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Countdown to Bruins camp: Matt Irwin

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Countdown to Bruins camp: Matt Irwin

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2015-16 Bruins. Today's player: Matt Irwin.

While 27-year-old Matt Irwin didn’t arrive in Boston with much fanfare via free agency, the 27-year-old could become a heavily relied upon contributor along the B’s blueline after establishing himself in San Jose over three years. Irwin and Colin Miller are both players that had been heavily scouted in the AHL by Bruins front office man John Ferguson Jr., and targeted as talented players on the upswing of their NHL careers. At the very least Irwin should provide necessary depth for the Bruins, but the B’s could be asking for trouble if they hope that he’ll eventually evolve into a top-four role with the club.

What Happened Last Year: In his second full NHL season, Irwin scored a career-high eight goals and posted 19 points in 53 games, along with a plus-3 rating, while showing some very good offensive skills. He posted those numbers despite little power-play time and averaging only 17:01 of ice time as a bottom-pairing defenseman. The stats in the 2014-15 season seemed to be a bit of a step ahead offensively after putting up two goals and 20 points in 62 games along with a plus-5 rating two years ago. But his ice time did drop from 18:49 to 17:01, which indicates a slightly smaller role last season with the Sharks where they presumably saw cracks in his game.

Questions To Be Answered This Season: Irwin was signed to a one-year, $800,000 contract, so a repeat of last season would be well worth the investment. Irwin has proven he’s an adequate bottom pair defenseman with some plus offensive skills in his three years in San Jose, and has posted impressive numbers in the AHL over his career. The one question is if Irwin can still develop further into a top-four D-man for the Bruins, and give them some of the offensive production that walked away with Dougie Hamilton. This is a tall order for anybody and it’s seemingly impossible for a player such as Irwin to be capable of that unless there’s some latent ability that never materialized with the Sharks. One other question about the former UMass D-man: will he be happy if he turns out to be a seventh D-man/AHL player should some of the younger defensemen live up to their advanced billing in training camp? That’s putting the cart ahead of the horse a bit, but could be an issue for the B’s given that they’ve got eight or nine defensemen capable of playing at the NHL while seeming one or two top four D-men short of an ideal setup.

In Their Words: “Matt Irwin coming on helps provide depth for our grouping. ... But we've got some younger players at some point in time have to be given an opportunity if you believe in them.

"For me, that's an exciting part of the game. Yes, it is a little bit of the unknown. I'm not going to sit here and blow smoke in any direction, and say that it's not. Would a coach like four guys who were in the All-Star game the year before? Yeah, I'm sure he's going to pencil that in, check that box right off. But sometimes it doesn't happen that way. When you have five players returning that have played for your hockey team and had a lot of success, then I think you have a foundation there.” –Don Sweeney

Overall Outlook: The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has 16 goals and 51 points in 153 NHL games in three seasons, which projects to be a pretty good offensive defenseman over a full 82-game NHL season. Clearly, there are reasons why he never regularly cracked the top four in San Jose, and why he’s never managed to play more than 62 games in an NHL season. It’s a low-risk signing for the Bruins given the money and the term, but it could pay off in a big way if they can harness that offense into a player capable of logging 20 plus minutes at the NHL level. If Irwin simply plays at the status quo level, then it’s still a pretty prudent signing for depth purposes with a player that was solid in San Jose. Still, the presence of Irwin serves as a reminder that the Bruins didn’t do enough to fortify their blueline this summer with the loss of Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton over the past calendar year.

Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

With the return of John Moore to good health and a general lack of tight focus to the team recently, the confluence of events pushed the Bruins to make a move ahead of a four-game road trip next week.

The Bruins announced that they have waived veteran defenseman Steve Kampfer at noontime on Sunday for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL. It was clear the B’s were going to opt for the 31-year-old Kampfer rather than Connor Clifton, who just a couple of weeks ago passed the 60 NHL games played barrier that would also require waivers for him to be sent down to the AHL.

There’s a far greater chance that a team would put a claim in on the 24-year-old Clifton, who has two goals and a plus-5 rating in 24 games for the Black and Gold this season.

The final straw for Kampfer was the healthy return of Moore, who missed the first 28 games of the season coming back from shoulder surgery. But Moore has played in back-to-back games for the Bruins and collected an assist in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to the Avalanche while showing that he’s all the way back from an injury suffered during last spring’s playoff run.

