Bruins

Short-handed Bruins go all in in victory over Wild

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Short-handed Bruins go all in in victory over Wild

BOSTON -- Somehow the Bruins are managing to survive, and even thrive at times, despite an injury list that keeps growing with each passing day.

The shorthanded B's banked two more points in their 5-3 win over the equally banged-up Minnesota Wild on Monday night at TD Garden, and have now taken points in seven of their last eight games. Some of it is about fill-ins stepping up and getting the job done, some of it is about the youth movement coming through intermittently, some of it is about Boston's core group pulling the rest of the team along, and some of it is about a team displaying a ton of heart and character.

The Bruins showed all of those things after initially falling behind Minnesota by a goal in the first period, and they displayed those enviable qualities in battling back from deficits against both Columbus and Washington over the last week, as well. Habitually falling behind isn't a recipe for success, but the Bruins will take whatever they can get with a bare-bones roster that looks more like an AHL team.

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Clearly it's a small sample size of games with the season barely a month old, but the Bruins refusing to throw in the towel is becoming a trend.

"You're starting to see that personality of our hockey club that we are not going to be an easy out," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "We are going to keep ourselves in games, and work hard to get back in games. Some nights it's going to work out, and some nights it's not. That would be a great personality to have on the team. It just shows the character of the group."

It's interesting to note the Bruins lost Saturday when David Pastrnak accounted for all of Boston's, but won Monday with five different goal-scorers. Certainly they'll count on Jake DeBrusk, who opened Boston's barrage with his third goal of the season, but it was all secondary offense after that, with Frank Vatrano, Sean Kuraly, Torey Krug and Tim Schaller doing the rest of the goal-scoring.

The Bruins were rewarded with the first two assists of Jordan Szwarz's NHL career, and they got hardnosed, physical play from guys like Matt Beleskey, Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara against Minnesota after getting pushed around by Washington last weekend.

It's exactly the kind of diversified scoring and offense that Boston is going to need while missing three of its top six forwards (David Krejci, David Backes and Brad Marchand). The trick will be duplicating it through the month of November, with 8 of their 12 opponents having made the playoffs last season. That doesn't leave a lot of room for error while waiting for reinforcements over the next few weeks, but that's the Bruins' lot whether they like it or not.

"We prepare for the games," said Chara. "It's just happens that we are missing some guys. But we can't be feeling sorry for ourselves. We accepted a few days ago that everything is going to be battling, or facing some kind of challenge with injuries, missing players. But like I said earlier, I think it's a great chance for our players to step up, and they did. They played really well. We had a really good team effort. That's important that you don't always rely on the same guy. It's other guys stepping up and making big contributions."

It's a time-honored hockey platitude that injuries are simply an opportunity for somebody else to step up. Normally it's a hackneyed cliché, but stepping up is exactly what's happening as the Bruins have posted a 6-4-3 record in their first 13 games without even once boasting their full lineup. Undoubtedly there's room for improvement -- and it will be a much different story when they finally get healthy -- but for now they're hoping for a steady stream of grind-it-out games just like Monday's all-in win over the Wild.

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Beleskey ready to 'perform at the level I know I can' in Providence

Beleskey ready to 'perform at the level I know I can' in Providence

BRIGHTON, Mass – In an unsurprising move given the strong character he’s shown since arriving in Boston, Matt Beleskey tweeted an assurance that he was going to work hard and regain his game after being sent to Providence.

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Beleskey, 29, cleared waivers on Friday afternoon and was assigned to the Providence Bruins, where he'll presumably play in all situations and get plenty of ice time to rebuild his confidence and game while waiting for another chance in the NHL. There’s no guarantee when or if that next chance is going to come given the richness of the Bruins prospect pool at the forward position, but Beleskey said via social media that he was ready to put in the work.

Beleskey still has 2 1/2 years left on a contract that will pay him $3.8 million per season, but he’s hit a wall the past two seasons with just three goals and a minus-18 in his past 64 games for the Bruins. It’s a far cry from the hard-hitting, confident player that posted 15 goals, 37 points and 260 hits in his first season in Boston or the one who popped in 22 goals for the Anaheim Ducks heading into free agency.

Some have speculated that the blue-collar Beleskey isn’t a good fit for Bruce Cassidy’s speed and skill-based system. Others say that the hard-nosed winger hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee at the start of last season. Whatever the case, the hard-hitting, heavy part of his game has been missing the past couple of seasons and the Bruins hope that Beleskey can find it in the AHL.

