him offset any physical limitations, but it also might be wise for the noted work-ethic warrior to start dialing back the intensity in practice. It’s something Zdeno Chara had to do when he hit his mid-30s, and now Bergeron might be at the point where adjustments need to be made because of Father Time.

“We just had a conversation with Patrice that we have so many young guys here, and we’re trying to build good habits into practice,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “[As] you get older, you monitor yourself a little more and you bridge that with the competitive nature of an individual that wants to get better every daySo it’s hard for me to tell a veteran player that’s had so much success in this league how, or how not, to practice.

“He gives it his all and that’s some of the residual effect of a competitive person that can push himself in practice. You get the odd twinge here or there. You just hope it’s not serious and go from there. I think each individual is different and [Chara] is the same way going all-out in practice. It’s hard to discourage that because it sure is nice for the young guys to see that every day and grow in that culture.”

Undoubtedly the “practice-how-you-play” mantra is part of what makes Bergeron a great player and such a good role model for youngsters like David Pastrnak, Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and all the other young prospects. And now is not the time to pull Bergeron off his massive special teams’ duties when he does get healthy, or begin dialing back his in-game ice time as the Bruins count on him to be a No. 1 center on a line with Bjork and Brad Marchand.

But the sad fact is that all these little nagging issues set in motion a hockey clock when all these things may become a fact of life, and that he simply can’t be a frontline center in his prime forever.

Bergeron has been the perfect hockey player in Boston for nearly 15 years, and was undoubtedly at his very best from 2013-2016 while averaging 28 goals and 62 points a season along with his robust defense and intense leadership. But we might be seeing the beginning signs of some degradation in Bergeron’s due to inevitable factors like age and heavy usage over the years, and that reality will be important for the Bruins to face if he’s forced to battle through another injury-plagued season.

Clearly Bergeron isn’t going anywhere and is instead the future captain of this Bruins team as leader and longest-tenured member of the organization. But the days of Bergeron posting big offensive numbers, playing boatloads of ice time and doing it all for 80-plus games per season might be coming to an end, and the Bruins will need to plan accordingly.

There are centers prospects like Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in the organizational pipeline, and they may need to stock up on a few more high-end prospects in the middle as Bergeron begins to show the first signs of hockey mortality.

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Bruins closing in on the right chemistry to get over the hump against the top dogs

Bruins closing in on the right chemistry to get over the hump against the top dogs

BOSTON -- It has to be getting to the point where the Bruins are tired of talking about defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals, but if it’s that bothersome then they really ought to do something about it.

The Bruins dropped their 11th straight game to the Washington Capitals with a 5-3 defeat at TD Garden on Thursday on the second night of a back-to-back after getting in from snowy Detroit in the wee hours of the morning around 3 a.m.

The Bruins outshot the Capitals by a 37-21 margin and they managed to claw away for three goals against Caps netminder Braden Holtby, who routinely shuts down the Black and Gold. But they also once again got pushed around by a bigger, stronger and deeper Capitals hockey club, and showed their youth in the most important points of the game against Washington.

It might have felt like it was encouraging for the Bruins to hit three crossbars in the loss, but the bottom line is that the B’s haven’t defeated the Capitals in any way, shape, or form since 2014. The Bruins continue to come up short against a high-powered Capitals attack and routinely choose the wrong time to loosen up and compete in an offensive shootout with Washington. The team needs to find a balance between being responsibility and agressiveness. 

“I think we’re all aware of it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We haven’t had much success at all [against the Capitals]. They usually bring up the goaltender while the team plays well in front of him every time they play us. He’s got to be the benefactor, too. I thought [Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby] was very good for them. We needed more traffic because, because he plays so well against us in front of them, and we got a little late in the game, to get some second chances. Having said that we hit, I think, at least two or three crossbars, or posts. A couple other [shots] I thought were labeled that he made saves, and then a couple that we didn’t execute well enough in front of him."

“The first period, you know, we weren’t crisp in front of them. We had a couple opportunities, so part of that was probably due to the late arrival [coming from Detroit], but then we got going. That’s where we need to be better against him, so only the players can answer that, if they’re squeezing their sticks against him and this team. I don’t know if it’s in their heads, necessarily, at this time of year.”

