Bruins know they must counter the Leafs transition game

Bruins know they must counter the Leafs transition game

TORONTO – Bruce Cassidy has stressed the speed, and the long stretch passes despite to take advantage of the aforementioned speed, of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the days leading up to the first-round playoff series. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the long stretch passes, the team speed and the quick game-breaking ability for Toronto came to the fore in a 4-2 win in Game 3 over the Bruins at Air Canada Centre.

Patrick Marleau's two goals both came on odd-man rushes where the B’s defense was caught flat-footed while trying to be the offensive aggressor. On the first score, the puck got through Kevan Miller in the neutral zone with Marleau sneaking in behind Torey Krug. That’s something that shouldn’t be repeated regardless of which B’s defensive duo is on the ice.

“Away from the puck, we have to correct a few things to keep it out of our net. But effort-wise I don’t fault anything. They’re a good hockey club and they’re going to generate some offense. We just need to counter it with better checking and some adjustments to counter their transition game that we have discussed,” said Cassidy. “We had pockets of the game where they were beating us [in Game 3]. We’ve gotten some good offensive zone time by being active when they’re trying to get going the other way and caught them – I don’t want to say cheating – leaning the other way.

“That [first Marleau goal] worked against us where the play, if you look at it by the detail, goes right through Kevan Miller. The puck travels right through him, so it’s a tough break for him. But the other guy is behind Torey, gets inside position and that’s where the breakdown for the second part of it comes. We have to balance our O-zone play risk/reward versus their stretch, blow the zone-type of mentality. That’s what it comes down to.”

It was also the same defensemen pairing beaten over and over again by it as Miller was on the ice for all three 5-on-5 goals against and Krug was out there for all three of them as well as his defensive partner. A day later, Krug knew that his pair needs to do a better job if they’re going to take a road victory in Game 4 and send the series back to Boston with a chance to close things out.

Certainly, Mike Babcock is going to continue to try and exploit the duo until they do a better job of shutting down the Leafs’ speed game, and that means the entire five-man unit on the ice doing a better job. Many thought prior to the series it would Zdeno Chara/Charlie McAvoy that might fall victim to the Leafs speed, but instead, it was again Krug and Miller after Krug posted a minus-7 rating against Toronto over the past two regular seasons.

“It’s just making sure our neutral zone is tight and our forwards are guarding that red line pretty well then our defensemen can have a nice, tight gap. It doesn’t allow them to make many plays,” said Krug. “At times last night, specifically with myself, you pinch and then all of a sudden you don’t have a guy reloading and they’re off and running with a 2-on-1 going the other way. Sometimes it makes you second guess yourself, but you need to make sure we’re all doing it together.

“Better awareness. Things like that are going to happen, but you need to be aware of who is behind you. It is part of their game that they’re going to spring guys and get them going with the young talented guys doing the work. So we just have to have better awareness.”

Clearly, the Maple Leafs were looking for matchups where their top two scoring lines could get out on the ice against Krug/Miller to do some damage. Now, it’s on the Bruins to again adjust, cut down on a little bit on their own cheating into the offensive end and certainly be much more aware of Leafs players sneaking around behind them. McAvoy called it “a little bit of a cheat” in terms of Leafs players blowing the zone quickly, but it’s something Toronto has done well all season in signature fashion against teams unaware enough to stop it.

“It’s tough. We’ve seen it a couple of times in this series where the ‘D’ will jump up offensively and they’re off to the races going the other way,” said McAvoy. “They play that style where they want to counter so fast with their speed, and want to use their speed at all times. You really need to make sure you’re counting five guys all the time and keeping them in front of you.

“They’ll go for those stretches or breakaways where they almost...cheat the game a little. But that’s their style and they do it very well. They have a lot of fast players that you’ve got to respect, and keep a good gap on them.”

It was a focus headed into the series and it will be refocused with two days off between Game 3 and Game 4, so one would expect to see a lot less success for the Toronto transition attempts in the pivotal game Thursday night.



Bruins go home empty-handed on NHL Awards night

Bruins go home empty-handed on NHL Awards night

The Bruins didn’t take home any hardware at the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, but appropriately one of their youthful players was recognized among the league’s best and brightest. Rookie D-man Charlie McAvoy was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie team along with New Jersey Devils D-man Will Butcher, forwards (Islanders) Mat Barzal, (Canucks) Brock Boeser and (Coyotes) Clayton Keller and Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros.