“Matt [Beleskey] is very well liked in the room. So, no one likes to see a player get waived. The way we look at it as an organization is, he hadn’t played much, and I think the best way for him to get back to helping the Boston Bruins is to get playing,” said Cassidy. “So, he goes to Providence, finds his game, what he did well before previously – from my end, we just thought there were some players in the lineup that outperformed him, plain and simple.

“We are trying to reward the players that earned it on merit and not look so much at maybe contract status, et cetera. You know, within reason. I think some of the young guys have pushed him. We’ve seen it at different positions and that’s as simple as I can make it. Like I said, I like Matt. He’s very respectful of the coaching staff of what we are trying to do. We just felt we had better in the lineup. The team is going well. The decision was made.”

While it’s entirely possible that a stint in the AHL could be exactly what’s needed to light the fire in Beleskey’s game, the truth is that the demotion is an admission by the Bruins that the five-year, $19 million contract wasn’t a good one. Furthermore, it’s not very common for veteran NHL players to come back and regain their former high level once it gets urgent enough that they’re assigned to the minors.

The more likely scenario with Beleskey is that he spends the rest of the season in Providence, the Bruins get the $1.025 million in savings on the salary cap and the team strongly considers a buyout in the offseason. It’s all disappointing considering the signing of Beleskey was their reaction to letting Milan Lucic go in a trade three years ago. They were desperately looking for a big-hitting, intimidating power forward to take Lucic's place in a search that’s still ongoing to this day.

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Struggling Bjork may take a seat vs. Rangers

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Struggling Bjork may take a seat vs. Rangers

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s normally a sequence of peaks and valleys for rookies in their first foray through the NHL and Anders Bjork is definitely in one of those lower points right now. 

Bjork, 21, registered a season-low 6:47 of ice time in the Bruins 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at TD Garden and was benched for portions of the second and third period after looking pretty timid throughout the game.

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Bjork has just a single point and two shots on net in his past six games since returning from an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. It's been an extremely quiet period for a player expected to make a top-six forward impact. It’s all trending toward a potential healthy scratch for Bjork on Saturday against the New York Rangers with a healthy Ryan Spooner potentially taking over for him on David Krejci’s left side.

“We’ll make the decision tomorrow, but [a Bjork scratch] is definitely a possibility and something we’ve discussed,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I just find that he’s not as strong on the puck as he was at the start of the year, or as quick to create turnovers. There are parts of his game that are always going to be worked on, like his play away from the puck.

“But the issue right now is being strong on pucks. The goal [Washington] they scored the other night is a good example. We make a play through the middle of the ice tape-to-tape, he’s in the crease and he’s not able to handle a puck. They’re coming back at us while we’re thinking we’re on offense. There were breakdowns after that clearly, but that’s an area [that needs improving]. Just before Charlie [McAvoy’s] penalty, we’re on a draw and [Bjork] gets pushed off a puck that comes back on us and we get beat up ice. Some of it is plays where he needs to be better, and some of it is where he’s at in his career where other guys are just stronger.”

Perhaps some of Bjork’s hesitancy is also an after-effect of getting tattooed in the middle of the ice by Tampa Bay's Matt Martin in a play that knocked him out of the lineup for a few weeks. Coping with the immediacy of those kinds of hits is part of life in pro hockey for a young player. It's a considerable adjustment when going straight from college hockey to the NHL.

Bjork knows that he hasn’t been a high-impact player since returning from injury and hasn’t really utilized his greatest offensive assets, speed and skill.  It may not matter much if Bjork watches Saturday from the ninth floor of the Garden as a healthy scratch, but he has a plan to get his game back on track when he does get his next opportunity for the Black and Gold.

“I think it’s mainly a confidence thing. I have to use [my speed] and it’s on me if I don’t,” said Bjork, who has four goals and 10 points in 22 games this season. “I think I just have to have that confidence every shift, so I can avoid the mistakes. There are bounces good and bad in hockey, but you create your own luck sometimes. You do that by playing the right way, and when things aren’t going your way you need to get back to basics of making things simple. That’s what I need to focus on: Making the simple plays and doing the details right.”

A healthy scratch was exactly the right thing to spark fellow rookie Jake DeBrusk when he was scuffling a bit last month, so perhaps the same plan of attack for Bjork to unlock his game while on a pace for 14 goals and 34 points this season. 

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