Haggerty: 15 thoughts from Bruins-Sabres


Haggerty: 15 thoughts from Bruins-Sabres

BUFFALO Here are fifteen thoughts from the third period with the Bruins falling to the Buffalo Sabres by a 6-0 score after 60 minutes of action at the First Niagara Center.

First period:

1) Tough first 20 minutes for Johnny Boychuk and Zdeno Chara, who were on ice for both of Buffalos goals in the first. The first goal allowed was a tough bounce off Gregory Campbells raised stick after a Christian Ehrhoff point shot, but the second score was Boychuk and Chara getting turned around in their own zone by Ville Leino and Jason Pominville. Tough night so far.

2) Congrats to Shawn Thornton for his 100th career NHL fight with Cody McCormick just minutes into the first period. It appeared that McCormick asked to dance and both players got a couple of strong shots before the fight quickly ended.

3) Tuukka Rask fighting the puck a bit. Some odd-looking save attempts and several tough rebounds right around the net aside from the two goals allowed on nine shots. Looks like the three-game losing streak could become a four-game losing streak if hes not careful.

4) Lousy non-goal call on the Bruins early in the game. It appeared that Milan Lucic had redirected a puck over the goal line, but it was waved off due to Rich Peverley's goalie interference on Ryan Miller. Miller was outside the crease and there was little contact between Peverley and the Buffalo goaltender on the play. Clearly there is some sensitivity to Miller against this Bruins team after the Lucic incident earlier this year, but that was a blown call that cost Boston a needed goal in the early going.

5) Patrick Kaleta started a fight with Milan Lucic at the face-off circle, got a couple of Lucic right-handed bombs to his face before he crumpled to the ice and then raised his hands as if victorious while skating the penalty box. Perhaps Kaleta was celebrating A) the fact he didnt get killed by Lucic or B) that he baited Lucic into leaving the ice for five minutes in a trade-off won by Buffalo. Either way Kaleta still looked dumb wearing that visor and starting a fight.

Second period:

1) Tuukka Rask appeared to be fighting the puck in the first on a series of bad rebounds, and he was yanked by Claude Julien after giving up Ville Leino backhander to start the second. Just not a sharp night for Rask in first game hes been pulled from by the Bruins this year. Some may remember Rask was also pulled in Buffalo last year.

2) Disinterested defense on a couple of Buffalo goals, 0-for-6 on face-offs and no presence on either side of the puck for David Krejci tonight. He certainly looks like hes taking some seriously passive disinterest in this game.

3) Shawn Thornton with two fights in this game and he looks genuinely angry at any number of things. He gets 17 PIMs for roughing, fighting and instigating while pounding Mike Weber with a series of left-handed punches after Weber went after Benoit Pouliot at the end of his shift.

4) Patrick Kaleta scored a goal for Buffalo to make it 4-0. A Kaleta goal can only be described as the greatest hockey insult that Buffalo can throw at an opponent. But all that being said, give Kaleta credit for being a factor tonight and for doing an adequate job antagonizing the Bruins while also producing.

5) Of Bostons 16 losses this season, ten of them have been against teams that are out of the playoffs. It certainly looks like it will be 11-out-of-17 for the Bruins after tonight. Theres a clear loss of focus against lackluster teams the Bruins cant get motivated to play against.

Third period:

1) Claude Julien placed David Krejci with Milan Lucic and Benoit Pouliot by the end of the third period. It appears Krejcis time on the third line might be ending after a non-existent performance tonight vs. the Sabres.

2) Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk were minus-3 tonight and pretty clear that Chara was cajoled into a frustration penalty by Patrick Kaleta after a particularly abrasive forecheck against the Bs defenseman. Perhaps the worst game of the season for the Bs captain after a day off on Tuesday.

3) When Ville Leino has been one of the best players on the ice after a tough year in Buffalo, you know that its been a bad night for the Black and Gold. Not sure I can say a single player showed up aside from Shawn Thornton.

4) Give Shawn Thornton credit for going after Mike Weber while coming to the defense of Benoit Pouliot. Weber hit Pouliot as he was heading toward the bench and Thornton immediately went after Weber while dropping him with a flurry of left-handed punches. That was his second fight of the night and the reason hes the preeminent enforcer in the NHL.

5) Patrick Kaleta causing more troubles at the end of the third period while drawing penalties all over the ice. He managed to induce Milan Lucic into 15 minutes of penalties in the loss by simply being the aggravating rat role he plays for the Sabres. After his second nuisance act the Sabres game ops people played Sweet Caroline in a clear effort to taunt the team from Boston.

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, "happy he can move on"

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, "happy he can move on"

BOSTON – It was the final piece of closure for former Bruins coach Claude Julien when he made his return to TD Garden for the first time as the bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. Julien stood on the visiting bench, watched a first period video tribute of appreciation for his 10-years guiding the Bruins and then received the warm, thankful ovation from the B’s fans that still very much appreciate his efforts that resulted in a 2011 Stanley Cup title. 

Unfortunately for him and the Canadiens he also presided over a lifeless, limp effort from his Montreal club in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins where his team simply couldn’t derive any emotion or juice from his return to Boston. Julien said in both French and English that that his Habs simply “laid an egg” on the road, and that was disappointing for him given that Montreal already has their backs against the wall for a possible playoff spot. 

Instead Julien’s biggest bright spot in the game turned out to be the video tribute from the Bruins midway through the first period, for which he was greatly appreciative. 

“It’s always something that you kind of dread a little bit because it’s a little emotional, and at the same time [you’re] trying to keep your emotions intact there so you can coach a game and stuff like that. But, you know, I appreciate what they did for me,” said Julien following his second loss to the Bruins in five days. “As I said, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this organization that gave me the opportunity to spend 10 years here. At the same time I’m kind of happy it’s over so we can move on now, but that doesn’t mean you forget what’s happened here. It’s always going to be with you. But now I’m in another chapter of my coaching career, and I’ve got to think about that.”

Julien’s counterpart, Bruce Cassidy, called the video tribute a “classy move” by the Bruins organization after the game had been settled, and there’s no doubting it was the right move for a coach that won over 400 games during his 10 years leading the Bruins. It was also the final chapter in his Bruins book as Julien now has completely moved on to his new gig guiding the Canadiens where it seems like his work is most definitely cut out for him. 

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?


Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

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Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.