Bruins

Haggerty: Time for Krug bashers to lay off a player having a good season

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Haggerty: Time for Krug bashers to lay off a player having a good season

BRIGHTON, Mass – It might just be high time for people to cut B’s defenseman Torey Krug a little bit of a break. 

The 26-year-old defenseman got off to a slow start this season offensively coming back from a fractured jaw, and lost his longtime defensive partner to injury when Adam McQuaid broke his leg in the middle of October. 

Still, Krug has managed to post four goals and 14 points in 19 games while averaging 20:46 of ice time this season, and is on pace for career-highs of 16 goals and 57 points despite some very real power play struggles in the month of November. Offensively Krug has pushed the puck, adjusted to second-year D-man Brandon Carlo on his right side most nights and leads all Bruins defensemen with 42 shots on net in his 19 games.

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Despite all of that, there's a vocal minority of Bruins fans that seem to always view Krug as a defensive mistake waiting to happen, or a weak D-zone link that can always be exploited. He’s battled through another minor injury since returning from the fractured jaw as well, but Krug rightfully feels like he’s on the proper track after starting slowly out of the gate for the second year in a row. 

“Pittsburgh was good and more importantly we got the win. The Edmonton game was not bad. I feel good,” said Krug, who sizzled home the game-winner on a one-timer in Wednesday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Obviously there are things I can always improve on, but I think the coaches are happy with my play. I just want to continue taking steps forward and being a bigger part of the team.”

Clearly there are always going to be challenges defensively for a player that’s listed at 5-foot-9, 186-pounds, and the team-worst minus-9 rating for Krug gives his critics plenty of ammunition after he finished as a minus player last season. But there’s also this about Krug: The plus-minus numbers are misleading given that he’s been on ice for a whopping seven empty net goals scored against the Bruins this season. 

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy pointed that out while giving the rundown on where he thinks Krug’s game is at a quarter-way through the regular season. 

“I think he’s been better. Offensively I think his game is rounding into form. We’re always going to push Torey to be that 200-foot player. We’re never going to ask him to clear out the front of the net like [Kevan] Miller or [Brandon] Carlo, but we’re going to ask him to be conscientious with that part of his game without losing the offensive part,” said Cassidy. “Those offensive defensemen are always looking to transition, and that’s always a part of their game. But let’s also clean up what’s in front of us first.

“I think he’s done a good job of that. I think he’s got a high plus/minus number right now, but don’t forget that I think he’s been on the ice for seven empty net goals. I think it’s a little bit inaccurate to judge him on that particular number.”

Clearly there have been some tough games for Krug this season, and pretty much all of them occurred when he was still suffering and eating a soft food diet with a busted jaw. He was a minus-3 in losses to both the Coyotes and the Sabres in October, and there were too many instances where the D-man got trapped in the defensive zone, or got way too loose with the puck breaking it up the ice. Krug improved that to an even plus/minus in the month of November, and was a point-per-game player with two goals and 11 points in 10 games while doing nearly all of his damage during 5-on-5 play. 

From the fancy stats perspective, only Charlie McAvoy (54.24) has a higher Corsi/SAT% than Krug among Bruins defensemen with his 53.18 number through two months. 

The bottom line is this with Krug: He’s coming off a very strong month of hockey, he’s on pace for career best offensive numbers and he’s been doing it with the Bruins lineup consistently missing some of their best finishing players over the last two months. In other words, Krug is enjoying a pretty damned good year and it might be time for more people to start appreciating it while getting past the antiquated plus/minus numbers.

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Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

TORONTO – It doesn’t take much searching on the Google machine to uncover noteworthy accomplishments from the Bruins this season. 

The Bruins are top-five in the NHL in offense, defense and penalty kill, and they have gone an amazing 31-6-4 since the middle of November while storming to the very top of the NHL standings. Along the way they’ve overcome injuries, tough losses bad starts, one lengthy Brad Marchand suspension and a fan base that was only half paying attention until the season ended anticlimactically for the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago. 

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They also did all of this while introducing a lineup with five or six rookies in it every single night, and playing for a head coach in Bruce Cassidy in his first full year running the NHL team after 13 years between NHL gigs. They’ve been resilient and filled with fighting character all along, and they’ve overwhelmed opponents with their depth and quality of players on the vast majority of nights. 

They’re an entertaining and fun hockey club to watch, to be sure, and they are a group that sticks up for each other and genuinely likes one another while also sitting mere points behind the top dog Tampa Bay Lightning. That was all evident when the entire team enjoyed a night out together in Toronto on Wednesday, and wound up using the team-wide get-together as quality content for their Instagram accounts. 

Long story short, the Bruins have been extremely good this season on a consistent basis and look primed for an intriguing run into the postseason as the NHL trade deadline beckons. 

