Bruins

Talking Points: Big night for Jack Eichel

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Talking Points: Big night for Jack Eichel

GOLD STAR: Jack Eichel scored the game-tying goal in the third period when he fired a puck that ricocheted in off Kevan Miller’s skate in front of the net, and finished with a game-high four points for the Sabres. Eichel had the two goals, two assists and a plus-2 rating while Eichel finished with five shot attempts in an effort that got better as it went along. By the end of the first period, you could see Eichel gathering some momentum with Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis and they were a handful for the Zdeno Chara/Kevan Miller D-men pairing by the second half of the third period. Eichel was most definitely nervous headed into this game, but he showed exactly what he’s all about in the final 20 minutes of the game.

BLACK EYE: Zdeno Chara was doing a little bit of everything on Saturday night, and most of it wasn’t very good. He was on the ice for three goals against, had an atrocious turnover while fanning on a clearing attempt that led to Buffalo’s opening goal and finished with three giveaways on a stat sheet that wasn’t lying. Chara has started making more and more errors as the season has gone along like the turnover in the first, or getting beaten to the spot in front of the net on Jamie McGinn’s go-ahead goal in the third period. One has to wonder if the big ice time minutes workload for Chara is beginning to take its toll on him, though it would seem that shouldn’t be a factor after the entire Bruins team was given the last three days off from skating.

TURNING POINT: Once the Bruins went up 3-1 on the Sabres midway through the third period, they basically took their foot off the gas pedal. Ryan O’Reilly scored the one goal to get some momentum back for Buffalo, and then a Loui Eriksson turnover led to the Eichel game-tying score where the wheels really started coming off the wagon. In all the Bruins allowed three goals in 4:23 that completely blew away a two goal lead in the third period, and then paved the way for a ridiculous five unanswered goals from the Sabres en route to a mind-blowing Bruins collapse. It’s stunning how bad the Bruins frittered that game away in the third period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Ryan O’Reilly was always considered to be a poor man’s Patrice Bergeron in the Western Conference, and he’s showing why in Buffalo. O’Reilly finished with a pair of goals and three points, and fed the pass from behind the net to Jamie McGinn for the Sabres’ game-winning score. O’Reilly finished with four shot attempts, two takeaways and battled to 11-of-29 face-off wins while seeing plenty of Patrice Bergeron throughout the game. He will be a factor for a long time when the Bruins and Sabres face each other moving forward.

BY THE NUMBERS:  2 – the number of consecutive games where the Bruins have blown third period leads when they had chances to overtake the Montreal Canadiens in the standings.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We didn’t respect the game of hockey.” – Claude Julien, during a very short postgame press conference where he was clearly still bubbling over with anger at what he’d just witnessed in the third period.

 

Jaroslav Halak steps up in goal for Bruins, and they're more than grateful

Jaroslav Halak steps up in goal for Bruins, and they're more than grateful

BOSTON – The Bruins would be best off not thinking too deeply about where they’d be if they hadn’t signed Jaroslav Halak back on July 1.

The goaltender they signed to be a backup has been much more than that this season, and sits second in the entire NHL in goals against average (1.77 goals against average) and save percentage (.945) this season. Halak also consistently chipped away at Tuukka Rask’s playing time after starting the season as the back-up, and stepped up in a major way to stop 77-of-79 shots this weekend in back-to-back wins over Toronto and Vegas as Rask stepped away for a personal leave of absence.

Halak stopped 37-of-38 shots against the Golden Knights in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Vegas, and was equal to the task as the Golden Knights got some pretty good chances against him with redirections and action in close to the net. When it’s all said and done, Halak is 6-1-2 in 11 games for the Bruins thus far this season and has really only had the one bad game in the blowout loss to the Canucks.

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Otherwise he’s been way better than the expectations and has given the Bruins the kind of steady, sometimes spectacular goaltending they’ve missed at the start of the last few regular seasons as Rask struggled.

“We’ve seen it from day one. We knew he was a good goaltender. I couldn’t sit here and say he’d be leading the league in save percentage, goals against, or whatever he is, first or second. We knew he’d be solid. He’s certainly exceeded expectations, and it’s what required right now,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s getting lots of starts, guys are confident in front of him and we’re starting to understand how he is.

“He stops a lot of pucks. There are pucks laying there that we’ve got to clear, so we’re starting to get that. Hey, converge the slot, get it out of there, get going and so how he plays the puck we’re reading off better each game. I’m happy for him. He’s a hard-working guy, and he’s had good success in this league. It’s required for him right now, and he’s giving it to us."

The Bruins are expected to meet with Rask on Monday and he may rejoin the team as shortly as Tuesday prior to a road trip out West. So Halak may be able to get some rest shortly as the B’s resume their planned tandem for this season, and perhaps Rask will even begin to push back if he’s been able to adequately resolve his personal matters.