Kampfer has played in just four games for the Bruins this season as their seventh defenseman after putting up three goals and six points in 35 games as their spare D-man last season. While there’s a chance that a team could put a claim in on Kampfer, the likelihood given his age and experience level is that he’ll head to Providence to stay sharp for when another round of injuries inevitably hit the Bruins on the back end.

There’s also no question that a player being put on waivers that’s been with the Bruins for the last couple of seasons might be enough to also shake the complacency out of a B’s group that’s been sleepwalking against opponents over the last couple of weeks. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, of course, but they have needed a handful of third period comebacks after making slow starts the norm as of late.

There’s also the chance that the Bruins need the cap savings associated with Kampfer’s $800,000 cap hit after Moore’s $2.75 million cap figure was added back onto Boston’s books once he got healthy earlier this week.

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Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

BOSTON – It was only a matter of time before the Bruins got burned for playing like they could flick on a third period switch and beat everybody across the NHL.

After a number of third period comebacks and salvaged points over the last couple of weeks, the Bruins couldn’t pull the same trick against the Colorado Avalanche in a 4-1 loss at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was the first regulation loss on home ice for the Bruins this season at TD Garden and it was exactly what Boston deserved after managing just nine shots on net in the first two periods while making some simple mistakes that led to goals against at inopportune times.

“For us, [it was a] lack of urgency. We talked about it the other night, again tonight, some of that is definitely in our game early on. If we’re on our toes, I think we’re cleaner. I’m not going to say that we’re not going to execute from time to time, but it’s been an issue for us I think. Some of the unforced errors — I just look at the play, Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk] takes a hit, [Danton] Heinen goes back with the puck. If we’re playing the right way, we’re in and out of our end. We’re gone,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We go back with it and all of a sudden [it’s in the net]. We win a faceoff to start a period and we ice it instead of making a play. Now we’re in our end and there’s just a lot of details that are working us against us now. We’ve just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities in those situations, and live with the result.

“[It] doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I think we’re leaving plays on the table because our lack of urgency or understanding that teams are coming after us. They’re good teams. We got away with it for a while here, good for us, right? It’s a results-oriented business. But against the better teams, I think at some point, they will close out games. [The loss to the Avs] was a great example of that.”

The Heinen play really was the killer as it came midway through the second period, led to the Bruins running around in their own end and then ended with Ian Cole rocketing a slap shot past Jaroslav Halak from the top of the face-off circle. Then Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk botched defensive coverage in transition at the end of the second period, and that led to Andre Burakovsky scoring the insurance goal right at the end of the period.

At that point, it was over despite Boston outshooting Colorado by a 12-6 margin in the third period, and the Bruins have to hope that it was a lesson learned at this point. It may take a few games for the Bruins to snap out of some of their current bad habits, but there’s also that overall malaise that might be an unavoidable part of the team’s commanding 13-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

That being said, Brad Marchand spoke for all of Boston’s team leadership in knowing that the current state of being for the Black and Gold isn’t something that can sustainably bring success.

“It’s a losing game. You can’t continue to go down by a couple of goals, especially to good teams,” said Marchand. “Teams like that know how to win and how to keep a lead. No matter how many times you come back, it’s going to eventually catch up to you. We’ve had that, especially early on [in games]. We tend to be much better when we’re behind. I think then it’s a bit of a wakeup call and we all have to play good in order to come back.

“But we have to play that way from the first shift of the first period. If you want to win, if you want to be a good team and if you want to have a chance in the playoffs, you have to be able to do that all game along. It’s tough sometimes because the season can get long. That’s no excuse. We have to realize the mistakes that we’re making and improve if want to continue to get better. That’s what good teams do.”

It would behoove the Bruins to get things in order quickly with a slate of important games over the next week including a mid-week tilt with the Washington Capitals, and a pair of divisional games against Tampa Bay and Florida later on in the week. But there really isn’t any worry coming from the B’s about anybody distantly trailing them in the standings right now while 8-1-1 in their last 10 games overall.

Instead it’s about the Bruins themselves becoming the best hockey team that they can be and getting back into a groove where they are paying attention to details and doing the little things that lead to winning hockey.  

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