The 20-year-old McAvoy finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting as well behind Barzal, Boeser, Keller and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor, but the rookie D-man didn’t get any first-place votes on ballots across the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association). 

Patrice Bergeron finished third in the Selke Trophy voting behind Selke winner Anze Kopitar and Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier while going for his record-breaking fifth Selke Trophy. While it might be a little shocking to see No. 37 finish third based on his season and his overall two-way prowess, he did miss 22 percent of the regular season (18 out of 82 games) and some voters may have dinged him a bit because of that. 

Likewise, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy finished a distant second in the Jack Adams Award voting behind Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. In any other season, Cassidy’s job leading the Bruins to 112 points in his first full year behind the Boston bench would have been a shoo-in for the coaching award. Instead, it deservedly went to Gallant after guiding the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to a playoff spot and eventually all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Don Sweeney also finished fourth in the GM of the Year voting just behind the three finalists for the award, a clear recognition from those around the league for the job he’s done turning things around in Boston over the last few seasons. Zdeno Chara (Norris), David Pastrnak (a first place Lady Byng vote, no less), Bergeron (Byng and Hart Trophy), Tuukka Rask (Vezina), Jake DeBrusk (Calder) and Brad Marchand (Selke and Hart Trophy) all received at least single votes on award ballots in a pretty strong Black and Gold representation across the board. 

A positive thought for all the Bergeron backers that felt he got robbed this season: It was the NHL-record seventh consecutive Selke Trophy finalist appearance for Bergeron on Wednesday night, and there certainly should be several more chances for No. 37 to win again and add to a resume that looks more and more Hall of Fame-worthy with each passing season.


Cassidy says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

File photo

Cassidy says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

As the free agency period of July 1 inches closer, the hype machine for 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk will grow more and more frenzied for teams like the Bruins.

And coach Bruce Cassidy gladly added to it on Tuesday in Las Vegas, telling reporters assembled for the NHL Awards that the Russian winger would be “a nice fit” for the Black and Gold. 

“Yeah, that would be interesting . . . you never want to speculate,” Cassidy said to reporters in Vegas during his press availability as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. “You can’t get too far ahead . . . he’s a top-six guy, he can play left and right wing, he’s a big body. He’d be a nice addition. I am sure any team would say that right now. 

“He’s going to make your team better, and I think that’s what you always look at as a coach, and fitting [talented players] in is the easy part. The tough part is getting those types of players.”


The Bruins will be among a handful of teams vying for Kovalchuk, who spend the last five seasons playing in the KHL after bolting the New Jersey Devils and the NHL after the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season. Even at his advanced NHL age, the expectation is that Kovalchuk can still have an impact offensively even if he’s not exactly the same player who posted 37 goals and 83 points in his last full season in Jersey six years ago. 

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger still has the big shot, the scoring ability, the size and the game-breaking skills that made him a former first overall pick in the NHL draft, and it may just be that he has more left in his tank than the younger Rick Nash. Clearly there was a concussion that played a big part in Nash’s time in Boston, but he also didn’t look like the explosive scoring ability was still there like it was in the Columbus/New York power forward’s younger years. 

The Bruins haven’t yet locked in a time when they’ll make their pitch to Kovalchuk’s camp, but it’s expected to happen ahead of the July 1 opening of free agency. Kovalchuk's representatives have already had meetings with teams on the West Coast like the Kings and Sharks. It’s expected that Kovalchuk, 35, be looking at a shorter-term deal making something close to the $6.67 annual salary he was being paid by the Devils when he departed the NHL. 

If Kovalchuk were to land in Boston, he’d fill a need for secondary scoring behind the big guns of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.He would allow the Bruins to keep their top forward line intact while filling a hole on the second line right wing alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. 

With the news that next season’s salary cap is going to be in the $79-80 million range, the Bruins will also have somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million in cap space for their offseason shopping list. That should give them plenty of room to sign Kovalchuk to a short-term deal and still address the other openings on their NHL roster, including third-line center and a backup goaltender. Still, Kovalchuk would be the big fish, and that’s why the talk about him is front and center.