With all that in mind, it’s a delicate balance for Bruins management between making necessary roster improvements and not upsetting a tangle team chemistry that’s been notably special this season. The always candid Cassidy admitted as much when asked that question while meeting with reporters at the Bruins team hotel on Thursday morning. 

“I think it’s been factored into conversations between me and Donny [Sweeney] that we have a group with some real togetherness there this season,” said Cassidy. “At the end of the day if you can add and make your team better then you always have to look at it, and Donny is looking at that right now. 

“Adding [Nick] Holden I think he’s done that and we’ve added some more depth. But after that I do worry about if we subtract somebody from the room. If you’re adding and you’re not subtracting, i.e. future assets, then as a coach you always prefer to go that way. But Donnie will do what’s best and as a coaching staff we’ll take it from there so to speak. But there is a good chemistry with that group…a very good chemistry in that locker room.”

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Translation: There's a real concern that trading away a young NHL roster player like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Brandon Carlo could be altering the team's DNA a little too boldly. 

This is the factor to keep in mind chasing after rental wingers like Michael Grabner, Thomas Vanek and Patrick Maroon that are unlikely to cost more than a “B” prospect or reasonable draft pick in exchange for them. It’s expected that the Bruins would need to give up at least one young NHL asset, possibly two in a true blockbuster for a player with term, if they chased after bigger ticket targets like Rick Nash or Ryan McDonagh with the Rangers.

Certainly there might be some level of impatience that the Bruins should go for broke at the deadline based on the promise this group has shown this season. Perhaps some are worried the window is starting to close for some of their veteran core players, but the numbers say otherwise with players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand all enjoying vintage seasons. This isn’t a 2011 “Go for the Cup” type situation this season with the Bruins where they were primed and ready for a lengthy playoff run, and deals for Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle helped put them over the top. 

This year’s group is much more reminiscent of the 2008-09 Bruins that blew away expectations with a strong regular season, and enjoyed breakout performances from a number of younger players that saw them soar high above expectations. The youth and inexperience caught up to the Bruins that season when they were eliminated in the second round during a rugged seven game series with the Carolina Hurricanes, but the experience helped grow them into a contender on a steady trajectory over the next three seasons. 

That’s where the Bruins are this season. 

They’re a pleasant surprise team with a group of talented youngsters helping to push them to a higher level, and they’re due for a learning experience down the stretch and into the postseason. That isn’t likely to develop into an extended two-month Cup run unless a lot goes tremendously right for the Black and Gold, but the experience will pay dividends for next season and beyond. 

It might be that there’s just one more player for the Bruins to add ahead of Monday’s deadline, and that it will be more “sensible roster addition” than “take-your-breath-away blockbuster.” But that’s really okay when it comes to the Black and Gold.

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It’s okay because it means Don Sweeney hasn’t attempted pulling the roster apart at any of the seams, and will instead roll with his chemistry-filled Bruins regular season juggernaut to see exactly how good they stack up to be in the postseason. They’ve certainly earned that right after kicking the tar out of the rest of the NHL for the last three plus months, and it’s starting to feel like they’re going to get it.

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Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

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Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

TORONTO -- Anders Bjork's up-and-down rookie season has come to an end, as the Bruins' left wing underwent left shoulder surgery this week that’s expected to keep him sidelined for the next six months. 

Bjork was knocked out of a Jan. 30 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when Francois Beauchemin caught him with a cross-check to the left arm, but it’s unclear whether he was already playing through some level of shoulder injury prior to that collision. According to the B’s release, the 21-year-old winger “underwent successful left shoulder arthroscopy and labral repair on Tuesday” at Mass General Hospital. Bjork had been spotted around the Garden in recent weeks wearing his left arm in a sling, but it was difficult to guess the severity of the injury based on what looked like a fairly run-of-the-mill hit from Beauchemin. 

The injury and season-ending surgery ends a bit of a lost year for Bjork, who cracked the Opening Night roster and finished with 4r goals and 12 points in 30 games.

He showed the speed and skill required to be a top-6 forward at the NHL level, but also appeared to need more development time when it comes to battle level and adjusting to the physicality level in the pro game. The former Notre Dame star never seemed to fully bounce back from getting steamrolled in the neutral zone by Matt Martin in the middle of November, and ended up spending time in Providence as well prior to his season-ending injury. 

Bjork’s injury certainly doesn’t rule him out completely as a trade asset ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, but it probably makes him less attractive to NHL teams looking for young, NHL-ready talent that can step into their lineups right now. With Bjork headed for the long-term injured list and Frank Vatrano traded to the Florida Panthers for a third-round pick, that certainly opens the door for both a) a deal to bring on a veteran rental winger ahead of the trade deadline and B) a spot to be opened up in the Bruins organization for Ryan Donato when the Harvard University star, currently at the Olympics, is ready to sign.

Those are both very good things despite the downer news about Bjork, who watched fellow rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen live up to the expectations many had for him.

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