Ryan Spooner

Marchand praises Bruins' ability to play through 'good adversity'

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Marchand praises Bruins' ability to play through 'good adversity'

BRIGHTON, Mass – Give the Bruins credit for the way they are hanging tough amid injuries and the expected learning-curve inconsistencies of their young players.

The Black and Gold have taken points in each of their past six games, including their past four all against teams in playoff position: the San Jose Sharks, L.A. Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights. While clearly not playing dominant hockey or even a clear-cut winning brand of pucks, it’s allowed them to remain within a couple of points of a playoff spot with the fewest games played in the Eastern Conference.

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The Bruins will have to continue doing that with a rugged November schedule ahead of them. Still, it's been so far, so good with a formula of tight-checking, productive power play and quality goaltending expected to pull them through the hard times. In the end, veteran Brad Marchand thinks they’ll be better off for learning how to survive with David Krejci, David Backes, Ryan Spooner, Noel Acciari, Adam McQuaid and Anton Khudobin all currently out of commission.

“We’ve been playing some pretty decent hockey, especially based on the guys that we’ve been missing,” said Marchand. “We’re working on different areas of our game and those areas continue to improve. As long as we continue to get points we’ll continue to grow our game and trend upward.

“It’s good adversity. You need to learn how to win in every situation. You need to learn how to win when you’re missing guys, when you’re at full health and when you’re tried from back-to-backs or whatever it is. You need to learn how to win those games because the best teams thrive throughout the year. You really can’t have excuses at the end of the year [over] whether you’re in the playoffs or not. You can’t look back and say ‘if you weren’t missing so many guys then you would’ve been in the playoffs.’ It doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”

The undermanned Bruins have welcomed the challenge of adversity by picking up points even when all seemed lost, such as falling behind 3-0 in Columbus early in the game. In the good news department, Spooner and Acciari are skating again and it appears Acciari, the former Providence College standout, will begin practicing with the team again next week.

But only 10 players on the Bruins roster have played in all 11 games just a month into the season. That means they’ve needed to get results while never once enjoying the opening-night roster that they envisioned at the start of training camp. That bodes well for this group in the short term, and long term, if they can hold on a little bit longer until good health begins swinging their away again. 
 

Bruins' mission now is to survive November

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Bruins' mission now is to survive November

BRIGHTON, Mass – With November here, the harsh reality for the Bruins is they are out of the playoff picture right now and under siege because of injuries and inconsistency.

The latest barrage was the unwelcomed news Wednesday that David Backes is out for at least a couple of months after surgery to remove a portion of his colon due to his diverticulitis. The player and the team knew surgery was a strong possibility at the time of diagnosis, but the way things have played out the Bruins are now down three experienced centers with Backes, David Krejci (back) and Ryan Spooner (groin) all out.

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“We knew it was a possibility, but it’s really unfortunate,” said Patrice Bergeron of losing Backes. “It’s all the intangibles on the ice, as well as off the ice. He’s a good leader and he’s got a big voice in the locker room. He’s been around for a while and he was a captain in St. Louis, so he’s a big void to fill on and off the ice. It’s just that ‘next man up’ mentality, I guess. I’m sure we’ll all pick up the slack.

“Everybody that gets the tap on the shoulder gets more responsibility and more ice time as a result of it, and then you’ve got to go out there and do the job. We may all be asked to do a little more for the team, and we just have to answer.”

Backes is out for at least two months, Spooner is out at least another month with his injury and Krejci is week-to-week while not having skated at all in roughly a week’s time. The embattled Bruins have had their good lineup intact for exactly one game, the Oct. 19 win over the Vancouver Canucks, where both Bergeron and Krejci were healthy and on the ice together. They’ve never had their planned opening-night lineup healthy and together even for a single game thus far.

The injuries have left the Bruins with Riley Nash, Jordan Szwarz and Sean Kuraly as the three centers behind Bergeron, who himself missed the first few weeks of the season with a lower-body injury. Those injuries to key spots and across all the positions have made it challenging for the Bruins to find early season consistency, and has contributed to the wild and unruly swings in play we’ve seen from the Black and Gold over the first month.

