Bruins

Bruins need to do a better job of protecting David Pastrnak when he's the target

Bruins need to do a better job of protecting David Pastrnak when he's the target

BOSTON — The Bruins dodged a bullet on Sunday night against the Montreal Canadiens.

No, we’re not talking about the three goals they scored in the third period to power up for a 3-1 comeback win against the sputtering, struggling Habs at TD Garden. Though the phrase could certainly apply aside from the fact that the Bruins are again rolling and have won six games in a row, and a loss wouldn’t have been “end of the world” type stuff for them.

Instead we’re talking about David Pastrnak scoring his 25th goal of the season and getting out of Sunday night’s game in one piece when Montreal clearly began to target the 23-year-old sniper with some bone-rattling hits.

It started with the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Shea Weber knocking down Pastrnak in the neutral zone, and immediately escalated when Pastrnak popped back up and went right at Montreal’s big, bad captain. Then it continued a few minutes later when 6-foot-3, 205-pound Joel Armia drilled Pastrnak from behind on the ensuing Bruins power play, and hit the B’s right winger hard enough that he popped off his helmet and forced him to leave the ice with the top PP unit out there.

It was a late, cheap hit from Armia that could have done damage to Pastrnak, but luckily for the Bruins, No. 88 skated quickly to the bench, finished out the period and was just fine. To his credit, he also wasn’t expecting anybody else to fight his battles for him even though that’s probably the best deterrent to keep it from happening over and over.

“I need to be careful when I get into certain spots, but you also know that it’s hockey and that it’s coming,” said Pastrnak. “Sometimes you need to make sure you don’t try to do too much and try to protect yourself.”

It’s even better when your teammates can help do some of the protecting, but the game-breaking winger scored Boston’s first goal of the game in the third period to get the B’s back into the game. It was Pastrnak’s 25th goal of the season and it was a beauty with the winger bombing one off the rush in the kind of throwback goal you don’t see much these days.

It was also the only way that Pastrnak can gain revenge when opponents put a target on his back as they are going to do with more and more frequency. Nothing else has worked against a player leading the NHL with 25 goals this season and on pace for an amazing 76 goals for the season, so the Bruins should expect teams are figuratively going to try to punch Pastrnak in the mouth.

“[Montreal] played him hard. I didn’t see the last hit by [Ben Chiarot]; it looked clean from where I was, so listen, he’s arguably the best player in the league right now or the hottest anyway. [He’s] certainly a guy that drives our offense a lot along with Marchy [Brad Marchand] and Krech [David Krejci], and you know, Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] when he’s in, so I expect that will happen more and more,” said Cassidy. “Obviously, he’ll have to keep his cool, but I thought he did a good job with it; he just kept playing, and good for him. He pushes back when he has to; guys were trying to take advantage of him on little faceoff setup, so he’s a big boy, and he kept his discipline and did a good job.”

Cassidy referenced a punishing hit by Chiarot on Pastrnak against the sideboards by the benches in the third period, and it was indeed clean as well. All’s well that ends well for the Bruins as Pastrnak scored, stayed healthy and the Bruins eventually won the game.

But it’s also playing with fire if the Bruins continue to allow their star offensive player to be pounded physically without standing up for him. The Bruins run the risk of Pastrnak going into a shell offensively if he continuously gets targeted, or the NHL’s leading scorer getting hurt because teams are taking liberties against him.

There were some big boys in the B’s lineup with Zdeno Chara and David Backes out there, and an entire fourth line of players who are with Boston to provide energy, physicality and a willingness to pay the price when it’s needed. Somebody needs to protect Pastrnak when opponents are taking runs at him, or it will simply embolden more teams around the league to do the same exact thing with the idea that it will eventually slow him down.

Clearly it is no longer the old days where teams will skate a tough guy with their star player, something that Cassidy himself referenced after Sunday night’s game.

“That’s hockey, right? That’s sports. You can’t really protect him. I mean, you can get matchups where you keep him away from certain people, but that’s just going to take away from his game. You can put him on the ice with certain type of players, but I think those days it used to be, well, you’ve got [Wayne] Gretzky and [Jari] Kurri, we’ll put [Dave] Semenko out there. You just don’t see a lot of that anymore,” said Cassidy. “Some of it is, when he’s receiving the puck, he’s going to have to pre-scout, work back some of these more physical guys so he doesn’t put himself in vulnerable positions.

“Certainly, we can push back and I thought we did, it upped our emotional energy. We got in there and battled as a group, and that sometimes tempers it as well. If you don’t back each other up, teams feel like they can take liberties. I wouldn’t go as far as saying liberties on [the Bruins] tonight. I thought they just played them hard. Part of that’s just hockey.”

There are no Semenko-types in the league anymore really, so that’s not going to be an option regardless for a Bruins team that is reluctant to break up the Perfection Line when everybody is healthy. But there are ways to get a message across that running star players won’t be tolerated, and that message wasn’t loud and clear from the B’s to the Habs this time around.

It all worked out for the Bruins on Sunday night, but they might not get off so easily next time if they don’t react with force and swiftness when anybody starts missing with the most explosive player in the NHL. Pastrnak has earned that title by getting halfway to 50 goals by Dec. 1 in a season that looks like it’s going to be one for the ages.

