Bruins

Bruins 'feeling good about their game' during dominant stretch

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Bruins 'feeling good about their game' during dominant stretch

BOSTON – The Bruins are running away with a playoff spot.

That’s the reality of the situation just a week into the month of January with the Bruins ripping off a raucous 17-3-2 run over their last 22 games, and holding an 11-point cushion for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs come April. 

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Both gaudy looking numbers were padded when the Bruins torched the Carolina Hurricanes by a 7-1 score on Saturday night at TD Garden. They essentially embarrassed a team in a playoff spot in the tough Metro Division, and continued to serve notice that the Bruins are very much for real this season.

In their current 8-0-2 points streak in their last 10 games, they’ve outscored opponents 42-12 and have flat out embarrassed the Senators, Islanders, Blue Jackets and Hurricanes in their path of impressive destruction.  

“We always play to our standard. It doesn’t matter what the time or score is, we always want to keep moving up and pushing other teams down,” said Torey Krug. “We had a chance, obviously, to come away with two points tonight and we obviously came out hot and just kept it rolling. We’re feeling good about our game and definitely not getting complacent.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs have run away from the rest of a pretty bad Atlantic Division pack, and the second half of the season looks like it will be about the Leafs and the Bruins slugging it out for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. 

Either that or catching up to a Bolts crew that holds a commanding nine point lead over the Leafs and B’s, and looks like the odds-on favorite to win the President’s Trophy this season. 

The bottom line is that the Bruins are in a comfortable spot entering Sunday night’s tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they still have a five-day bye and an NHL All-Star break to rest up a team that’s currently healthy and extremely effective. 

It would be easy for the Bruins to ease off the gas or stop playing the right way given where they currently reside in the standings after a great two-month stretch. It would also be something that Bruce Cassidy is dead set against. 

“We want to play our game, and it is working out well for us. I am not going to lie to you; I am a coach; I look at the standings. But, it is early to get preoccupied with that,” said Cassidy. “We just want to play well and win and keep climbing up. We have done that. Some teams, they have their own issues. For us, that is our goal. It seems like there are no easy games in this league, but lately we have been able to extend some leads.

“One of those games back-to- back, we didn’t have to tax anybody. I don’t have the sheet in front of me, but I know the forwards probably – 14, 15 minutes the most for the highest forward [in the Carolina win]. It is always good, especially in situations like this when we have to play again [Sunday vs. the Penguins].”

That kind of thing is the exact way a good hockey club can make life even easier for themselves when things are going well. The Bruins are doing that and piling up points right now in the first half of the season, a phenomenon that needs to continue until things inevitably turn as the schedule gets a little crazy for the B’s in the second half of the season. 

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Injury-plagued Bruins have a big challenge, but they also have a plan

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Injury-plagued Bruins have a big challenge, but they also have a plan

The Bruins really are at a bit of a breaking point right now with the injuries.

It’s bad enough that they’re missing Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, John Moore and Urho Vaakanainen to injuries at this point, but now Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron both appear to be out for the foreseeable future. That’s about as dire as it gets for the Black and Gold missing their two best defensive players and leaders on the ice while seemingly introducing a new player from Providence just about every game.

Couple that with the fact that it appears Montreal and Buffalo are much improved in the Atlantic Division this season, and the Bruins have a challenge to at least tread water with the rest of the pack while currently sitting in playoff position. That won’t be easy missing so many key players and trying to survive with Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk basically serving as the top two defensemen among the six blueliners on the ice.

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Despite all of that, give credit to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff for formulating the best plan until some of the healthy reinforcements arrive for the Black and Gold. It’s been on display in each of the last two games as the Bruins have taken three out of four points on the road against Dallas and Arizona in low-scoring affairs. The Bruins have only scored two goals in the two games, but still managed to secure the three points because they found a little offense stuffed in between the couch cushions, and then played a conservative brand of hockey that limits chances both for them and for the opposition.

That was on full display against the Coyotes when the Bruins only managed three shots on net in the second period after scoring early in the game to take a quick 2-0 lead in the eventual 2-1 win over the Desert Dogs. It may not be the sexiest hockey in the world for a Bruins team that’s used to scoring early and often while playing at a fast pace, but it should also be effective if the young B’s reserves can keep their discipline and confidence riding high.

They’re also going to need some seriously strong goaltending from both Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask, who combined to stop 68-of-70 shots (.971) over the weekend in taking the three out of four available points against the Stars and Coyotes. Halak continues to put together a strong season with the .935 save percentage and the 2.07 goals against average to date this year, and Rask has always been a strong goalie in the months of November and December once things get to the middle of the regular season.

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There’s clearly hope that the goaltenders are both going to be up for the challenge over the next month or so. They'll need to after the Bruins were outshot 70-46 over the last two games while playing their brand of a bend-but-don't-break defense with rookies, AHL journeymen and undersized puck-movers trying to get the job done. 

