Celtics

Haggerty: Five things to shake Bruins slump

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Haggerty: Five things to shake Bruins slump

TAMPA So the Bruins have lost three of the last six games, including forgettable efforts against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bs coaches and players are touchy to words and phrases like slump, lull or rough spot, but any objective observer can see that the teams performance has dropped over the last two weeks. The Bruins are no longer the top-ranked NHL team in goals allowed (theyve dropped to third) and the trio of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic has allowed five goals in the last two games. The Bruins have lost the third-period battle in each of their last three games, and have been outscored by a 6-2 margin in the final 20 minutes after serving as the best third-period closers in hockey over the first three plus months.

Things are going wrong in all directions like they did during the seasons first month, and the Bruins are prepared to work their way out of it.

Were a team that changes things just a little bit and it can make all the difference in the world both good and bad, said Andrew Ference. Its a little bit of everything. Its having position in front of the net and battling, and its also taking care of the puck when you have it so that chance doesnt even happen. Its a number of small things that combine to make a bigger mistake.

Nobody is going to be 100 percent on top of their game every game, but the good teams know how to do it more often than not. They dont lean on the schedule as an easy out. Thats the thing too: making mistakes and missing assignments here or there doesnt make the game any easier. It doesnt take any more effort to play a good game. Its not about taking nights off. Its about being mentally sharp and every individual just needs to focus on what has to be done when were good. Its the same thing as we did at the start of the year. Everybody kind of took it themselves to improve their game and it made us a greater team.

There will certainly be difficult stretches in the season with more road challenges ahead during February and March including an 11-day road trip next month but this is one of the first bumps in the road. Here are five things the Bruins can do to help get the overpowering mojo they featured up until this four-game road trip.

1) Plenty of rest. The Bruins look like fatigue is creeping into their game for the first time since October, and its no wonder why in the middle of a five-game-in-seven-days stretch that includes travel. The Bs had an extremely friendly home schedule over the first three months of the regular season, and only now are they really getting battered around with back-to-backs and plenty of road miles. The fatigue clearly manifests itself in mental errors on turnovers and positioning -- and in suddenly empty gas tank during the final 20 minutes of games. The best thing Claude Julien can do is give his players plenty of time to recharge their batteries, and thats what hes done with optional morning skates and an off-day on Wednesday. Well see if it works in New Jersey against a team thats gone 5-1 since the Bruins humbled them on their own ice two weeks ago.

2)Start riding Tuukka Rask a little bit more. With similar team efforts from the Bruins against the Panthers and Lightning, one of the big reasons for a different result was the play between the pipes. Rask managed to steer three out of four breakaways from harms way during his win against the Panthers, and has won six games in row dating back to early December. Meanwhile Tim Thomas looked uncomfortable against the Lightning and was beaten to his glove hand by a clean Dominic Moore shot in the third period in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile Rask is 8-1-0 with a .965 save percentage since the beginning of December, and is pushing for more turns in the rotation right now.

3)Joe Corvo has no points and a minus-5 in his last five games, and hasnt a plus game since the Jan. 7 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Some of Corvos turnovers have led to goals in his own net as they did against an aggressive Tampa Bay team, and hes regularly been a defensive liability in front of his own net when the action gets heightened. So the Bruins limited him to 12:39 of ice time in the loss to the Lightning his second-lowest amount of ice this season and have juggled their defensive pairings to limit his exposure. The Bruins would do well to continue rationing Corvos ice time until he can repair his game and get rid of the costly puck errors.

4)The Bruins havent been the emotional aggressors since their loss to the Canucks two weeks ago, and havent had the same swagger or confidence after blowing out the Flames in the first game following Vancouver. Thats normally a sure sign of physical and emotional fatigue for the Bs, and that clearly seems to be the case against neutral opponents like the Hurricanes, Panthers and Lightning. The snarling emotion will be there when it matters and sometimes its dragged out by the antics of Brad Marchand whether they like it or not. But its been a problem over the last handful of games as the Bs have dialed down the attitude a bit. A fight or two leading the emotional pathway could do wonders to help the Bruins out of their little tailspin.

