Bruins

Bruins' best come through in must-have win over Coyotes

haggerty_column_2_101517.jpg

Bruins' best come through in must-have win over Coyotes

GLENDALE, Arizona – It was too early to panic, but the Boston Bruins were very clearly in a situation this weekend where they needed their best players to step up and earn a win for a hockey club struggling with injuries and a brand new roster.

That’s exactly what happened on Saturday night in the desert as Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all had their best games of the season and led the way for a Bruins group that took home a 6-2 victory against a winless Arizona Coyotes club at Gila River Arena.

“It was a very good win for us. Everybody contributed to it. Obviously we know our job as veterans is to pull a good share of the load and we got that,” said Chara. “The younger group of players stepped up as well. You need that. You need to have everybody on the same page. Otherwise it’s going to be more difficult. But I thought [this win} had a lot of positives and we capitalized on a lot of our chances.”

MORE: 

Each of those three players had a multi-point night and Anton Khudobin did the job between the pipes in his first start of the young season, and it was exactly what was needed after the Bruins had their confidence shook in back-to-back losses to the Colorado Avalanche.

“Everyone has to do their job. You can’t expect to play bad games and play winning hockey in this league,” said Marchand, who scored his team-leading third goal of the season on a breakaway goal for him in the second period. “We need everyone to do their job every single night and be consistent, and chip in at the right times. It was good to have that tonight and we’re going to need that moving forward.”

Boston’s big money players were right at it from the very beginning. After the Coyotes jumped on the board with the first goal, Chara responded 36 seconds later with a bombed shot that bounced into the open net off David Pastrnak’s leg as he was jumping up in the air. It was probably the most painful goal of Pastrnak’s young career given who was shooting the puck, but it was also an important answer for a hockey team that needed playmakers to step up.

The Bruins really took over the game in the second period with a power-play goal from Jake DeBrusk camped out in front, and then a pair of big plays from Chara with the game in the balance. On the first, Chara cut to the net on a broken play in the Arizona defensive zone and Marchand found him as a big-bodied finisher looking to do some offensive damage.

Louis Domingue made the first stop on Chara, but there was nobody to fight off the 6-foot-9 defenseman as he scooped up the puck and rifled it back into the net for the eventual game-winning goal. In all, Chara finished with a goal and three points, a plus-3 rating and eight shot attempts in 20:18 of ice time while once again showing there is plenty of game still left in his 40-year-old body when the big moments arise.  

“There’s a reason he’s our captain and leader, and it just goes to show why he continues to be a very good hockey player. . . a great hockey player,” said Marchand. “He steps up at the right time and always comes up big in big hockey games. He did that again tonight. We’d lost a couple in a row and needed a boost, and he was there to give it to us. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer for a reason and he showed that again tonight.”

Little more than 10 minutes later, Chara and Marchand teamed up to ice the game with a pre-orchestrated face-off play after a successful draw in the defensive zone. Marchand blew the zone up the left side and Chara simply rimmed the puck up to him along the boards for a breakaway where the Nose Face Killah finished things with a backhanded shelf beauty.

With Patrice Bergeron and David Backes still out of the lineup, it was up to the rest of the healthy Bruins to start finding some answers. That’s exactly what they did in an impressive team-wide effort sparked by the Bruins leadership group.

“It starts with Zee tonight. I thought our D-corps had an off night in Colorado and that’s going to happen. Tonight they didn’t and did a real good job for us. It started there. Pasta and Marchand, their line was solid with Riley Nash in there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We saw it on opening night. If we stick to it, manage pucks, play behind them and get skating with some patience then we can be a good team. It’s when we start trying to force. I don’t care how good of a skating team you are. . . if you’re forcing plays and nobody is back-checking then it’s not going to end well.

“Any goals around the front of the net are always key. Zee at the front of the net is a load to move, so that was interesting. Good for him. He wanted to make a difference tonight, and I think Zee deserves a lot of credit for the win. Pastrnak had his legs tonight and that opens up space for everybody else, and Marchand was trying to find him. Pastrnak probably could have had more goals if he played a little more selfish with the puck, but no complaints from me. We need him to be good every night.”

It’s not going to go the way it’s drawn up every night, and both games against Colorado were prime pieces of evidence to that point. But it was important for the B’s players still standing to show that this team can survive, and thrive, no matter which guys are healthy and in the lineup, and the best of the best for the Black and Gold finally did that in a must-have Saturday night win in Arizona. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

MORE BRUINS OFFSEASON

Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

MORE FROM JOE HAGGERTY

Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE