Red Sox

Haggerty: Bruins simply aren't the better team right now


Haggerty: Bruins simply aren't the better team right now

BOSTON -- There have been a handful of teams that have jostled for Beast of the East status over the first five months of the season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers had their moments early on before injuries begin picking away at their Cup-caliber rosters. The Florida Panthers even had a few moments of glory before reality set in.

The Bruins dominated November and December, when they ran roughshod over anyone in their way and made a claim as the best team in the NHL.

But the New York Rangers are on top of the heap now, having made a definitive statement with two road victories over the Bruins in the last three weeks.

The second of those two wins came Tuesday night, when noted Bs killer Henrik Lundqvist made 42 saves and his teammates blocked 22 more shots -- leading to plenty of ice bags in the visiting dressing room -- in a 3-0 win. The Rangers now have a nine-point lead in the Eastern Conference over the Bruins, who dropped to a mediocre 6-7-1 over their last 14 games.

Bruins coach Claude Julien seemed to recognize the hunger he saw from the Blueshirts on Tuesday night. It's the same one he's seen in the eyes of the Bruins, but that he isn't finding these days.

Theyre playing well, like we did last year when we were playing well, which is whats happening right now, said Julien with a wistful look in his eye. They grind you down, and they dont give you much. Whenever you give them an opportunity, they pounce on it. Right now thats kind of the identity were looking for again.

When the Bruins are on top of their game, the outcome's decided if they get ahead by two goals. And that's exactly what happened Tuesday night, only in reverse. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first period and then clamped down on Boston's offense, stacking bodies in front of Lundqvist and forcing the Bruins to labor to simply get shots off from the point.

When Bruin attackers did manage to get behind the big-bodied defense corps and fearless shot-blocking forwards like Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle, Lundqvist once again proved to be the Bs daddy. King Henrik is 18-5-2 with six shutouts against the Bruins over his career, and he was at his best Tuesday night.

That looked like a good team that we just played tonight, said Tim Thomas, who allowed three goals on 22 shots in the loss. Just the overall way that they played together and . . . you know . . . theyre playing good defense with a good goaltender.

The defense and elite goaltending effectively frustrated the Bruins at their own game, and lured the Bs into the kind of gaffes they normally capitalize on. For a player who prides himself on playing that style, it was frustrating for Zdeno Chara to watch his team fall to a more effective version of themselves.

Theres a reason why the Rangers are where they are. At the same time, I thought that we didnt play our best, as well in either game, said Chara, referring to the 3-2 overtime loss three weeks ago to the Rangers. But I think that they deserve to be where theyre at."

Where they are is on top of the hill, playing some of their best hockey of the season. The Bruins have lost their bragging rights as the class of the East, despite their Stanley Cup pedigree, until further notice.

"We havent seen all the teams in the Western Conference, but theres no doubt right now the Rangers are playing the best," said Julien. "They play hard."They play hard, they play clean, they don't don't budge an inch and they're incredibly hard to play against. The Rangers are also seemingly at the top of their game in the middle of the season with four tough months ahead. All of that sounds like a hockey team people are used towatchingaround these parts, doesn't it?

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.


EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?


EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.