Now it’s up to his teammates to do their part and make sure the 23-year-old stays hot — and in one piece — as opponents are looking for new and unpleasant ways to throw Pastrnak off his game.

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Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

With the return of John Moore to good health and a general lack of tight focus to the team recently, the confluence of events pushed the Bruins to make a move ahead of a four-game road trip next week.

The Bruins announced that they have waived veteran defenseman Steve Kampfer at noontime on Sunday for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL. It was clear the B’s were going to opt for the 31-year-old Kampfer rather than Connor Clifton, who just a couple of weeks ago passed the 60 NHL games played barrier that would also require waivers for him to be sent down to the AHL.

There’s a far greater chance that a team would put a claim in on the 24-year-old Clifton, who has two goals and a plus-5 rating in 24 games for the Black and Gold this season.

The final straw for Kampfer was the healthy return of Moore, who missed the first 28 games of the season coming back from shoulder surgery. But Moore has played in back-to-back games for the Bruins and collected an assist in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to the Avalanche while showing that he’s all the way back from an injury suffered during last spring’s playoff run.

Kampfer has played in just four games for the Bruins this season as their seventh defenseman after putting up three goals and six points in 35 games as their spare D-man last season. While there’s a chance that a team could put a claim in on Kampfer, the likelihood given his age and experience level is that he’ll head to Providence to stay sharp for when another round of injuries inevitably hit the Bruins on the back end.

There’s also no question that a player being put on waivers that’s been with the Bruins for the last couple of seasons might be enough to also shake the complacency out of a B’s group that’s been sleepwalking against opponents over the last couple of weeks. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, of course, but they have needed a handful of third period comebacks after making slow starts the norm as of late.

There’s also the chance that the Bruins need the cap savings associated with Kampfer’s $800,000 cap hit after Moore’s $2.75 million cap figure was added back onto Boston’s books once he got healthy earlier this week.

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Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

BOSTON – It was only a matter of time before the Bruins got burned for playing like they could flick on a third period switch and beat everybody across the NHL.

After a number of third period comebacks and salvaged points over the last couple of weeks, the Bruins couldn’t pull the same trick against the Colorado Avalanche in a 4-1 loss at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was the first regulation loss on home ice for the Bruins this season at TD Garden and it was exactly what Boston deserved after managing just nine shots on net in the first two periods while making some simple mistakes that led to goals against at inopportune times.

“For us, [it was a] lack of urgency. We talked about it the other night, again tonight, some of that is definitely in our game early on. If we’re on our toes, I think we’re cleaner. I’m not going to say that we’re not going to execute from time to time, but it’s been an issue for us I think. Some of the unforced errors — I just look at the play, Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk] takes a hit, [Danton] Heinen goes back with the puck. If we’re playing the right way, we’re in and out of our end. We’re gone,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We go back with it and all of a sudden [it’s in the net]. We win a faceoff to start a period and we ice it instead of making a play. Now we’re in our end and there’s just a lot of details that are working us against us now. We’ve just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities in those situations, and live with the result.

“[It] doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I think we’re leaving plays on the table because our lack of urgency or understanding that teams are coming after us. They’re good teams. We got away with it for a while here, good for us, right? It’s a results-oriented business. But against the better teams, I think at some point, they will close out games. [The loss to the Avs] was a great example of that.”

The Heinen play really was the killer as it came midway through the second period, led to the Bruins running around in their own end and then ended with Ian Cole rocketing a slap shot past Jaroslav Halak from the top of the face-off circle. Then Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk botched defensive coverage in transition at the end of the second period, and that led to Andre Burakovsky scoring the insurance goal right at the end of the period.

At that point, it was over despite Boston outshooting Colorado by a 12-6 margin in the third period, and the Bruins have to hope that it was a lesson learned at this point. It may take a few games for the Bruins to snap out of some of their current bad habits, but there’s also that overall malaise that might be an unavoidable part of the team’s commanding 13-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

That being said, Brad Marchand spoke for all of Boston’s team leadership in knowing that the current state of being for the Black and Gold isn’t something that can sustainably bring success.

“It’s a losing game. You can’t continue to go down by a couple of goals, especially to good teams,” said Marchand. “Teams like that know how to win and how to keep a lead. No matter how many times you come back, it’s going to eventually catch up to you. We’ve had that, especially early on [in games]. We tend to be much better when we’re behind. I think then it’s a bit of a wakeup call and we all have to play good in order to come back.

“But we have to play that way from the first shift of the first period. If you want to win, if you want to be a good team and if you want to have a chance in the playoffs, you have to be able to do that all game along. It’s tough sometimes because the season can get long. That’s no excuse. We have to realize the mistakes that we’re making and improve if want to continue to get better. That’s what good teams do.”

It would behoove the Bruins to get things in order quickly with a slate of important games over the next week including a mid-week tilt with the Washington Capitals, and a pair of divisional games against Tampa Bay and Florida later on in the week. But there really isn’t any worry coming from the B’s about anybody distantly trailing them in the standings right now while 8-1-1 in their last 10 games overall.

Instead it’s about the Bruins themselves becoming the best hockey team that they can be and getting back into a groove where they are paying attention to details and doing the little things that lead to winning hockey.  

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