Holtby has owned the Bruins for the better part of his with a career 13-2-0 record against the Bruins. A 1.81 career goals against average vs. Boston is incredible considering the amount of games they have played against one another. But this loss wasn’t about Holtby. The two teams combined for eight goals in somewhat of an offensive shootout. Washington’s goaltending was merely part of the backdrop of the Bruins once again getting pushed around versus the bigger, more talented, and experienced Caps. Young players like Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk experiencing a bit of a rude awakening matching up against a grizzled, competitive Capitals bunch.

“At some point you definitely want to get it over with and win those games [versus the Capitals]. It’s not something necessarily that I was thinking before the game being honest with you,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored a pair goals in defeat at the hands of the Capitals. “It was a back-to-back game. We knew it was a challenge and we had to be good and be smart. A few breakdowns and a little lack of discipline made us pay is the bottom line.”

In the past it’s been total men versus boys when the Bruins suited up against the Capitals in the entertaining rivalry. The one-sided results left the Bruins and their fans exasperated. This time around it was clear that the Bruins have closed some of the gaps separating them from the big Capitals bully in the Eastern Conference neighborhood, but none of it matters until they put up some points against them.

The Bruins need productive yet responsible offense play, stifling defense and lights out goaltending. If they can put it all these elements together the Bruins will show that they have closed the gap between themselves and the Capitals. They’re not there yet, but tonight was proof that they might be closing in on the right chemistry to bring home a victory. Once they get over this hump, the Bruins won’t have anthing to fear playing the Caps anymore.

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Talking Points: Bruins empty the tank but can't break through against Caps

Talking Points: Bruins empty the tank but can't break through against Caps

GOLD STAR: Alex Chiasson really didn’t get going until about midway through the game, but he made a huge impact once he began making plays in the third period. It's worth mentioning he is a former Boston University Terrier so he made himself comfortable in TD Garden. He gave the Capitals a two-goal cushion in the third period when he followed his own shot and outmuscled Brandon Carlo for a bid right in front of the Bruins net. Then four minutes later, Chiasson blocked a Torey Krug shot on the penalty kill and raced down to finish off a breakaway for the game-winning goal. The former Terrier finished with two goals, a plus-2 rating, three shots on net, five takeaways and a couple of blocked shots in just 12:46 of ice time. Just add Chiasson to the long list of skilled big bodies for the Caps that have done damage to the B’s over the years.

 

BLACK EYE: Anders Bjork is going through a very quiet patch offensively since coming back from injury, and was benched for stretches of the game while totaling a team-low 6:47 of ice time for the Bruins. Bjork finished with a minus-1 rating and zero shots on net, and now has one point and just two shots on goal in six games since coming back from a concussion. It will be interesting to see what the Bruins do with Bjork, who may be a prime candidate to watch a game up in the press box with Ryan Spooner pushing to get back into the B’s lineup. Either way it looks like Bjork is going through one of those rookie valleys right now. Perhaps he simply needs more time to recover from his concussion.

 

TURNING POINT: The turning point came in the third period when the Capitals scored three goals on six shots and pulled away from the Bruins. The Black and Gold had been closely trailing the Caps until that point in the game. Washington was outshot 37-21 by Boston, but they proved to have more quality chances, scoring five goals despite a lower quantity of shots. The Bruins are now 1-9-1 when trailing after two periods, and can’t pull the same kind of comeback magic against a stronger team like the Capitals. It’s too bad because the Bruins had their chances in the game, but just couldn't get over the hump. 

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron was the best Bruins player, burying a couple of goals, finishing with nine shot attempts, a few hits, a blocked shot and 15-of-20 face-off wins. Patrice got both of his goals on the power play, but he also finished with a minus-2 rating. If Bergeron is a minus player, it doesn't bode well for this team. But he also deserves some credit for emptying the tank on a night when the Bruins got back in from Detroit at 3 a.m. and play one of the best teams in the conference on a back-to-back.

 

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 – the consecutive number of losses for the Bruins against the Washington Capitals in a woeful stretch of hockey that dates back to March of 2014.


QUOTE TO NOTE: "We shot a lot of pucks and it just didn't go our way. When the black cat cross your road, it's just a black cat crossing the road." –Anton Khudobin on the loss to the Capitals, where I think he’s referring to the B’s hitting three posts.  

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