Torey Krug

Not the best of nights for Cassidy in another B’s loss to Caps

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Not the best of nights for Cassidy in another B’s loss to Caps

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals at the Capital One Center on Thursday night:

1)  Bruce Cassidy and his staff on the bench aren’t perfect  
Clearly, Cassidy and Co. have done an excellent job this season and provided way more good than bad in getting the B’s into a playoff spot despite the injuries and youth in the lineup. Still, the Bruins bench staff had a rough outing on Thursday night on a number of different fronts and certainly didn’t help matters during some key moments. 

Things were good early when the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but Washington made their push in the second when Lars Eller scored from the slot on a loose puck in front of the net. It appeared that Washington winger Brett Connolly was clearly off-side on the zone entry prior to the Eller goal and that the Bruins had grounds for a successful coach’s challenge. Clearly, it would have carried some risk if the challenge went against the Bruins because the Caps would have cut the lead to 2-1 and would have immediately been granted a power-play chance. But a successful challenge would have been a momentum-killer for a Capitals team that hadn’t scored a goal in more than 170 minutes. 

In the split-second needed for a decision, Cassidy and his video coordinator opted not to challenge the Capitals goal and instead played it conservatively. That led to the Capitals tying the score in the second period. The Bruins opted to unsuccessfully challenge a Capitals goal in the third period where they were clearly trying to compensate for their error earlier in the game. Unfortunately, for the Bruins bench, the play was clearly on-side and the Capitals got a power play out of the failed challenge. 

The challenge flap was further compounded in the shootout when Cassidy opted for Riley Nash as his third and final shooter after Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals. That left Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy, who has already won a pair of shootouts for the Bruins this season, among others on the bench when a valuable point was on the line. 

Predictably, Nash went high and wide with a shot and completely missed the net and that was it for the Bruins basing their fate on the shootout abilities a bottom-six forward. Clearly, Nash has enjoyed some level of success in the shootout with a 6-for-14 career mark headed into the game, but most of that was with the Carolina Hurricanes rather than the Bruins. 

Those numbers are fine and dandy in theory, but it hasn’t worked out when the Bruins have tried to force Nash into some kind of shootout option the past two seasons. It’s even worse when you consider the kind of offensive firepower sitting on the bench when you try to re-invent the wheel with Nash. Put it all together and the Bruins coaching staff and support staff had an uncharacteristically tough night in Washington and should simply learn from it and move on. No need to dwell on an aberration in what’s been a very positive season for the coaching staff.

2) One move Cassidy made that was spot-on was sitting Torey Krug in the 3-on-3 OT session
Krug some tough mistakes in the latter 40 minutes of the game. It was Krug that was caught completely flat-footed by Jakub Vrana on an eventual slashing penalty that led to Washington’s tying power-play goal. Krug also fell down on the power play that led to a shorthanded chance that could have been really damaging for the Bruins, but instead, Anton Khudobin was able to bail out his teammates and make the stop on Eller. 

After that, Krug didn’t play in the final few minutes of regulation with both teams hanging on for the 3-all tie and then didn’t take a single shift in the 3-on-3 overtime, where Krug has usually been a staple with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. In all, Krug had five shots blocked in his 18-plus minutes of ice time, had a single shot on net and had the one giveaway on the PP leading to the Washington shorthanded chance. That was part of a Bruins power play unit that went a rough 0-for-5 on a night when they could have extended the lead. It wasn’t Krug’s night this time around and perhaps the puck management and defense for Krug will get reined in a little bit Saturday night in Ottawa.

 
3)  David Backes is enjoying the best stretch since signing with the Bruins
That continued with a pair of goals in the shootout loss to the Capitals. Backes has seven goals and 12 points in 13 games in December and has been incredibly effective on the third line with Danton Heinen and Riley Nash since they came together. Both Backes goals were vintage stuff. He got in front of the net to receive a Nash dish from below the goal line for the first goal, then Backes fired past Braden Holtby from the slot off a heady Heinen dish from the side boards.

In all, Backes finished with the two goals, a plus-1 rating, five shots on net, a couple of hits and 15:47 of rugged, competitive play in a big game against a team that has bullied the B’s over the years. If Backes can stay healthy and play close to this level for the rest of the season, you can begin to see what the Bruins envisioned when they brought him in as a free agent two summers ago. He turns the B’s into a speedy, multi-faceted group capable of beating teams with multiple lines and in different ways, and really transforms them into a much more dangerous team. Nobody is complaining about that contract right now and that’s a very good thing.

PLUS
*Backes was Boston’s best player with the two goals and five shots on net while consistently getting position around the front of the net. He’s been one of the B’s best players in December with seven goals thus far.
 