“It’s challenging every because of [the injuries],” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “You want to develop some chemistry in the lines, and you want to some chemistry with the goaltenders and both of them have been hurt. Just to be able to play a certain style of game every night and to have that repetition, that’s what makes you better generally.

“Talent and work ethic obviously [are important], but repetition makes things easier as you go along so you’re not thinking too much. That’s been difficult. But that’s the hand you’re dealt and you’ve got to play it. Our job as a [coaching] staff is to make it as seamless as possible, put our minds together to help incorporate the young guys.

You’re going to have nights like Columbus where there are pockets where it doesn’t look pretty and pockets that once it comes together we can be effective. We have a core group of guys that can really carry this team, and we just need the other guys pulled into it very quickly. That’s our job.”

Clearly, there is no good time of season for injuries to ravage a team but that’s exactly what’s happening right now with Backes, Krejci, Spooner, Adam McQuaid, Noel Acciari and Anton Khudobin all out. November could be a disastrous time for all of this to happen, however, with the Bruins already a couple of points out of a playoff spot one month into the proceedings.

The good news is that the Bruins have games in hand on everybody else in the Eastern Conference while stuck in 10th place out of 16 teams, but they look they’re in an extremely compromised position to make up ground while missing so many bodies. The remaining healthy Bruins are accepting the situation with the knowledge Boston’s best players need to play that way every night if they’re going to survive the stretch.

“It is a test. It’s been a challenge since Game One. We’ve been missing somebody since the first game, and we haven’t had our full lineup for even one game this season,” said Bergeron. “I’d be lying if I said it’s ideal obviously. But that being said it’s…and coach has been saying this as well...it’s opportunities for other guys to step up and take a bigger share of the responsibility. We have to take that upon ourselves, whoever is on the ice, to do the job.

“Whenever we do get those guys back on the ice, it’s going to be great and it’s going to feel like we had some trades or something has happened. So we just have to hold the fort until we get some more players back, and it’s about is in this dressing room [right now].”

The burning question now for the Black and Gold is just how well the remaining rag-tag group can hold the fort in a grueling month that starts on tonight against the upstart expansion team out of Las Vegas.

Eight of the 12 opponents the Bruins will be facing in November were in the playoffs last season and three of the other four non-playoff teams are the biggest early-season success stories: Vegas, New Jersey and Los Angeles. That could spell doom for a B’s roster that looks more like a glorified AHL team on some nights given all of the regulars stuck on injured reserve. That reality was stunningly clear when the Bruins tapped Kenny Agostino, of all people, as their big goal-scoring hope with a shootout point on the line in Columbus on Monday night.

It’s a critical time for the Bruins where teams not in the playoff picture by Thanksgiving have only a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs. It's the kind of uphill battle Boston successfully scaled after their coaching change last season. That’s certainly not the kind of late-season surge the Bruins are planning on this time around.

The bottom line for the undermanned B’s: They need to find a way to survive the next four weeks where the schedule is doing them no favors. Still, they seem to be losing another injured player from their roster with each passing day. It’s no easy task, but then again nobody said it was going to be easy as the Bruins embarked on their 82-game journey this season.
 

Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would appear that Bruce Cassidy is ready to start shuffling the deck up front after a slow start to the season.

With the Bruins ranking among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively just a handful of games into the season, they are both introducing a few new forwards to the mix while hoping for full health to a couple of other ones. 

First off, the Bruins appear that they might get David Backes back for Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks after his bout with diverticulitis, supplying some badly needed size, strength and net-front tenacity on the wing. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) might not be too far behind after going through a full practice wearing a no-contact jersey. The return of No. 37 would help in any number of different areas once he’s good to go, and would have a cascade effect on the rest of the forwards.  

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Getting both players back in short order would give the Bruins a toughness around the net that was certainly missing against Malcolm Subban and the Golden Knights, and hasn’t been there consistently this season with No. 37 and No. 42 out of commission.

