Bruins

Bergeron misses practice, Bruins aiming for a weekend return

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Bergeron misses practice, Bruins aiming for a weekend return

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins didn’t use the “setback” word, but it appears that Patrice Bergeron isn’t closing in on a return for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins center has missed the first two games with a mysterious lower-body injury suffered in practice during training camp, and was absent from practice again on Tuesday afternoon. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Bergeron has been ruled out for Wednesday night’s game against the Avalanche, but the hope is that he’ll be able to return by the weekend with back-to-back games against Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights.

It feels like it would be asking a lot of a player just getting over an injury to play in back-to-back games, so that would leave Sunday in Vegas a vague target date for Bergeron’s return. All that being said, the updates coming from Cassidy about Bergeron’s status don’t really sound all that encouraging in terms of the 32-year-old getting back into games soon.

“Obviously [Bergeron] didn’t skate today and he’s out [vs. Colorado], but we’re aiming for the weekend. I don’t know ‘it’s gotten worse’ is the right way to put it, I would guess that it hasn’t responded well to treatment would be a good way to put it,” said Cassidy. “We want to be cautious, but we don’t want it to be him chasing it all year, so let’s give him the appropriate amount of time. As you know, that could change if the urgency level of everything goes up. We’re not trying to hide anything here. It’s just, he’s not 100 percent, doesn’t feel ready, so we’re going to give him the time that’s needed.”

The absence is certainly having an impact on the Bruins, who have tried both Ryan Spooner and Riley Nash in Bergeron’s center spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Clearly, No. 37 has also been missed during special teams play where they don’t have anybody that can adequately play his bumper position on the power play, or kill with Marchand while utilizing their hard-earned chemistry together.

Worse still, Marchand has just two shots on net in the first two games of the season without Bergeron, and is having difficulty generating his own offense without old, reliable No. 37 by his side. Bergeron’s return could have a positive impact on many of these areas, but it all depends on his health level and just how long of a time period the Bruins have to go without their best all-around player. 

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Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

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Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, watching a "Rocky" movie marathon on in the background. Good times.

*A good piece from SI about colorful NHL referee Wes McCauley, who was seemingly made for his job on the ice in stripes.

*Boy it really feels like the Ottawa Senators are laying the groundwork for defenseman Erik Karlsson to be traded, doesn’t it? Clearly, Karlsson is a special kind of player, but it begs the question behind Ottawa doing all this. Do they merely not want to pay him, or do they feel like he’s a tad overrated based on the adoration he gets from the fancy stats crowd. The truth might also be that if he was that much of a game-changing force, the Senators would consistently be better than they’ve been over the course of his brilliant, Norris Trophy-winning career. So the Sens might be looking to cash out before the inevitable decline begins to happen in his game, or the foot injuries begin to catch up to him.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did a guest spot on with FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan talking about what’s behind such a stunningly good season from the Boston Bruins. Always a pleasure talking hockey with Wysh and Emily.  

*Taylor Hall has been very effective for the New Jersey Devils in his second season there, and there are some good reasons behind it.

*In a big blow to the New York Rangers, puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been lost indefinitely to knee surgery.

*For something completely different: These days they do trailers for the seasons of animated "Star Wars" shows as well. I’ve been in and out on "Star Wars Rebels", but I’ve also been entertained whenever I’ve actually watched it.

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Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

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Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

There is no exaggeration or sports writing hyperbole when we say the Bruins are the NHL’s hottest team.

They secured points in their 15th game in a row (11-0-4) with a 5-2 demolishing of the New York Islanders on Thursday night, and are pulling away from the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs with a five-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division. Oh, by the way, they also hold three games in hand over the Leafs. Amazingly, the Bruins are just five points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning with a game in hand on them as well while boasting the NHL’s second-best goal differential with a strong plus-36 mark.

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Basically, the Bruins are kicking butt, scoring goals and taking names all across the league.

Taking all this into account, it’s also no longer a leap to say the Black and Gold are one of the best teams in the league after showing no signs of slowing down the past two months. They’ve embarrassed the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and spanked the Islanders, Senators and Canadiens multiple times in their stretch of dominance while outscoring opponents by a whopping 60-18 over those past 15 games.

It looked like they might slacken a little bit when they were a tad bit rusty coming off the five-day bye week with a couple of close, slightly sloppy games against the Habs and Dallas Stars, but they’ve bounced back with dominants wins over the Canadiens and Islanders.  

