Red Sox

Haggerty: More work to be done before Tuukka Time


Haggerty: More work to be done before Tuukka Time

BOSTON -- If there was a perfect training camp warm-up for the Bruins goaltenders to a challenging 48-game regular season, then Tuesday nights Black and Gold scrimmage at TD Garden was the exact opposite of that.

The final score was a 7-5 victory for the Providence Bruins in front of an impressively large crowd for a mere preseason scrimmage, and the final goal was a Kyle MacKinnon empty netter that didnt reflect poorly on the Bs puck-stoppers. But prior to that final score Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin allowed a combined 11 goals on 57 shots in a sloppy affair that looked more like a third grade fire drill than a professional hockey game.

Thats not exactly an encouraging dress rehearsal performance considering that Rask and Khudobin will be Bostons final line of defense this season. Instead of poised, confident and quiet, Rask was flopping all over the ice leaving large portions of the cage wide open. His Russian backup was simply whiffing while trying to glove pucks and stop simple shots from the face-off circle.

Considering that both goaltenders played in Europe, this was not supposed to be the way they looked.

Im going to look at the goals again. I think Tuukka Rask was maybe a little more active than he normally is when hes poised, said Claude Julien, who indicated the defense in front of the goalies was just as culpable in the high-scoring affair. But the winning goal just two guys skated in front of him and it hit the side of the leg. It was going wide and then trickled in. So there were a lot of things tonight. Certainly I dont think he got the bounces, but theres certainly a lot of things that he can work with Bob Essensa in the next couple of days to kind of tune him up a little bit better.

The same thing with Khudobin I thought a lot of pucks went through him tonight. He was there, but they were going through. So those are things that are usually...its a lot easier to correct than when youre out of position. I think both guys were in position but slight corrections will certainly make them better.

For his part Rask plainly admitted following the game that he lost mental focus in the third period, and that factored into the four goals he surrendered in the final 20 minutes against an AHL opponent. He seemed to lose a little composure at the beginning of the third period when the defense allowed Max Sauve to waltz right in toward the net and throw a couple of good stick fakes on Rask before dumping the puck in the open net.

Two more goals followed in less than five minutes, and the crowd showered Rask with a mock cheer when he finally did glove a long clearing shot. That unrest from the home crowd didnt go unnoticed by Rask in the otherwise meaningless preseason tilt.

It was good to see that crowd and they cheered us. They cheered for Providence guys too, so it was good to see that, said Rask. They cheered me on that one save in the third period too, didnt they?

At least Rask can keep his sense of humor about himself even if the bottom dropped out in a slipshod scrimmage effort.

The 25-year-old Finnish goalie was clearly the victim of a disorganized defense and some bad bounces on re-directions.

But he also simply wasnt very good.

Any NHL goaltender that gives up six goals on 24 shots and finishes with a .750 save percentage for the evening needs to look in the mirror before placing blame on the defenders in front of him. From tracking the puck through traffic to showing proper urgency in freezing the puck for a bacon-saving whistle, Rask was a little slow on the draw on all fronts. Knowing that the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist await on Saturday night, Rask was the first to admit hes got plenty of work to do.

I think it was sloppy throughout, for all of us. But you'd rather take it now than Saturday against the Rangers, right? said Rask. Ive got to improve on everything.

Just try to keep the focus for 60 minutes. I was slipping there the last period for sure, giving up four or five goals. But for all of us I think it was just a good wake up call for Saturday. I dont want to be too down on ourselves, but weve still got to wake up and raise our battle meter for sure.

But its actually not about the opposition for Rask this season. Its about his potential and how good he can be with a loaded Bruins team around him. He led the NHL in goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931) three years ago before wilting in the postseason, and hes shown flashes of brilliance as Tim Thomas understudy.

But the Bruins signed Rask to a one-year deal with the hopes that the goaltender can prove hes a franchise goalie over the course of a full regular season and Stanley Cup playoff run. Once Rask has taken on a starters full workload and maintained consistency and good health, the Bruins will show him the money and give long term security.

He knows it and the Bruins brain trust certainly knows it as well. But both player and team also know that his play between the pipes will be one of the largest keys of the season for a team thats missing their bunker-bound Conn Smythe-winning goaltender. If Rask is as good as he was in his rookie season the Bruins are a Stanley Cup favorite again this season. If Rask is inconsistent and feeling around for the groove, the Bruins will be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team with a huge weakness once the postseason begins.

I dont necessarily have to prove that Im a No. 1 goaltender, but I want to prove it, said Rask. You always want to prove it no matter what the situation is. If you have a one-year deal or an eight-year deal you still dont want to suck, right? So its just a matter of going out there and proving it.

I dont like to place pressure on myself about things. If I play at my level then Im sure everything will turn out fine.

Well, Rask pretty much sucked on Tuesday night in his first game out of the chute.

But the goaltender also knows none of that will matter as long as he pulls it together between the pipes once the real NHL games commence this weekend. He knows that goaltending is the one Bruins department that, for better or worse, separates the team from middle-of the-pack playoff squad to elite Cup contender.

Nobody said that life without Tim Thomas would be easy, but Rask needs to start proving hes up for that challenge.

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.