5)Simply wait it out. The Bruins are listless and searching for motivation in a four-game trip through the NHL Sunshine Belt that had trouble written all over it beforehand. But thats all going to change when this weekend when the Bs take on the Rangers and Flyers in back-to-back days, and face the kind of teams that will be there at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins have unfailingly brought their A game in all of the big games this season, and the tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers will bring the Black and Gold out of their funk. Its as simple as that for a team that looks like theyre going through the motions.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics back in win column

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics back in win column

0:41 - The Celtics returned to their winning ways with a 118-103 victory over the Orlando Magic. Tom Giles, Phil Perry and Rob “Hardy” Poole break down the win.

6:58 - Tom Giles and Hardy discuss the Bruins’ four-game winning streak and how the success of Anton Khudobin has helped keep the team afloat.

11:39 - Is the Patriots' Week 12 matchup with the Dolphins a trap game? Tom Giles, Phil Perry and Hardy discuss where Miami ranks among NFL teams and how the Patriots should approach the game.

17:07 - With Black Friday upon us, the Boston Sports Tonight crew discusses what big-ticket item they would choose to buy for any Boston sports team. 

 

Morris out, Brown questionable for Pacers game Saturday

Morris out, Brown questionable for Pacers game Saturday

BOSTON – Boston made strengthening their depth at the wing position a priority during the offseason.

Well, that depth will be put to the test with the possibility of at least one and maybe two of their top wing players being out for Saturday’s game at Indiana.

Shortly after Boston’s 118-103 win over Orlando on Friday night, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens announced that Marcus Morris (left knee) would not travel with the team for Saturday’s game against the Pacers.

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Also, Jaylen Brown will be attending the funeral of his best friend (Trevin Steede) in Georgia on Saturday and isn’t sure if he’ll be back with the team in time for Saturday’s game.

“My intention is to make it back. If I can, I’ll definitely be playing,” Brown said. “But we’ll see.”

The absence of Brown would be a huge blow for the Celtics.

Boston only returned four players from last season’s team, none of whom have improved their overall game as much as Brown did during the offseason.

He came into the season focused on being a lock-down defender.

But Gordon Hayward’s left ankle injury was a game-changer for all the Celtics, including Brown.

Not only would Brown be charged with being an elite defender, but Boston now needed the second-year wing player to become more of a scoring threat.

And to Brown’s credit, he has risen to the challenge.

In 20 games (all starts) this season, Brown has averaged 15.9 points per game which is second on the team to Kyrie Irving (22.9). In addition, Brown’s defense has been among the keys to Boston’s 17-3 start which is the best record in the NBA thus far this season.

His defensive rating of 95.0 is fifth among players to appear in at least 10 games this season, and tops among all second-year players. And of the four players ahead of him, two – Aron Baynes and Marcus Smart – are teammates.

But just like the Celtics gave Isaiah Thomas all the time he needed in dealing with the death of his sister right before the playoffs last season, a similar approach has been taken with Brown which he is admittedly appreciative of the organization for doing.

“Brad (Stevens) has been great in this process,” Brown said. “Just somebody to talk to, allowing me to deal with it in the best way our family and their family feels we can deal with it. He’s been great; we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully I can make it to Indiana; if not, I just have to re-group with my family and I’ll see you guys next game (against Detroit on Monday).”

While there's a chance that Brown will play against Indiana, the same can not be said for Morris who is definitely out.

Morris, who missed the first eight games of the season with left knee soreness, has been on a minutes restriction all season in addition to not being allowed to play in back-to-back games.

Following Friday’s game, Morris said the knee feels good but he understands the need to be cautious.

“It’s frustrating,” said Morris who acknowledged the decision was made by the coaching and medical staff. “I’m a competitor, so I want to be out there.”

He added, “Like I said, at this point I pretty much don’t have control over it when I’m playing. It’s a long season. I just want to be ready for June.”

With Morris out and Brown potentially out as well, the Celtics will be extremely thin and inexperienced at the wing position. Look for Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes to be in the starting lineup if Brown is out along with Morris.

Also, Stevens will likely use Terry Rozier and first-year forward Semi Ojeleye more in addition to increased spot-duty for another rookie, Abdel Nader. On Friday, Rozier had a career-high 23 points while Ojeleye and Nader had seven and three points, respectively.

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