“[Bergeron] is progressing. In the past we’ve ruled him out ahead of time, but we’re not ruling him out for [Thursday vs. the Canucks]. Backes looks closer to being ready to play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of the games that have gotten away from us, those guys are glue guys that really add that element to us to keep us on the rails without the game getting away. Some nights you just need their offense or some hard defending, and you miss their leadership obviously. They’re all good players, but most of them you know they’re bringing that North/South game and a few good shifts here or there could have got us back on track.

“[Bergeron] is underrated in his ability to get to the front of the net especially with Marchand and Pastrnak on his wings. So we miss that part of it: Getting there on time, making plays and finishing off plays. Backes is just a big body there and you certainly miss that part of it. With Vegas the other night that was one of the biggest things we were missing was getting second chances, shooting for second chances, hitting the net and getting those rebound chances against a team that was harder to get inside on.

A few moves on Wednesday might also suggest some on-the-fly changes with some forwards that haven’t been working out with the Black and Gold. Ryan Spooner suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday night against Vegas, and it sounds like it might not be a short-term injury for the center with just one point in his first five games. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano also haven’t produced much in the first couple of weeks of the season, and could be in danger of losing roster spots to Providence call-ups Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik.  

Both players were late cuts from training camp and were showing the blend of size, strength, skill, experience and production that Boston needs more of as they search for answers among their forward group. Beleskey, Spooner and Vatrano have combined for one point, a minus-6 rating and just 12 shots on net in a combined 14 games this season, so clearly that is one of the first spots to look for upgrading the roster from within.

“[A tryout period] is a good way to put it. We talked about that in training camp when we had a long look at guys, but not Cehlarik because he didn’t get a chance to play [because of shoulder surgery]. He obviously piqued our interest last year and did a lot of good things for us,” said Cassidy, who has been in a state of constant flux putting forward lines together due to injury and ineffectiveness. “We just went in a different direction at the trade deadline, but we brought him up to give him a look. We have a decision tomorrow and I’m not going to say whether [Cehlarik] is in or out.

“He’s really played well in Providence, and we just thought he might be able to help us. Some of it may depend on the health of the other guys as far as who’s in and who’s out. If both Cehlarik and Agostino are both in the lineup there’s a chance [they might play together]. They were with [Riley] Nash today in the middle, and he has some of the same qualities as JFK down in Providence. But until we sort through who’s in for tomorrow, and that starts at the top with Bergeron and Backes, then stuff will fall into place for all of them.”

Depending on how Don Sweeney plays with his 23-roster spots, perhaps the time has come to put one of those players on waivers for a trip to the AHL. Simply based on merit it would be Vatrano and the total nothingness he’s shown in his first four games this season, but there would also be a legitimate concern they’d lose the 23-year-old Massachusetts native on waivers for nothing.

For their part, players like Agostino and Cehlarik ripped up the AHL while teamed with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence, and were just looking for their chance to carve out a role in Boston. Now they may get their chance based on others not really grasping their opportunity, and they’re ready if that’s the case.

“It’s encouraging for me, but I’m just taking things day-by-day. I’m not looking past anything and I’m looking in the past. I just take things as they come here,” said Agostino, who leads the Bruins two goals and seven points in three games thus far. “This isn’t my first time [up at the NHL], so I’m just going to do whatever I can to make the best impression possible.”

What if Agostino and Cehlarik, a career AHL player and a former third-round pick, can’t make the impact that the Bruins are looking for?

Hopefully by then the Bruins will at least have their top two lines healthy and firing on all cylinders, and can continue to mix and match things in the bottom six until they find a combination of forwards that work. But it may come to a point where the Bruins need to look outside the organization for an impact forward or two, or at least find somebody that can make an impact on the ice rather than will themselves invisible.

Only Beleskey has been at all effective this season as he’s dropped the gloves and played physical at times, and certainly can still be an effective third or fourth liner with the right players skating alongside him. For those reasons along with the massive contract money still owed him, Beleskey should be given every opportunity to succeed in Boston. But one thing is clear at this point: There is too much dead weight on the Bruins roster right now at the forward position, and something needs to be done about it if they hope to pull themselves out of their early-season funk.   

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