Bruins

Haggerty's Bruins-Lightning preview

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Haggerty's Bruins-Lightning preview

TAMPA BAY The Bruins limped into Tampa Bay wondering how many healthy bodies theyd be able to dress on Tuesday night against the Lightning, but it appears that they will have more than expected.

The Bruins will have 22 players on the ice for pregame skate including 13 forwards and seven defensemen, and theyll certainly have more than the battered and beaten skeleton crew of 15 skaters left on the bench for the end of their loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday.

Both Patrice Bergeron and Adam McQuaid took part in the Tuesday morning skate at the Tampa Times Forum and will be game-time decisions for a Bruins team that feared they had lost both just 48 hours ago.

Marty Turco will lead the Bruins onto the ice for the first time since arriving in Boston and the Bruins have another chance to utilize one of their games in hand tonight with the Ottawa Senators again idle on the schedule.

Its up to Boston to take out a Tampa Bay team thats seven points out of the playoffs and fading out of the picture, so a strong opening salvo from the Bruins could effectively silence the Bolts.

Thats the plan for a Bruins team thats found themselves down by 2-0 deficits in the first period in three of their last five games, and has been doing far too much chasing of the puck rather than seizing possession of it.

"We need a little urgency here. Not panic, but urgency," Claude Julien said. "Weve got to try to get some wins here. Thats what you have to do through some injuries and some guys are banged up and still playing right now. Every team is going through the same thing, so we need to make sure were ready to play hard and win some games. We want to be able to stay where we are in the Eastern Conference standings right now.

Once we got over this hump and were finishing a little better and get back to a healthier squad you hope it will pay off at that point.

Through all of the bad times over the last two months the Bruins have been able to avoid stringing together a three-game losing streak. Itll be a challenge to keep that from happening against a Lightning team with nothing to lose on Tuesday night against a Boston team that ousted them from the playoffs last year.

That seems like an awful long time ago at this point.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Tim Thomas needs to get air put into his tires and gas put into the tank after nine straight appearances that simply got worse as the 37-year-old went on. Thomas was pulled from Sundays loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins after allowing three goals on 10 shots, and is 3-4 with a 3.60 goals against average and an .860 save percentage during seven appearances in the month of March. Hell get his pit stop this week as Marty Turco gets the start tonight.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: We need a little urgency here. Not panic, but urgency. Weve got to try to get some wins here. Thats what you have to do through some injuries and some guys are banged up and still playing right now. Claude Julien on the need for the Bruins to still salvage points while going through the NHL gauntlet over the last month.

KEY MATCHUP: Marty Turco will have his hands full with Steve Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone attacking the Boston net with their typical flair and skill. For a goaltender that was out of the league for nearly a year, its a bit of a rude awakening to get tossed back into the mix against the Penguins and Lightning back-to-back. But thats the life of an NHL goaltender and hell have to show the same kind of life and energy he had in Pittsburgh while double-stacking into spectacular saves against Jordan Staal and Arron Asham.

STAT TO WATCH: 2 That's the number of goals for Daniel Paille in two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who tend to give up some short-handed goals while on the man advantage.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain), Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are long term injuries for the Bruins, and Benoit Pouliot is out with a lower body injury thats caused him to miss the last two games. Max Sauve was sent back to Boston with a hip injury suffered Sunday and hes expected to be shelved for a lengthy period of time. Both Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and Adam McQuaid (upper body) skated on Tuesday morning and are game-time decisions for the Bruins. For the Tampa Bay Lightning Vinny Lecavalier (hand), Mathieu Garon (groin), Mattias Ohlund (knees) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) are all out of the lineup.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Marty Turco will be making his first NHL start in nearly a year against the Lightning after making 20 saves in the final two periods against the Penguins Sunday afternoon. Rookie Dustin Tokarski will be making his third straight appearance for the Tampa Bay Lightning following the injury to Mathieu Garon, and hes still looking for his first win with an .891 save percentage.

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 its back 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?

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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.

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