Bruins

Julien scoffs at criticism of defenseman Miller

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Julien scoffs at criticism of defenseman Miller

PHILADELPHIA – It’s been a tough ride for a tough customer in Kevan Miller over the last few weeks.

The rugged stay-at-home defenseman had a very subpar performance in the Winter Classic along with a number of his B’s teammates, and was on ice for both of the goals against in a last-minute Monday night loss to the New York Rangers that was a little tough to swallow. He’s a minus-5 in his last 10 games for the Black and Gold, and knows that it’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for him coming off major shoulder surgery toward the end of last season.

“It’s going in the right direction. I’m just trying to be consistent and strong back there,” said Miller, who has two goals and nine points in 34 games this season along with a plus-1 rating. “It’s about keeping things simple and moving the puck. When I can I’m getting into the offensive end, and if not then I’m trying to be physical.

“[This season] has been a challenge, but it’s been a welcomed challenge. Everybody wants to play more and play against top lines, so it’s something to be excited about rather than nervous about. You always want to embrace that challenge.”

It’s also important for a player like Miller to have a quick memory when a few mistakes have ended up in the back of his next in recent weeks.

“There’s going to be mistakes in games. You want to manage those, and manage them as best we can as a team,” said Miller. “You also want to learn from them, so you don’t keep repeating them. At the beginning of the season I’d have some good games and some bad games, and then I got injured. So it’s kind of been up-and-down a little bit, and I’m just trying to get back into that consistent game night in and night out.”

The 28-year-old has also been an easy target for Bruins fans this season given some of the mistakes made in the defensive zone. The simple fact is that Boston’s lack of real, proven top-4 defensemen on the roster has thrust Miller into a bigger role than he would ideally slot into if Dougie Hamilton or Johnny Boychuk were still around. Rather than playing against other team’s third and fourth lines as a bottom pairing D-man like in the past, Miller is averaging 19:52 of ice time per game while matching up against other team’s best offensive players.

There have clearly been some times where Miller’s turnovers or mistakes have been spotlighted, or ultimately exploited by some very good offensive players. The month of January has been a little rough for Miller while getting a look on a top shutdown pairing with Zdeno Chara. Just don’t expect Claude Julien to view Miller simply doing his best in a less-than-ideal situation as grounds for criticism about the undrafted D-man’s performance this year.

“Kevan Miller hasn’t been any better or any worse than anybody else,” said Julien. “I think I look at it more as our team, and our team is in the [playoff] mix right now. We suffer a little bit in the standings with those games in hand, so it’s another opportunity to take advantage of the games in hand by winning them.”

Has the notion of scratching Miller for a game or two been considered after any particularly tough games lately?

“It’s the same reason why not [scratching] Zdeno Chara?” said Julien. “Let’s just leave it at that. I’m just not getting into that . . . sorry.”

The simple fact is the Bruins need Miller’s toughness and strength in the lineup, and they need him to play above his pay grade until they can find a better alternative through the trade market. In that sense the criticism toward Miller isn’t really being directed in the proper place, and perhaps should be saved for whatever situation was created to require a consistent top-4 performance out of the third year D-man that sometimes doesn’t seem up to the task.

Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

WASHINGTON  – It might have been the Bruins' fourth loss in a row and, for the first time all season, the B's have lost three consecutive regulation games, but there were glimmers of hope in the 3-2 defeat at hands of the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

The Bruins marched out to a 1-0 lead after David Pastrnak’s first goal in five games and it would have been a two-goal lead early in the game if a silly offsides challenge that had nothing to do with the actual goal hadn’t overturned Patrice Bergeron’s power-play strike.

So, the Bruins had a better start than they have had recently, had a solid three periods of play while outshooting the Capitals 32-25 and played with more engagement, effort and urgency than they have shown in a couple of weeks. It was certainly encouraging that the Bruins are turning the corner back toward consistently good efforts rather than some of the forgettable, unfocused efforts of the past couple of weeks. Still, it was again a loss. 