*Danton finished with a pair of assists and has been a point-per-game player in December with five goals and 14 points in 13 games with a plus-4 rating. In fact, Heinen has cracked the NHL’s top-five rookie scorers and only Clayton Keller, Mat Barzal and Brock Boeser have more points than him this season. That’s impressive and it’s amazing how quietly he’s done it.

*Great play by Sean Kuraly to step up after Brooks Orpik had drilled Tim Schaller when his head was down, and challenge Orpik to a quick bout that ended almost before it started. The Bruins continue to stand up for their teammates and that is a very admirable team-wide trait that shows some great chemistry in their dressing room.

MINUS
*Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins bench staff had a tough night. They didn’t challenge a Washington goal that could have been overturned, then challenged a Capitals goal that clearly wasn’t offside. Cassidy then opted for Nash in the shootout and left Patrice Bergeron and McAvoy on the bench with a point on the line. That’s a move that will always be second-guessed if and when it doesn’t work out.

*Krug took a slashing penalty that led to a Capitals tying power-play goal in the second period and he simply fell down on a PP in the third that led to Eller’s shorthanded breakaway. Krug wound up being benched in the final minutes of the third and the entire 3-on-3 overtime on a night that was clearly pretty frustrating for him.

*No goals or points from the Bruins top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for the second game in a row. Some of the questionable puck management from Pastrnak reared its ugly head. The Bruins third line has made up for top line’s lack of production the past few games, but they need their top players contributing again pronto.  
 

Talking Points: Krug delivers with a big game

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Talking Points: Krug delivers with a big game

GOLD STAR: Torey Krug was heavily involved in the action at both ends on Thursday night, and appropriately enough scored the only goal during regulation with a wrist shot through traffic in the third period. Krug finished with four shots on net and a whopping 12 shot attempts in his 21:07 of ice time, but was also unfortunately on the ice for the goal allowed by the Bruins almost immediately afterward. Still, Krug finished with plenty of offense created in his 20 plus minutes, a couple of hits and a blocked shot in an active night against a quality opponent. On a night when the Bruins were ravaged by the flu, Krug stepped up and delivered a big game for the Black and Gold.

BLACK EYE: Kyle Connor came into Thursday night as one of the heralded first-round picks from the 2015 NHL Draft that was selected after the Bruins three consecutive mid-round selections, and he’s put up good numbers with the Jets this season. But Connor was thoroughly invisible for the Jets on Thursday night with zero shots on net, one blocked shot and no other impact on a tight one-goal hockey game in 17:33. He wasn’t the only one offensively on a night when only two goals were scored during regulation, but Jake DeBrusk was far better and more impactful in 14 minutes than Connor was with an additional three minutes of ice time.

TURNING POINT: Bruce Cassidy’s decision to elevate Charlie McAvoy from 11th to fourth on the shootout depth chart for the Bruins was a great instinct call, and it ended up delivering the two points. Cassidy kept it pretty simple with an undermanned lineup and got a shootout goal from David Pastrnak while running through Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand as his top three shooters. But then he went with a feeling that McAvoy would come through just as he did a month ago during a lengthy shootout win over the New Jersey Devils, and this time the young Bruins D-man snapped a shot past Connor Hellebuyck before he even had a chance to react. That gave the Bruins the two points, and handed McAvoy the game-winning shootout goal on his 20th birthday.

HONORABLE MENTION: Tuukka Rask made 37 saves including stopping 16 of 17 shots in the third period and overtime to guide the Bruins to a solid, quality victory over a good Western Conference team in the Winnipeg Jets. The Bruins were mostly good defensively in front of Rask in the early going, but the Bruins goalie had to step up and make some pretty strong saves in the last half of the third period after Winnipeg picked up the game’s momentum. He stayed strong and square to the shooter in the shootout, and won his first shootout game since Nov. 3 of last season when he beat the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Rask is now 10-8-3 on the season and has won five of his last six decisions while collecting 11 of 12 points in those games.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 – the number of Bruins players that have made their NHL debuts this season with Colby Cave joining Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk after suiting up on Thursday night for the illness-ravaged Bruins.  

QUOTE TO NOTE:  “Clearly experience is the best teacher. We went through it. A lot of different things came up [in the season’s first few months], so the adversity is second nature now. No one feels sorry for you. You have got to plod along. I think they understand, as a staff, we’re not going in there making excuses.” – Bruce Cassidy on the Bruins perseverance as illness pulled Ryan Spooner and Riley Nash out of the lineup, and impacted a number of other players as well. 