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For now, though, Halak is in the middle of a hot streak that can’t possibly extend for the entire regular season, but the B’s and the goalie will ride it out for as long as it lasts.

“We knew we had to play better after the Vancouver game and you know, [Saturday], Toronto, they have a good team,” said Halak. “They traveled in and they tried to win in the first period and we were able to just kind of get out of the period and, like you said, to control our second and third and we played a great game. And then [on Sunday] we did the same thing.”

As Cassidy said after the game, “Just keep it going, Jaro.” 

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Looks like the Bruins have found a third-line answer with the kids

Looks like the Bruins have found a third-line answer with the kids

BOSTON – Don’t look now, but it seems like the Bruins are starting to find some answers for a third line that’s confounded them all season.

It’s too easy to call them the Kid Line and probably too on the nose to come up with some moniker centered around 22-year-old Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s “JFK” nickname, but it sure looks like 23-year-old Danton Heinen, JFK and 22-year-old Anders Bjork are finally gelling as a young, fast and aggressive third line. They kicked in a 5-on-5 goal and had some really promising, energetic shifts in Boston’s 4-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night, and showed how good the Bruins can be if they can start to get a little more consistency from all of their forward lines.

The caveat is clearly that it’s only been two games and JFK still has a long way to go as a bona fide NHL center, but in an important development the last few games are probably the best that both Heinen and Bjork have looked all season.

“I thought [Heinen, JFK and Bjork] had a good weekend. Obviously, they got a goal. It helps when you’re young. Before here you’re used to getting on the score sheet, so you get frustrated if you don’t. They got rewarded [and] it was a good goal,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They did it the right way, started in D-zone, they played it, they won a puck, got it behind their D, won a foot race and got it to the front of the net. So it wasn’t lucky. It wasn’t a fluke. It was the right way to do things, and they got rewarded for it.

“Hopefully that reminds them how they need to play. Then after that a few more pucks find them. They win some pucks down low. They’re attacking the net. I thought our fourth line was outstanding too, the [Sean] Kuraly line, so you get your bottom-6 really chipping in and that’s what it’s going to take for us to win on a consistent basis. I think we’re aware of that. Our top line is good. Our second line’s coming around. The power play generally produces, but at the end of the day you need balanced scoring to do it every night and we’re starting to see that the last three games. I think we’ve been much better in that area.”

In the last few minutes of the first period in a scoreless game, Heinen got the puck out of the defensive zone and kick started a give-and-go play with Bjork where a lead chip pass to space took full advantage of the right winger’s blinding speed. Bjork got behind the Vegas ‘D’ and then slipped a pass to a wide open Heinen in front of the net for the easy goal to get Boston on the board. It was Heinen’s second goal in the last three games, and the first real tangible signs that one of the B’s best rookies from last season was starting to get his game on track.

Really, it showed exactly what the kids are capable of when the confidence, skill, and youthful exuberance are all working together properly in tandem.

“I think it starts with us playing hard and especially attacking on the fore-check. I think JFK plays so well defensively and so does Heino [Danton Heinen] too. I think we have been solid there and, obviously we can improve a little bit,” said Bjork. “But that’s helped our transition game, which has helped us get in on the forecheck. That’s where we’ve created opportunities just by attacking and screening hard. Yeah, it’s been good. Hopefully we can continue that.”

The real key to unlocking the third line’s potential might just be Forsbacka Karlsson, who brings more speed, more skill and an ability to be the responsible two-way defender when Heinen and Bjork speed out in the transition game. JFK didn’t get on the board in his first two games, but he nearly set up Heinen for a goal on a beautiful wheeling cross-ice pass in his season debut and has adopted more of an attack mentality himself after being a little too passive in past experiences with the big club.

It’s even an improvement on training camp when both JFK and Trent Frederic weren’t quite ready to win the third line center gig, and that left the Bruins juggling David Backes, Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and others as ill-fitting stopgap options until one of the kids was ready.

Well, it looks like JFK is finally ready to run the third line administration for the Black and Gold.

“Maybe [it’s] just time. Maybe [it’s] just expectations for us were high. I would guess that six weeks or whatever it is that he’s been down there after a full year, I would guess he’s hungry to be here and stay,” said Cassidy. “It’s kind of, what does the second go-around say? He had a quick indoctrination here against Washington a couple years ago, one game, and then goes down there and doesn’t play a lot with the big club and then preseason doesn’t work out.

“I think at some point the switch has to go off, okay this is what I need to do. I think he’s doing what we’re asking him to do, and he’s playing to his strengths. He’s still got a ways to go [and the] puck battles could be better, but I like the progress I’ve seen out of him. He seems to be a much more engaged player and that’s all we’re asking: be engaged every night. We’ll walk you through the rest, and hopefully you’re good enough to stay here.”

For now it looks more than good enough on the new-look third line, and that’s a great development for the Bruins. Now it’s up to the three kids to keep the energy and production up consistently, and provide the B’s with something they’ve been missing all season. 

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