“We’re all frustrated, but as a coach, you like how the 60 minutes transpired better than some of the other nights. We were in the game, right there and very easily could have won the game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Two or three things probably changed that, but in terms of a 60-minute effort we’re getting a lot closer to where we want to be.”

The good news is that the Bruins leadership group sees light at the end of the tunnel with another big game against the Tampa Bay Lightning awaiting them 24 hours later. 

“I thought that’s the kind of hockey that [we] want to play and you want to get back to,” said Bergeron of a Bruins team that’s taken just one out of a possible eight points in their last four games. “There are still some things to rectify with us coming up short, but we’re trending in the right direction. But it’s a short turnaround with the game [against Tampa Bay].”

The Bruins are still sitting on a 10-point lead in the division over Buffalo and Montreal despite having dropped four in a row, so there’s clearly no panic or feeling like their backs are against the wall. On the contrary, that might be part of the lack of urgency that’s crept into the B’s game the past couple of weeks, but they showed Wednesday night that they still have a solid, consistent effort in them when the mood strikes them.

Perhaps the good, honest and hard-working losing effort against the Capitals can spin the Bruins back into a winning direction with a couple of road games in Florida staring them in the face.

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Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

WASHINGTON - GOLD STAR: All T.J. Oshie did was score a couple of goals that powered the Capitals for all of their offense in the second period while setting Washington up to win the third. The first score was a power-play goal right in front of the net that tied things up and the second was a nifty individual move where he split defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Connor Clifton before dangling around Clifton and roofing a backhander for a beautiful goal. Oshie finished with two shots on net and four shot attempts overall in 20:31 of ice time to go along with a blocked shot. Still, it was all about the offense provided when the Capitals needed it as a bit of a one-man goal-scoring show on a night when Alex Ovechkin was pretty much held in check.

BLACK EYE: Jake DeBrusk at least had a positive play when he fed Patrice Bergeron for a first-period, power-play goal that would have given the Bruins a 2-0 lead. Instead, the goal was wiped off the board by an offsides challenge and DeBrusk was a negative player for the Black and Gold for the rest of the night. DeBrusk finished with no points, no shots on net and had three giveaways in 20:50 while finishing with a minus-1 rating. He certainly wasn’t alone with not bringing enough to the table for the B’s, but it was him fading into the background in a physical, gritty game against a quality opponent that conjured up memories of his issues in the playoffs last season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins tied the score by grinding for a third-period goal from their fourth line, but then they gave up a go-ahead goal less than two minutes later. Then the B’s proceeded to get outshot 11-9 in the third period despite never leading at any point in the final 20 minutes and never really mounting enough pressure to potentially tie it to pus things to the extra session. It’s a massive letdown for the B’s to claw all the way back and then watch as it goes up in smoke in just a couple of minutes, but it was about Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson – two of Washington’s best players – stepping up and making the play when it needed to be made.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak snapped his longest goal-scoring drought of the season at four games as he scored the first goal for the Bruins on a sizzling wrist shot. It was a nice transition play from Charlie McAvoy bombing down the left side before moving cross-ice to Pastrnak at the bottom of the face-off circle. Pastrnak snapped it off the crossbar and into the back of the net for his NHL-leading 26th goal and got Boston off to a good start for the first time in a while. Pastrnak finished with the goal, seven shot attempts, a hit and three takeaways in 21:16 while playing a strong, solid, Pastrnak-like game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 – the number of consecutive losses for the Bruins. They have lost four in a row one other time this season, but it’s the first time they’ve lost three regulation games in a row.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just told him I'm happy for him and congrats. He looks like he's got a six-pack now, so I'm just happy for him. It was great to see him. It's been a while." –Brad Marchand, on what he said to former teammate Tim Thomas when he was on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop as a new inductee for the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

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