Bruins

Backes on Sabres loss: "We were backfiring on everything"

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Backes on Sabres loss: "We were backfiring on everything"

BOSTON – When a hockey team is as hot as the Bruins had been for the last three months with a 27-4-4 record in their last 35 games, it’s only a matter of time before a disappointing dud gets mixed in with all of the high quality efforts. That mistake-filled no-show finally arrived on Saturday night when the Bruins simply never matched the work ethic and energy level of the lowly Buffalo Sabres, and never led at any point in a 4-2 loss to Buff at TD Garden.

So much of what was going on was tremendously uncharacteristic for the Black and Gold: Boston’s top line was dreadful with a combined minus-6 rating and just two shots on net, the Bruins defense allowed odd-man rushes and got gashed by Buffalo’s transition attack and the Bruins forwards never got their all-important fore-check on track at any point during the game.

Other than that, the hockey game was great, Mrs. Lincoln.

“I think we were flat and just like the Anaheim game, I mean, when you do that you just don’t deserve it, plain and simple,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We didn’t respect the game plan and I really thought it was at the blue lines on both sides. [There were] a lot of mental mistakes if you want to put it that way. They were coming back at us and you saw a lot of two-on-ones and breakaways, and stuff you don’t want to see."

“We should have played a simple game and went back to just going in there and establishing some good fore-check and some O-zone time. We didn’t do that.”

Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning won big on Saturday as well and have begun re-widening the gap to a five point lead over Boston with the B’s still holding a couple of games in hand. But it wasn’t about any of those things on Saturday when Adam McQuaid had his worst game since coming back from injury with a minus-2 that included a turnover and blocked shot that directly led to two of Buffalo’s four goals during the evening. It also included Tuukka Rask getting his 21-game point streak snapped when he was beaten on three of the 27 shots that he faced, and was probably Boston’s best player on the ice in a forgettable 60 minutes of hockey.

The Bruins had done a remarkable job of not falling into the trap against a lousy opponent for most of this season, but that wasn’t the case for the second time this season against the Sabres.  

“That was kind of the word I thought of too, was “flat”…that they had good sticks, and they had good energy. I’ve been on that side of the ledger where you’re a team that’s not expected to win, and you’re playing a good team, and it kind of scares you into playing perfectly with good sticks and energy all over the place,” said David Backes. “They had that, which should not have been an issue if we played our game the way we need to and get pucks behind them and have 10-foot support.

“We were looking to hit a lot of home runs tonight, and they were in good spots. They transitioned against us, and the goals they scored, those are instances where Tuukks [Tuukka Rask] sometimes makes those saves, but he’s not supposed to make those saves. We needed more from everyone throughout the lineup, and we were backfiring on everything that we were trying to shove into the engine tonight. I don’t know if it was too excited to play Buffalo, we were looking at the standings or what, but if we stick to our principles, we’re having a different conversation.”

The bad news for the Bruins is that it wasn’t a different conversation in one of Boston’s worst efforts since the middle of November. The good news is that the Black and Gold will get a chance to redeem themselves 24 hours later with a Sunday road game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Sean Kuraly.

Kuraly represents a Bruins prospect turned legit player after the fourth line center graduated from the P-Bruins and turned into a solid, strong two-way pivot on a B’s energy line that was actually pretty good for most of the season. There may be a limit to the offensive upside for a rugged, penalty-killing player like Kuraly, but there was more than enough good there for him to earn  new three-year contact with the Black and Gold that will begin this upcoming season.

What Happened Last Year: The 25-year-old Kuraly was the B’s fourth line center from beginning to end last season after really popping in the previous season’s playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he performed up to hopes and expectations. Kuraly finished with six goals and 14 points in 78 games for the Bruins, and was a big-bodied center willing to throw his body around on occasion and kill penalties pretty much all the time. Kuraly also had his moments during the playoffs with a couple of goals and four points in 12 games, but the entire B’s fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by Tampa Bay in the second round of the postseason. So there are definitely a few things for Kuraly to build/improve on from last season, and now he’ll have the time to do it with the B’s.

