Talking Points: Rask, Bruins bear down and bounce back

Talking Points: Rask, Bruins bear down and bounce back

GOLD STAR: Tuukka Rask was just a little bit better than Blues goaltender Jake Allen in a puck-stopping exhibition put on by the two goalies. Rask was at his best in the third period on a combination save kicking out a Joel Edmundson shot, and then somehow fully extending with a glove save on a Jaden Schwartz point blank rebound bid. That was the most show-stopping of his 32 saves behind a Bruins defense that did a good job of clearing pucks around him, but Rask was simply solid with positional saves and good technique. The win pushes him to a 19-game personal point streak with a 17-0-2 record, which is the fourth-longest streak in B’s history behind only Gerry Cheevers, Pete Peeters and Frank Brimsek.

BLACK EYE: Vladimir Tarasenko got a late assist on a Blues goal in the final two minutes of the game, but he was pretty terrible most of the night for St. Louis. Tarasenko finished with just a single shot on net and four giveaways in his 21:08 of ice time, and it was his hooking penalty on Torey Krug that set up the eventual power play game-winner for the Black and Gold. The Blues certainly got some good performances from players like Jaden Schwartz and Jake Allen in their Thursday night road meeting in Boston, but Tarasenko looked like he never really got in the flow after choosing to get in David Backes’ face pretty early in the game. Perhaps he had his head on a swivel the rest of the night after the confrontation with his former captain.

TURNING POINT: It was as simple as getting the jump on the Blues and scoring the game’s first goal for the first time in nine games. David Krejci scored a controversial goal in the first period that was upheld by a goalie interference challenge, and that gave the Bruins a chance to play front-runners for the first time in a while. The Bruins improved to 19-1-5 this season in games where they scored the game’s first goal and immediately were able to dictate terms for the rest of the game against an admittedly hard-nosed Blues bunch. Getting off to a strong start is something the Bruins were shooting to change in their makeup after slacking over the last 10 or so games, and it’s no coincidence they did exactly that in a winning effort on Thursday.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Backes was determined to do some damage against his old Blues team on Thursday after feeling like the emotion sucked away some of his energy in each of the two meetings last season. Backes did just that with a season-high eight shots on net and five registered hits while playing both the power game and the offensive game that he’s still clearly capable of kicking up when the mood inspires him. Backes was a beast in and around the front of the net, and finally got rewarded with the empty net goal with just 0.4 seconds on the clock in the third period. Backes did everything well in his 18:01 of ice time, and saved one of his best shifts for the end of the game when he rocked Brayden Schenn with a big hit and then scored the empty netter.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 – the number of goals that Patrice Bergeron has in his last 13 games as he continues to swing a hot stick in all situations.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The guys really battled. It was probably our most complete game where we had to battle and win pucks all over the ice.” –David Backes, on a solid 3-1 win over the Blues where the Bruins had to fight, grind and grit their way against a big, heavy Western Conference team.


Morning Skate: Donato's stock rising with each Olympic victory

AP Photo

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.