Joe Haggerty

Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

LAS VEGAS -- Even though it's only five games into a new regular season, it feels like the Bruins are in danger of going off the tracks.

They finished their three-game Western road swing Sunday with an aimless 3-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, which came on the heels of a wretched defeat in Colorado and a victory over the winless Coyotes. Sunday was particularly disheartening, as they never tested their ex-goalie, Malcolm Subban, putting only 21 mostly harmless shots on net against a player they gave away on waivers just a few weeks ago,

They may only have three losses in five games, but it sure feels like there's trouble starting to brew in Bruins land.

“It could be a lot of different things,” said Brad Marchand about the loss to Las Vegas. "We may not have been as mentally prepared for that game as we thought we were. They wanted it more than we did. They out-battled us in a lot of areas and they were the better team. We were making it hard on ourselves. We were trying to do too much with the puck, and not directing enough of the pucks toward the net. You can’t get rebound and you can’t get bodies there if the puck isn’t going there.”

That is a lot of different things. A lot of different problems:

-- They couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net against a rugged Vegas defensive group that was going to make them battle to get there.

-- Once again they had too many passengers along for the ride, with both Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano failing to even be a blip on the game’s radar screen. Spooner suffered a lower body injury midway through the game, but while he was out there he was a non-factor once again. 

-- It felt like there was no flow at all to Boston’s game, with breakouts dogged by sloppy passing and players who weren’t hard enough on the puck.

-- When they did get a chance to create something they either missed the net with their shot, or opted not to even take the shot in the first place. 

-- They lost 67 percent of the 57 draws taken during the game, and saw Spooner, Riley Nash and David Krejci and Ryan Spooner go a combined 8-for-29 in the face-off circle.

-- They chased the puck for long stretches and certainly didn’t ever put together anything approaching a consistent, driving pressure in the offensive zone.

Missing stalwart veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Backes certainly isn’t helping. It makes the Bruins a much smaller group up front that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger defensive units.

But even so, there’s a sense the Bruins can’t consistently bring their 'A' game to the rink with them and don’t seem to have much fight when they fall down by a couple of goals. Trailing by just two goals going into the third period, the Bruins had four shots on net for most of the final period until a late flurry produced a score by David Pastrnak.

Perhaps of more concern, though, is the growing feeling that the Bruins aren’t all on the same page.

Marchand vaguely referenced that the Bruins weren’t prepared to play Sunday, and Tuukka Rask said he’ll no longer comment on anything except his own goaltending. Rask has always been candid and willing to be frank about any shortcomings after Bruins losses, but it appears that’s not something that is any longer welcome inside the B’s dressing room.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on,” said Rask. “I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

Meanwhile, Krejci was similarly short in his postgame thoughts and started talking about avoiding pointing fingers after a frustrating loss.

“There’s no reason to point fingers," he said. "Yeah, we lost a game and it was a frustrating loss. But it’s just the fifth game of the season, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of it. We’re going to back to Boston, we’re going to work hard in practices and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”

Clearly, the fact this stuff is coming to the surface just five games into the season is a cause for concern. But it makes sense, given the way the Bruins are letting an easy portion of the season slip through their fingers.

In their first 10 games of the year, they're facing only one team that made the playoffs last season and they've got plenty of spaced-out stretches in the schedule to get off to a strong, healthy start. Instead they’re losing to subpar teams and highly unproven goalies, and doing so with a real lack of energy or purpose on the ice.

Certainly management would be smart to think about shipping underperforming players like Vatrano back to the AHL in place of Peter Cehlarik or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. And a few more games like Sunday’s snooze-fest could advance trade talks for a player like Matt Duchene.

But there aren’t going to be any easy answers. It comes down to hard work and hunkering down together as a team, and Sunday’s pitifully inept loss in a very winnable situation was yet another sign the Bruins aren't even close to being there yet.

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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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Morning Skate: The most important player on each NHL team

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Morning Skate: The most important player on each NHL team

GLENDALE, Arizona -- Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while feeling that dry, dry heat out in the desert. It felt like I was a Kenny Rogers roasted chicken walking from the hotel to the Coyotes arena on Friday to cover the Bruins practice with the mid-afternoon sun beating down. Get me back to the cool, crisp autumn air of Boston ASAP.  

*Barry Melrose went around the NHL and listed the most important player for all 31 teams. He head-scratchingly he listed Charlie McAvoy with the Bruins. McAvoy is certainly a talented rookie and a potential Calder Trophy candidate, but there is no way he’s more important than Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand or even Tuukka Rask to the Bruins right now.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ray Ferraro doesn’t think that the Habs have what they need to fix their scoring issues. I definitely agree some of the onus is on the personnel, but it’s also on the coach that leans into defense over offense. That’s just the facts.  

*In a related note, Habs fans are seeing red about what they’re watching on the ice right now with the Canadiens.

*The Vegas Golden Knights are certainly getting a little carried away with their strong, undefeated start to the season, but why the heck not? It’s all good right now for Vegas and the show they’re putting on for fans that deserve things to cheer about.

*Is Roberto Luongo a lock for the Hall of Fame as he moves up the NHL’s all-time win list for goaltenders? Hockey News is asking the question.

*Interesting stuff here from Mark Schiefele, who breaks down the five toughest NHL players for him to go up against on a nightly basis in the league.

*For something completely different: Take the NBC pop quiz and find out how hackable you are right now.