Bruce Cassidy

Bruins try to simplify things after a couple of rough losses

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Bruins try to simplify things after a couple of rough losses

GLENDALE, Arizona – After stubbing their toes in back-to-back games against the Colorado Avalanche after a promising opener, the Bruins have plenty they need to show this weekend in back-to-back games on the road. 

The Bruins are dead last in the NHL in defense with 4.3 goals allowed per game and the penalty kill is 23rd, averaging a PP goal allowed per game.

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The Bruins aren’t getting any offensive bang for the defensive transgressions either while averaging just 2.3 goals per game. Clearly, they miss key offensive performers Patrice Bergeron and David Backes out with injuries but need to start finding some answers out of the still-talented group that’s healthy and playing.

Bruce Cassidy ran the Bruins through practice ahead of the Saturday night showdown with the winless Coyotes and seemed to be focused on simplifying things for a team that’s a lot of mistakes in the first few games. That means simply taking things to the net in the offensive zone and playing it a little safer when he comes to pinching and jumping on plays at the offensive blue line.

It’s not the ideal way this assertive, aggressive version of the Bruins wants to play, but it might be necessary at this point early in the season.  

“The third period [in Colorado] we scored two goals and I don’t think we did anything spectacular other than win pucks, go to the net and be belligerent there. If that’s what it takes to get going, that’s what it takes sometimes to score goals in this league,” said Cassidy. “There are pretty goals and there are goals like that. If we can carry that attitude going forward that we’re going to be hard to play against in front of their net then I think things are going to loosen up for us and we’ll get rewarded. But that’s something where [the players] have to take that mindset on the ice.

“On the offensive blue line, I thought we had some struggles and maybe we were overthinking it and being too active. It’s stuff we’re trying to coach into the game to create some space, but other nights you just need to make sure it gets past their first layer and on net. Sometimes it’s going to get blocked by the second layer on the way to the net, but you have to get it past the first layer if you’re a D-man. That’s very important so the guys going to the net get some sort of reward.”

The message sounds simple to the Bruins at this point: Just play simple, hard and strong hockey and get some results until they’re in a position to add a little more flash and dazzle to a fuller, healthier group that’s got the basics down. Right now the Bruins are doing very little at a high level, and that’s not a good recipe for success in the NHL. 

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Bruins' patience getting tested as young players learn

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Bruins' patience getting tested as young players learn

GLENDALE, Arizona – The Bruins have committed fully to the youth movement, so they’re fully aware of what they signed up for this season with young, first-year players Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy filling important roles.

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They reaped the benefits on opening night when all three provided offense and led the Bruins to an impressive victory over Nashville. They’ve also witnessed an ensuing valley afterward when things leveled off. Bjork and DeBrusk have been a combined minus-10 with zero points in a pair of back-to-back losses to the Colorado Avalanche and McAvoy registered a season-low 17:49 of ice time in the Wednesday night loss in Colorado.

The two stunning losses clearly aren’t all on the rookies. There were plenty of veteran core players who struggled as well, but the difference in play for the team, and the rookies, within the first three games has been noteworthy. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said shepherding the rookies through tough times was about two things: 1) Striking the balance between nurturing patience and challenging them and 2) those young players getting back to the basics of hockey.

“Probably [needing to] play inside a little more and getting to the net," Cassidy said. "We’ve talked about that they’re going to get a feel for how hard it is to hold onto to pucks in this league, so they know that. We’re trying to coach them up as far as the structure. I thought some of their reloads could have been better as far as going back through the middle of the ice, and their line gave up some rushes coming back at us. But that’s all stuff on the [coaching] staff to make sure they get up to speed.

“It’s up to them to do what they do best, which is attack, play inside and get to the net. Hopefully, they do a little bit more of that as a line. Some guys catch on quicker than others. We knew there would be consistency issues as every young kid goes through them. So we saw highs in the first game and some lows in the second game, and we saw them starting to come out of it in the third period [in Colorado]. We’re going to try to keep them confident, but also on their toes and aware of what needs to be better. Sometimes that’s a fine line for the young guys. They take it to heart, or they don’t take it to heart sometimes. We’re working our way through that with them. There are plenty of veteran guys here to pull us through while [the rookies] learn the ropes, and that’s what they need to do.”

DeBrusk had four shots on net against Nashville and scored his first NHL goal while attacking the net with speed and assertiveness. He’s had a combined three shots on net in the two games since and is looking to get back to aggressively attacking the net while using his surprising speed and growing strength to get there.

“I remember one of the big things last year [in the AHL] was staying consistent every game," DeBrusk said. "Obviously it’s a different league and it’s an 82-game season. It’s a long season. The last two games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to go as a group, and me myself there have been some mistakes and learning curves. It’s frustrating and it’s something you don’t want to have happen. You just learn from it and move on.

“The good thing is we have back-to-back games [vs. Arizona and Vegas], so you’ve got a chance to get back to .500 and fix some of those things. I think it’s the details in my game. It’s not just in the defensive zone, but all over the ice. I was a little too reckless on the fore-check and just lost my guys. It’s about wanting to do a little too much. It’s also just fronting more pucks and getting to the net more. That’s what I’m doing when I’m playing well and pucks seem to find me there.”

Bjork might have had his best game in the matinee defeat against the Avs when he had three shots on net but didn’t come away from with a point after notching an assist on opening night. The injury to Patrice Bergeron might be toughest of all for him after he’d build up chemistry with No. 37 and Brad Marchand throughout training camp as their probable right wing.

Still, the harsh truth is that Bjork has had zero shots on net in two of his first three NHL games after a very strong camp and needs to make himself more of a consistent factor for the Bruins with the speed and hockey smarts to make it happen.

McAvoy, 19, has had just a single shot on net in each of the two losses and is a minus-3 in those games but he hasn’t struggled to the degree that his fellow rookies have the past couple of games. He wasn’t generating enough offense, to be sure, but he did level Nathan MacKinnon with a clean, punishing open-ice hit while trying up the energy in the Monday matinee.He’s a little bit ahead of DeBrusk and Bjork in the physicality department and that’s allowed him to get assimilated pretty quickly to the NHL.

“We’re not using him a lot on the PK, so if it’s not a defenseman penalty then [McAvoy] and Krug are going to be our last pair we’d use because we’re saving them for offensive situations. He made plays [in Colorado], he’s up the ice and kept pucks alive and contributed to the goal doing that,” said Cassidy. “I’m fine with Charlie. On the first night, he got a little lesson against Nashville about trying to defend standing still, and he’s tried to play his 1-on-1’s with better angles. So he’s been good.

“[He’s got] composure. He’s a confident guy without being arrogant about it. He’s coachable, but when the puck drops he’s got good instincts for the game. I also think he’s a little underrated in his skating with the puck. I think he’s faster with it than he is without it. He fools some people with his ability to separate, and he’s strong on it. For a 19-year-old that’s rare. We’ve talked about some of the young guys learning the ropes on that, but he’s got some of those gifts that take a few years to develop.”

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the rookie wingers or other scuffling Bruins (Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano): The B's have some talented reinforcements in the AHL that are red-hot right now. Peter Cehlarik is off to a strong start in Providence with two goals and five points in two games for the P-Bruins and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson has two goals in as many games for Providence. Likewise, Kenny Agostino has a goal and five points in those two games for the P-Bruins and can go back and forth between the NHL and AHL for the next month after clearing waivers at the end of the preseason.

That line has been tearing it up for the P-Bruins to start to start the season and it won’t be long before those players are getting auditions for NHL jobs if the incumbents continue to struggle after a very promising start. It’s harsh, of course, but that’s also the way of the NHL world where it’s a bottom-line business based on present-day results, productivity and consistency. The Bruins need to see more of all of those from their young guys this weekend in Arizona and Vegas as they look to stop the bleeding of a two-game losing streak.  


 

Bruins 'need good games' out of goalies, Khudobin gets start vs. Coyotes

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Bruins 'need good games' out of goalies, Khudobin gets start vs. Coyotes

GLENDALE, Arizona – After a couple of rough losses back-to-back, the Bruins will give Tuukka Rask his first breather of the season with this weekend’s back-to-back road games against the Coyotes and Golden Knights.

Anton Khudobin will get his first start of the season on Saturday night against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena and Rask will get back between the pipes against the Golden Knights in his first time facing the Vegas expansion team. Rask has given up 10 goals in his first three games and is off to a pretty sluggish start behind a mistake-filled Bruins defense, and that has manifested into a .870 save percentage and 3.76 goals against average for the B’s No. 1 goaltender.

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Truth be told, Rask was pretty good opening night vs. the Predators and far from the biggest problem in the road loss to the Colorado, but was also incredibly poor in the matinee loss to the Avs on home ice. An average Rask isn’t going to be much help to a Bruins team battling injuries and uneven performances early in the season.  

So the Bruins will instead look to switch up the energy a bit by calling Khudobin’s number and hope he can continue the high performance level he showed during the preseason. Clearly, the B’s backup wants to get off to a good start this season after the first few months of last year went so very wrong for him in Boston.

“Anton will go in tomorrow. I saw him play very well in preseason in Detroit, went out to Chicago and played well again and came in the other night and he played well. His camp was good. I expect him to play well,” said Cassidy. “For himself and for us, we need good games out of that position whether you’re the starter or the back-up.

“If we could get on the right foot [Saturday against the Coyotes] then that would help us a lot, so we’re asking him to do his part. We need to play well in front of him and score some goals, but he’s been good so far…so I don’t know why that would change.”  

Is there any way Khudobin could get both starts if he stands on his head against the Coyotes, and ends the Bruins current losing stretch at two games?

Cassidy wouldn’t bite and said without hesitation that he’ll go right back to Rask on Sunday in Vegas, but a dominant stretch of hot goaltending might be exactly what the B’s need right now to kick-start things for them this season. 

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