There’s also the fact that Kevan Miller may be returning this coming week, and there may be another healthy body or two behind him with the Brandon Carlo issue not expected to be a serious injury to begin with.

So put it all together and there’s no question the Bruins are in the middle of some serious adversity, and that the success of the last two games could become a fleeting thing while banking on a boatload of young, inexperienced players called up from Providence. So far, so good for the Black and Gold, but they’re a long way from getting out of the woods despite being in a good playoff spot with the Thanksgiving holiday bearing down on them this week.

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What We Learned in the Bruins 2-1 win over the Coyotes: It's a gritty formula for B's

What We Learned in the Bruins 2-1 win over the Coyotes: It's a gritty formula for B's

Here’s What We Learned in the Bruins grinding 2-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at the Gila River Casino Arena.

1. Jake DeBrusk is redirecting pucks in front of the net, crashing the painted area for rebounds and generally playing bigger and stronger around the net. Not so coincidentally he’s also begun scoring with regularity for the first time this season and potted the game-winner in the first period on Saturday night when he followed a Brad Marchand shot.

DeBrusk was at the net when Darcy Kuemper kicked out the rebound and was able slam it home for his fifth goal and seventh point in the last seven games. With DeBrusk now heating up, the Bruins are finally getting the secondary source of scoring that they’ve needed to this point in the season. Unfortunately they’re also now missing Patrice Bergeron due to injury and that means it’s not even really secondary scoring anymore. It’s primary scoring, particularly with DeBrusk starting the game on a tinkered line with Marchand being centered by Joakim Nordstrom. If DeBrusk wants to keep scoring he’ll need to keep playing the power game. That’s something that’s come much easier to DeBrusk lately.

2. The real unspoken thing with this Bruins team is how thoroughly and gut-wrenchingly boring they're going to have to play in order to survive this ridiculous stretch with injuries. It’s scrap for goals, pack it in defensively & hang on for dear life just as they did against the Coyotes on Saturday, and like they tried to do Friday night against the Dallas Stars before ultimately falling in overtime. It’s not going to be easy to play that conservative, kind of boring style either.

It will require discipline and a lack of mistakes from the young players being forced into the lineup, it’s going to require playing to step up and score goals while missing so many of their key guys and it’s going to take both of their goalies to bring their ‘A’ games just about every single night. They were able to provide this formula on both Friday night in Dallas and Saturday night in Arizona in back-to-back fashion, but it’s a real question if they’re going to be able to do it over the long haul while waiting for guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to return to the lineup. They may or may not be able to keep up their current pace, but we now it's going to be done in a much more conservative, controlled way for the near future. 

3. The education of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson continues as the rookie was able to jump on a play early in the game and provide some offense for the Bruins with his first NHL goal. It was another gritty play with JFK heading toward the front of the net on a Noel Acciari wraparound attempt, and then popping in the puck when it came right toward him in front. It was an okay overall game for JFK with a goal and two shot attempts in 10:38 of ice time along with a 3-for-8 performance in the face-off circle.

He played a few more minutes than he did Friday night in Dallas and was a little more of a noticeable factor with the goal included. Now he just needs to play a little more consistently and be some kind of a factor even when he’s not involved with the offense, and he’ll really be on to something. But so far he’s at least showing that he can hold his own at the NHL level and that’s a start.

PLUS

*Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson scored his first NHL goal, passed over 10 minutes of ice time for the game and generally looked a little better on Saturday than he did during an invisible game against the Dallas Stars. JFK simply needs to find a way to be a consistent positive factor and he’ll be okay.

*Jake DeBrusk scored the game-winning goal during Boston’s first period outburst and now has five goals and seven points in his last seven games while providing a steady stream of offense. DeBrusk is doing it by playing strong around the net and combining power with his already present skill.

*Jaroslav Halak was brilliant again for the Bruins in stopping 31-of-32 shots and keeping the Coyotes off the board even as they fired 13 shots on net in the third period in a desperate attempt to tie the game. It was good to see Halak back in his usual form after a bit of a rough game while giving up 6 goals in Colorado.

MINUS

*The news that Patrice Bergeron (upper body) and John Moore (lower body) are both returning to Boston to be evaluated by the medical staff is really, really bad news considering all the other players already missing from the lineup. No Bergeron and no Chara could mean big trouble if it’s for a 4-6 week span.

*Connor Clifton had five hits and was a plus-1 while topping 20 minutes of ice time in the win in only his second NHL game. Those were the definite positives. But Clifton also took a delay of game penalty for the second game in a row after flipping a puck over the glass. He’s going to need to work on that.

*No shots and 3-for-12 in the face-off circle for David Krejci in his 15 plus minutes of ice time in his first game without No. 37 in the lineup. Krejci really needs to start stepping it up until Bergeron can get healthy.

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