Bruins

Bruins face a stiff challenge in second-half schedule

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Bruins face a stiff challenge in second-half schedule

BRIGHTON, Mass – The real challenge for the Bruins begins starting tonight when they host the Anaheim Ducks at TD Garden.

It’s not necessarily the opponent - the Anaheim Ducks - though they did lose to them back in November in the game that spurred Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to bench Tuukka Rask and kick off four consecutive wins for backup Anton Khudobin. It’s more about what lies ahead in the Black and Gold’s final 35 games in the final two months of the regular season.

Certainly, the Bruins are in optimal shape with a 20-point cushion for a playoff spot and games in hand on everybody in the Eastern Conference aside from the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators. But they’re also playing 16 games in March and no longer have holiday breaks, All-Star breaks or five-day byes to look forward to for a brief respite.

It’s something the Bruins veterans are well aware of with the four sets of back-to-back games in February and two separate week-long road trips in tMarch where attrition could play a role for a mostly healthy, extremely deep B’s roster right now.

“I think everybody is going to have a pretty condensed schedule,” said Zdeno Chara. “February and March, there are going to be a lot of games coming up in a pretty short amount of time. It will be important how we play out of these breaks. Teams are going to playing for points and trying to fight for position going into the playoffs.”

Instead, it’s going to be about playing one of the busiest schedules for the remainder of the regular season and doing so with a roster that has got more than its share of young players and one 40-year-old captain that still leads the team in ice time. Cassidy wasn’t under any illusions about the challenge ahead for his Bruins, but it’s also not like Boston is going to have to fight and scrap for much from here on out either.

“We know what’s in front of us. We’ve played the least amount of games,” said Cassidy. “We’ve got some ground to make up, but that’s a good thing if you’re playing well. Right now, we’re relatively healthy and we’d like to keep it that way, but it will be challenging and we have to make sure that we’re getting our appropriate rest. That’s why this [All-Star weekend], they didn’t do as much traveling as the [bye week]. This was about recharging the batteries and understanding what’s in front of them.

“It is what it is. We’re in a good position. We’ve done well in the first half, but we’re going to be tested a little more in the second half. Hopefully, we’re up to the task. I think we are…the guys look good and are in a good frame of mind. So we’ll see how it plays out.”

The bottom line: It’s a good thing the Bruins piled up so many points the past couple of months because they are going to be much tougher to come by once the dog days of February and March start taking a chunk out them.    

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Morning Skate: Bruins right to pass on Hoffman's baggage

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Morning Skate: Bruins right to pass on Hoffman's baggage

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while NHL Draft week is upon us.

*The Ottawa Senators couldn’t dump Mike Hoffman fast enough after last week’s drama with Erik Karlsson’s family, and they shipped him to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday morning. The return was understandably underwhelming as Hoffman’s value was pretty much gone after the crazy story about alleged cyber-bullying by his girlfriend. Mikkel Boedker is an NHL player that will at least replace Hoffman’s roster spot, and San Jose included a decent D-man prospect in Bergman. But it’s nowhere close to what the Senators could have had for Hoffman if there wasn’t the significant baggage going along with him.

Some might have wondered if the Bruins should have gotten involved in discussions for a player clearly at the ebb of his trade value, but they were right to take a straight pass on a talented player in Hoffman that could be dressing room poison. It could be that this entire situation has some other explanation where Hoffman and his girlfriend aren’t as culpable as they’re being made out to be, but either way their rift clearly ripped apart Ottawa’s room at the end of last season. And it tormented the family of the Sens’ best player and leader.

Given that good chemistry is one of Boston’s clear strengths again after a few years in between, they don’t need a dark cloud hovering over them. They have good leadership in the room, but why add a potentially divisive influence like that simply because he might come cheap? The guy had 22 goals, 56 points and a minus-20 last season, so we're not talking Mike Bossy here. 

Clearly San Jose has no such reservations having taken on Evander Kane and Hoffman in the last couple of seasons, so good luck to them.   

*Looking at four potential landing spots for Barry Trotz after he resigned from his post with the Washington Capitals after winning a Cup.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Darren Dreger says that the Toronto Maple Leafs have put together a promotional video for prospective free agent John Tavares. It will be an interesting free agent sweepstakes to watch if the Isles end up losing him to the open market where many, many teams could use a star center like that.

*The new Seattle NHL expansion group has taken on veteran coach and executive Dave Tippett as a senior advisor.

*Rasmus Dahlin is poised to be the first real blue line star for the Buffalo Sabres when they take him first overall this weekend.

For something completely different: Boy, it sure sounds like the Walking Dead is getting ready to jump over a shark on water skis.

With two-year deal in place, Grzelcyk ready to work on 'weaknesses'

With two-year deal in place, Grzelcyk ready to work on 'weaknesses'

BRIGHTON, Mass – Now that Matt Grzelcyk has put a full NHL season under his belt and holds a two-year NHL contract for $2.8 million after signing with the Bruins last week as a restricted free agent, it’s on to becoming the best player he can be.

The 24-year-old posted an impressive three goals and 15 points in 61 games last season as a rookie who really never looked back after winning a job early last season.

Grzelcyk showed excellent skating wheels and a real knack for breaking the puck out of the defensive zone without a lot of hesitation or costly mistakes normally associated with a first-year D-man. Even better, he managed to avoid opponents taking advantage of his 5-foot-9, 174-pound frame. Now, Grzelcyk is looking to remove some of the weaknesses in his game. 

“I don’t ever want to be too comfortable and I always want to make sure I earn everything that I get,” said Grzelcyk, while talking about his new deal in the Bruins dressing room at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday afternoon. “It helps from a piece of mind standpoint to not constantly be looking over your shoulder, but there’s still a lot of competition. I’m looking to forward to coming into camp stronger and healthier, and ready to earn my ice time.”

Some of that is about the obvious: as one of the smallest D-men in the NHL, he'll need to get bigger and stronger. Grzelcyk is also looking to improve his shot from the point, a skill that could make him a much more attractive candidate on the Bruins power play. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy are the main trigger men on the PPs with big cannon shots from the point. That’s the kind of company Grzelcyk would like to join if he can turn his long-distance shot into a weapon.

“I can always get bigger and stronger. That’s something I’m always working on,” said Grzelcyk. “I think offensively I can use my feet to my advantage more on the blue line and obviously my shot is pretty much the No. 1 thing I’m looking to improve this [upcoming] year. I’m working hard toward that, so hopefully, that will pay a difference come training camp.”

“[I really learned] what I need to do to be successful and help the team, which is using my feet to my advantage. I think that’s huge as a smaller defenseman. Just getting that number of games under my belt and knowing what I have to do each night on the ice to get the wins, it gives me a lot more confidence and allows me to work more on my weaknesses.”

Clearly, a bigger shot and a bigger role in the offense would mean bigger point production for Grzelcyk, but it remains to be seen how high his offensive ceiling can be after a promising NHL beginning.

The question now is, how much bigger his role might be next season after averaging 16:44 of ice time last season as a bottom-pairing D-man? There is certainly room to grow, but it will all depend on how the rest of the roster comes together this fall after what’s expected to be a fairly action-packed offseason for Bruins GM Don Sweeney.  

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