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Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest Q for Kuraly is just how high the upside is for the 25-year-old former Miami University standout. Kuraly showed last season that he could be a pretty solid fourth line center that could bang bodies a bit, provide occasional offense, kill penalties and win a few big face-offs while bringing size and strength down the middle. Now Kuraly will be in the mix for the vacant third line center position, and he could win it outright if he can show a little bit more offense and physical aggression as he matures into an NHL career. Is last season the ceiling for Kuraly, or can he harness the impact game we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs to make him an even more impact NHL center. The good thing about Kuraly is that he’s smart, he’s a good teammate and he plays hard all of the time, so the Bruins aren’t going to have worry about any of those things as anything but automatic with the young center.

In Their Words: “I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it. It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there are nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.” –Sean Kuraly, on what he learned from his rookie season and how he can apply it to this upcoming season and beyond.

Overall Outlook: The Bruins certainly liked what they saw out of Kuraly last season as a rookie, or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect that the big-bodied pivot is going to improve from the six goals and 14 points posted in his rookie NHL season, and it’s now up to Kuraly to see how good he can be. Could he be a steady third line center at the NHL level where he teams with David Backes to form a physical, grinding third line that can pound other teams? Can he supply enough offense to be a legit third line center, or is the offense the kind of thing that’s going to likely relegate him to fourth line duty. As mentioned above, the intangibles are never going to be in question with Kuraly and that’s a very good place to start. Now it’s just a matter of letting Kuraly develop at the NHL level, and see what he ultimately turns into after showing he’s got the right stuff for the B’s energy line at the very least.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

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 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Chris Wagner.

One of the offseason aims for the Boston Bruins was bringing a little more experience and a little more physical thump to their fourth line, and the Bruins did that by signing Chris Wagner to a two-year contract on the opening day of free agency. The addition of Wagner adds a hard-hitting, versatile element to the bottom-six up front for the Bruins, and also gives the Bruins yet another local success story as a Walpole, Mass., native coming home to play for his hometown team. The fact that Wagner plays with the blue collar, physical style favored by Bruins fans will make it all the better for him in his home state.   

What Happened Last Year: The 27-year-old Wagner had a strong season with the Anaheim Ducks/New York Islanders going into free agency with seven goals and 16 points in 79 games while finishing among the NHL’s top-5 in registered hits. It was the most games that Wagner has ever played in the NHL and the most production he’s ever posted as well. Based on his track record and how hard he plays the game, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for Wagner to at least play at least season’s level for the next few seasons while under contract with Boston. 

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The big question for the rugged, high-energy Wagner is where the ceiling will be for him over the next few seasons after cementing himself as an NHL player last season. Is he going to be good for something in the neighborhood of five goals/15 points as a third/fourth line forward, or can Wagner hit double-digit goals once he settles into with a role and linemates for the Black and Gold. The other part of that question is whether Wagner can continue with the desperation and maximum energy output that he played with for Anaheim/New York last season. Will the security of a multi-year deal in Boston allow Wagner to relax a little bit and potentially not play with the kind of fire required to hit, play physical and get in the other team’s face? Only time will tell on this one, but it’s tough to get against a player like Wagner that’s had to scrap for everything he’s got.  

In Their Words: “I just wanted to find the best situation, obviously. It seemed that they had success recently and definitely had a chance to make a run for the Stanley Cup. That was huge for me. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the character of the guys in the room with the Bruins. I’ve always wanted to play here and be close to home and be close to my family. My parent, my grandparents, and my brother and all that so it’s just a win-win and a dream come true.” –Chris Wagner, on the process behind signing with his hometown Bruins on the July 1 open of free agency. 

Overall Outlook: The Bruins let Tim Schaller walk away in free agency, so they had to go after another physical, energy player for their fourth line. They found that in Wagner for a similar level of pay at $1.25 million per season, and are once again betting on the player to come into his own during his time with the Black and Gold. It’s a bonus that he’s a local kid just like Schaller, and the hope is that he’ll have the same level of success on and off the ice that Schaller did before parlaying it into a contract with the Vancouver Canucks. If Wagner plays the same way he did last season with Anaheim and New York, both the player and the team should be happy with the level of performance over the next couple of seasons. Bruins fans love players that are willing to take the body and work hard, and that is Chris Wagner several times over.

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