Bruins

Bruins are again Exhibit A of why the offside coach's challenge needs revamping

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Bruins are again Exhibit A of why the offside coach's challenge needs revamping

BRIGHTON, Mass – Have you had enough of the NHL Coach’s Challenge yet?

Most teams across the NHL have been burned by the vague, fickle nature of the coach’s challenge system set up by the league, and it goes doubly so for the offside challenge that so often seems to have nothing to do with the good goal in question.

That was the case Tuesday night in the Bruins' 5-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal as a Charlie Coyle apparent go-ahead goal scored in the third period was wiped out by an offside challenge that was two-pronged in its complete irrelevance to the score. Coyle was in control of the puck between his legs as he entered the offensive zone, so by the letter of the law he was actually, legally on-side based on being in control of the puck as he entered the zone with his skates slightly ahead of the puck.

It took the on-ice officials upwards of three minutes chatting with the Situation Room in Toronto before they came up with a decision to overturn the good goal called on the ice, so it was clear from the beginning that it wasn’t an egregious, clear-cut offside play.

Which is exactly what the coach’s challenge was intended for in the first place.  

All of the above was something that NHL leading scorer David Pastrnak picked up on when asked about it after the fact.

“When you have the puck under your control, you can skate backward with the puck [entering the zone], right? You can be out of the zone and still not be offside. We’re NHL players, so when you have the puck on your skates it’s pretty much under your control. It’s a tough call,” said Pastrnak, who has 15 goals in 15 games to start the season. “We are not referees...but this is the NHL. We are all skilled players here. Once you have the puck on your skate, it’s pretty much under your control and it doesn’t matter if the puck is behind the blue line first or not. I think it wasn’t offside, but it’s just a tough call and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Then there’s the fact that, as has happened already on two other occasions with the Bruins this season, the goal was scored a significant amount of time following the actual zone entry. It wasn’t as long a gap as the two previous occasions, at Colorado and at home against Ottawa, when the goal was scored 30 seconds or more after the offside play in question that had absolutely zero to do with the actual goal.

Instead, it was 10 seconds or so following the zone entry, but again it had nothing to do with the goal being scored. At that point, the Bruins had the puck in the offensive zone, had time to lose possession down low briefly and then Zach Senyshyn recovered the puck and wheeled around before finding Coyle in the slot for the prime scoring chance.

"Some are going to go your way and some are not. Ours are not going our way lately, but I assume they’re going to straighten out over the course of time. The rule was specifically put in place for egregious [examples],” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game. “They were over there for three minutes. You think 'What's the purpose of this rule?' Either you find something or you don't...three minutes. So, now you're looking for something to be offsides.

“You know it’s going to go the other way and it did. That’s where my beef comes from, the intent of the rule. You always want them to get it right, but there was kind of a change this summer punishing the coaches if they got it wrong for this reason. They didn’t want three-minute reviews. Anyway, it was a big part of the game and it didn’t go our way.”

The bottom line is that the coach’s challenge for offside was put into place for obvious offside plays rather than gray area instances like Coyle’s play in Montreal. Some of it is certainly the law of unintended consequences coming into play with the advent of instant replay turning every little play into an agonizing Zapruder film study where nobody quite knows what is truly legal or illegal anymore, including the officials on the ice.

The truth is that the NHL wants offense. They want goal-scoring. They want exciting end-to-end action that highlights the skill of the players on the ice, and they have no problem with high-scoring games such as the B's-Hab's nine-goal outburst in Montreal.

So, they shouldn’t be looking for reasons to take good goals off the board as they did when they wiped out Boston’s apparent go-ahead score in the third period and effectively changed the outcome of the game. Put a time limit on when an offside can be challenged, and outlaw challenging a play where the goal was scored 15 seconds after the zone entry.

Furthermore, get the officials together and decide, once and for all, that a puck in between the skates of an NHL player is a puck that the player is actually in control of, and can legally enter the offensive zone as Coyle did.

The NHL is a great league full of great players, but it’s even better when the league gets out of the way of itself. It’s pretty hard to do that with the nonsensical way that the offside coach’s challenge is currently set up. Anybody that follows the Bruins knows there are easy fixes that could make the challenge system so much better than it is right now.

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Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

BOSTON – The good news for the Bruins is that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

The relatively bad news for the Bruins is also that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

Clearly, the Bruins would rather be up 15 points than behind 15 points, but with every situation there comes challenges.

It certainly seems as if some disarming comfort and an old-fashioned lack of urgency have crept into the B’s game as they again stumbled through the first 40 minutes Thursday night before a patented third-period comeback earned them a point in an eventual overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.

The game against Chicago was particularly damning because it uncovered a real lack of focus in the overall game. The Bruins allowed a pair of special teams goals in the final two minutes of the first period and were caught napping again 17 seconds into the third to dig a 3-0 hole.