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Haggerty: Crank up the Hart Trophy talk again for Marchand

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Haggerty: Crank up the Hart Trophy talk again for Marchand

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins' 3-2 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday night:

1) Brad Marchand is putting together a Hart Trophy resume for the second consecutive season. 
Clearly, the numbers are impressive with 12 goals, 25 points and a plus-12 rating in just 20 games. He’s on pace for 44 goals and 93 points in an era when you just don’t see that kind of production much anymore. Still, it’s the time and the place where Marchand exerts his dominance that makes him an MVP-type force. That’s exactly what happened in the come-from-behind win. The Bruins hadn’t played well for the first 40 minutes and it looked like they were going to lose after Dylan Larkin struck for a shorthanded goal in the third period. That’s when Marchand got to work snapping a slick, cross-ice pass through three Detroit defenders to set up David Pastrnak’s tying goal with the goalie pulled. Then Marchand scored on a backhanded breakaway less than a minute into OT to steal two points for the B's. Of course, there were others to credit: Pastrnak was able to put a great finish on the one-timer, David Backes attracted attention in front of the net to create the passing seam and Torey Krug freed up Marchand for the breakaway winner. But it was No. 63 again at the center of everything who practically willed the Black and Gold to victory. That’s the kind of thing that MVP-type players do throughout the season when it’s badly needed.

2) Bruins found a way to get two points in a game where really they didn't deserve it. 
The Bruins didn’t play well at all, didn’t react very adeptly to Detroit's trapping them and had a difficult time generating anything consistently in the offensive zone until the third period. Tuukka Rask kept them in the game and the Bruins finally began paying the price to get closer to the net in the third and overtime. Good teams find a way to win, and that’s what the Bruins did against a Red Wings team that’s not going anywhere this season. So, with their ninth victory in the past 11 tries, the Bruins are now firmly in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and have a four-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens with a whopping four games in hand against the Habs right now. If the Bruins can avoid monumentally stubbing their toe here, they are in a very good position to keep it in cruise control after the holidays for a postseason spot.

3)  I didn’t think people from Detroit were afraid of anything.
Apparently, I’ve given them way too much credit. Apparently, they’re afraid of a little snow. The downtown Detroit area got six inches of snow on Wednesday and that was enough to keep Red Wings fans away from the new Little Caesars Arena. When you’re from New England, six inches of snow is considered a dusting and isn’t something that would keep any self-respecting hardcore hockey fan away. But anybody who watched the "Wednesday Night Rivalry Game" on NBCSN got an eyeful of empty red seats in the lower bowl at LCA that made Detroit look like anything but HockeyTown. Skipping the game would be understandable if the Motor City was truly in the thrall of a nasty blizzard, but instead Wings fans looked like a player turtling in a hockey fight with the sad attendance. Weak sauce, in my opinion. Next time just shut down the entire city and cancel everything when an inch or two is in the forecast. 

PLUS
*Marchand was the money player. He set up the tying goal in the third period with a slick cross-ice, threaded pass through three defenders, and then scoring the winner. In all, he had two points, a plus-1 and a couple of gigantic plays in his 22-plus minutes of ice time.

*Torey Krug finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating in a whopping 23:39 of ice time. It was No. 47 who threaded the needle on a pass that freed up Marchand for the winner. Krug and Marchand were the only two multi-point performers for the Black and Gold.

*Noel Acciari didn’t pile up the hits and he only played 10:50 of ice time, but he made a huge play in the third period when he disrupted the Detroit breakout on a Wings face-off win in the D-zone. He was rewarded with a loose puck goal in front of the net right after causing the turnover. That shift from the fourth line really started shifting the game in Boston’s direction.

MINUS
*The Bruins had two shots on net in the first period and had just one decent scoring chance in the first 40 minutes (a Pastrnak breakaway in the second period) while playing right into the hands of the trap-happy Wings. The Bruins deserved to lose this game based on the way they played early, but a few individuals ended up saving their bacon.

*One shot on net and a minus-3 rating for Henrik Zetterberg, who was mostly invisible aside from a PP assist to Tomas Tatar early in the game. Zetterberg was on the ice for every goal scored by the Bruins and was grossly negligent on at least one of them.

*The refs bungled a call on Patrice Bergeron that directly set up the Wings first goal. Bergeron was clearly tripped by Frans Nielsen in the second period and Nielsen then stumbled over Bergeron’s stick as No. 37 was trying to lift himself up off the ice after falling due to the original tripping infraction. Instead, the refs merely saw the end of the play, called Bergeron for a bogus tripping call and that turned into a PP score for Tomas Tatar that broke the game open. You’d really expect a player such as Bergeron to get the benefit of the doubt on plays like that, wouldn’t you?