“We feel so good about our game that we know over the course of 60 minutes that we’ll get our chances if we’re working hard and stick to you know our layers and stick to our defensive posture that will turn into offense,” said Torey Krug. “For us, you know, it’s just confidence in our system and the way that we’re rolling right now. Guys are stepping up, we’re getting contributions from everyone and that’s a big part of it.”

So how are they doing it?

Well, the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has gone supernova in January. Marchand (five goals, 14 points in seven games) and Bergeron (eight goals, 13 points in seven games) are averaging two points per game. Not only that, but David Krejci and Ryan Spooner have been point-per-game players on the second line to provide extra offensive support, Danton Heinen continues to bring an offensive element to the third line and the fourth line is bringing energy and physicality while taking regular shifts.

Basically, it’s come to the point where Boston’s top line is arguably the best 200-foot line in the NHL and their other three forward lines aren’t allowing opponents to simply key on the brilliantly flawless Perfection Line. That allows Bruce Cassidy to roll his forward lines, wear opponents down as they get deeper into games and simply overwhelm teams with their depth and quality while playing at a high pace.

“On our team this year I know for a fact that our four lines can play against anybody,” said Cassidy. “That’s the message I want to send to the players. I want them to feel like they can play against anybody, but I also want to be mindful of it and not get burnt by that. People will look at you and say ‘Geez, you’ve got all these great defensive forwards and you don’t use them.’ I’m not going to match David Krejci every night against the other team’s best line, but I don’t mind if for a shift or two they’re out there. That’s just the rhythm of the game, and I’m not going to jerk [players] off the ice [to play hard matchups].”

It’s not just about offense, though, as Zdeno Chara has made it his personal challenge to turn Boston’s penalty kill into Operation Shutdown. The Bruins basically won Wednesday night’s game in Boston when Chara stayed on the ice for nearly an entire, extended 5-on-3 power play for the Canadiens where they didn’t get much of a sniff. The 40-year-old was at it again on Thursday night with 25 plus minutes of ice time while blocking multiple shots killing an Islanders power play. Teams will always need defensive warriors to win big, important hockey games, and Chara is still the biggest, baddest shutdown defenseman warrior on the block.

“[Chara] thrives on it; he wants it. Sometimes you’ve got to grab him by the scruff – well I can’t – but [B’s assistant coach] Kevin [Dean] will try to get him off in [some of] those situations – not in a five-on-three – but he relishes that role,” said Cassidy, of Chara’s penalty killing ferocity. “If you look at our PK all year it has been in the top five, maybe slipped out to seven or eight. Zee is the biggest reason on it – and the goaltender has to make the saves. That’s not being disrespectful to [Patrice Bergeron], who does a great job, or [Riley] Nash, but Zee sees a lion’s share of it, and he sets the tone on it.”

Mix in consistently strong goaltending with the offense and the defense and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are dishing out humble pie to just about every opponent that crosses their path. It will be interesting to see if they can catch a Tampa Bay team without Victor Hedman for the next six weeks and if they can truly lock down home ice in the first round of the playoffs against the Maple Leafs.

But one thing to keep in mind before crowning the Bruins as the NHL’s next big thing: There is a huge youth faction on this team.

The five or six rookies in the lineup on a nightly basis have been instrumental to their success and, at this point, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly are becoming consistent contributors. But they’re only halfway through their first NHL season and Boston’s schedule gets much heavier in the second half. The Bruins, rookies and all, will be playing a taxing 16 games in March and it’s doubtful they’re going to come out of that heavy stretch at full strength.

It’s a very real possibility that Boston’s heralded rookies hit a wall at some point the next couple of months and they’ll need to be able to bounce back.

“I think we will keep an eye on it, but we have no intention of decreasing the workload right now until we see a drop-off because I don’t want to mess up a good thing,” said Cassidy. “You want to be out in front in some situations, but because [Charlie McAvoy] is so strong I think he’s going to be okay. But that will play itself out, and that will be a conversation with a number of guys and not just [McAvoy].

“How will DeBrusk handle it? Kuraly has played a lot of hockey for us, but he’s a little more down the lineup and doesn’t play as many minutes. Grzelcyk has now played a lot of games in a row. We have a few young guys that we’re going to have to monitor.”

The good news is that this Bruins team has been extremely resilient this season and they have a hardened, experienced leadership group that’s going to push them through. The Bruins also believe they’re one of the NHL’s best teams after the past couple of months. They’re absolutely right after the two-month run of awesome that they’ve been on.  

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