One can dissect the individual problems, whether it was a costly turnover from Charlie McAvoy on the power play that led to Chicago’s shorthanded goal, or the ensuing penalty from David Pastrnak that allowed the Blackhawks to double up with a PP goal 37 seconds later. Or Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug flat out getting caught flat-footed on Alex DeBrincat’s speed rush in the opening shift of the third that finally seemed to act like smelling salts to the Black and Gold.

It says something about the character and the overall talent of the team that they can continuously overcome deficits in the third period. There’s no denying they are the best team in the NHL in the final 20 minutes of the game.

They are outscoring opponents by a 2-1 margin (42-21) in the third period and have a whopping plus-21 goal differential when it comes to winning time.

But the lack of urgency out of the gate game after game of late sure looks like complacency and certainly looks like a team that knows they are far out ahead in the standings.

“Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are, is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.

"But, lack of urgency from period to period, absolutely. We’re going to continue to address it, but to get to your level 82 times a night for 60 games, if you feel you’re better than – you’re going to be in that second season, it is a challenge for a coach, and it’s a challenge for the players, but we’ll need [the urgency]."

The danger, of course, is that the Bruins turn into this season's version of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they race off to such a commanding lead that they never truly face character-building adversity in the regular season. The B’s have enough experience and talent to overcome that once they are in a playoff series, which would make them demonstrably different than a Lightning team that folded like a cheap chair in four games against Columbus last spring.

But there is still very much a danger now that the Bruins can float through the rest of this regular season where they only need to win half (27) of their remaining 53 games to still get to 100 points based on their bounding start. Essentially the Bruins could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still breeze right into the playoffs, and win the division as well.

It's difficult to stay sharp under those circumstances and it will be equally difficult to match the intensity in the postseason facing a team that will have been scratching and clawing in order to get there. Torey Krug maintained he didn’t know what kind of lead the Bruins had in the Atlantic Division standings, and that’s probably the best thing for the Bruins to do right now.

“I would say normally yes, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in that position right now,” said Krug, when asked if the Bruins need to guard against complacency. “I don’t why that is. It’s so early in the season and we’re chasing perfection, and there’s a high standard here. So maybe that’s where it comes from,  but it doesn’t feel like we’re that far ahead [of everybody else].

“We’re missing a lot of guys too, so you always feel like going into these games that you need to bring your ‘A’ game because of who we’re missing. As a veteran guy, you feel like you need to take more onto your shoulders. I’m not even sure if guys know [their lead in the Atlantic] and it’s probably a good idea to just stay in the moment.”

Clearly, Krug walks it the way he talks as it was the puck-moving D-man that notched the tying goal Thursday in the final minutes to cap off the three-goal comeback in the third period.

The one silver lining that could stoke the B’s hunger and keep them at least partially invested in the game-to-game gauntlet the next five months: The top seed in the Eastern Conference is still wide open in competition with the Capitals.

Home-ice advantage all through the playoffs is certainly something to play for and could be a difference in a conference final showdown with Washington, and that should be a carrot directly in front of the Bruins that the coaching staff can sell them on.

But at no point does it seem as if the Bruins are going to have to fight for their lives for the rest of the season and they are already close to finishing the season series with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, rivals that are chasing them in the standings.

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will continue to be without Patrice Bergeron this weekend, but the B’s top center is making progress with his lower-body injury.

Bergeron, 34, took a positive step by participating in practice with his teammates for the first time since being injured on Friday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, though he was wearing a no-contact sweater and didn’t really mix in with his normal linemates for drills. Bruce Cassidy confirmed following practice that Bergeron won’t play Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, but remained hopeful he may return early next week barring any setbacks.

“[He’s wearing] a red sweater; that’s good. He participated in some line rushes, but it wasn’t a heavy contact practice,” said Cassidy. “He won’t play [against Colorado], but once you have the red sweater on you’re that much closer. Monday [against Ottawa] now becomes more of a target date for us if there are no setbacks.”

It will mark the seventh straight game that Bergeron has missed with his lower-body injury and the ninth game of the past 11 games that he’s missed due to the nagging injury. The amazing thing: The Bruins have gone 6-0-2 thus far without Bergeron and have done a pretty good job of getting by having David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and others fill into his many different roles on the ice. 

Brett Ritchie skated in line drills and appears close to a return, but it remains to be seen which forward he might replace in the lineup. 

Here are the projected line combos and defense pairings based on practice Friday ahead of the big non-conference tilt Saturday against eth talented, explosive Avs:

Marchand-Coyle-Heinen

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

Bjork-Lindholm-Ritchie

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Moore-Grzelcyk

 

Rask

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