Bruins

Bruins send Pastrnak a message with demotion against Flames

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Bruins send Pastrnak a message with demotion against Flames

BOSTON -- With 27 games left in the regular season and the President's Trophy -- given to the team with the best record in the NHL -- within their grasp, now is not the time for the Bruins to be easing up.

So coach Bruce Cassidy decided Tuesday night it was time to send David Pastrnak a message. The slumping 21-year-old right wing was dropped to the third line in Boston’s 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames at TD Garden as big, physical David Backes took Pastrnak's spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the Bruins' top line.

Pastrnak finished with a minus-1 rating and a couple of shots on net in the win, and acknowledged that he had some work to do.

“I don’t mind playing with anyone, you know?" he said. "I think I’m the kind of player, you know, I can find chemistry with someone. I don’t know. I want to be better, and we’ll see. I was trying to get better. I need to kind of get better and think what I will do, and what will be the best for the team.”

Some of it was clearly about the matchup against a gritty, fast-skating and skilled Calgary crew that doesn’t shy away from the contact. Cassidy admitted as much after the game.

“Their line plays hard; they play honest and play in straight lines," said Cassidy. "I thought, well, if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to go 200 feet. I thought they got an easy goal against us, too easy for how good they are and how good we want to be defensively. Then Backes would see [Matthew] Tkachuk on the left wing, who is an ornery guy. So, it’s just a bit of a matchup to keep everything honest in our building, give us a little more push back, and then Pasta would slide down with [Riley] Nash and [Danton] Heinen, which is still a very effective [third] line.

“So, you know, just a little tweak and a little different matchup worked tonight, and we’ll see going forward."

That part of it certainly worked as the Bruins shut down the Flames defensively in the final 40 minutes, Bergeron scored a pair of third-period goals and Backes finished with a pair of helpers in a solid, blue collar night’s work.

But some of it was also about a player in Pastrnak who has just one goal in his last 10 games and began to fly under the radar when Marchand was suspended.

The game-breaking right wing is a minus player thus far during the month of February, and hasn’t been generating much in the way of shots on net or scoring chances . . . both of which were coming in bunches earlier in the year.

So, once Pastrnak took an ill-advised slashing penalty after getting stood up by Mark Giordano a couple of times with hard hits at the offensive blue line, the time arrived for Cassidy to make change.

It’s time for everybody up and down the Bruins roster to roll up their sleeves, do their share of the hard-nosed work and play up to the intensity and focus their opponents are showing them on a nightly basis -- and that includes electric offensive talents like Pastrnak.

“I was trying to say that politely, all kidding aside,” said Cassidy, when asked if he was sending a message to his young right wing by dropping him to the third line and just 12-plus minutes of ice time. “You know, because I don’t like to do it through [the media] -- David and I always talk. Yeah, to a certain extent [you] try to get a lot of the guy’s attention, but he’s one that [has to know] you’re going to have tough matchups come April and May.

“If we’re fortunate enough to be playing well and playing at that time of the year, that’s what he is going to see. [Pastrnak] is going to have to grow from the experience he got last year. So there was a little bit of [message-sending], for sure. I love David’s passion for the game, his willingness to compete. We just have to remind him every once in a while how to compete, how to manage the puck, and how to best help the team.”

Pastrnak had a couple of goals and four points in the playoff series last spring against the Ottawa Senators, but there were also times when he struggled to play his game amidst the elevated postseason intensity all around him.

Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have been the best forward line in the NHL since they were put together a month or two into the regular season. But Tuesday night served as a reminder to Pastrnak that he’s going to need to up his battle, his involvement and his “hard to play against” quotient if he wants to stay there when the going gets tough.

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Morning Skate: Minnesota has a Massachusetts feel

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Morning Skate: Minnesota has a Massachusetts feel

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while things play out between the Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Game 7 for all the marbles.
 
-- Massachusetts native Charlie Coyle is scheduled to undergo surgery on both wrists. I’ve got to imagine that’s going to make for a few weeks where everything is pretty much impossible to do post –surgery for the Minnesota Wild forward.  

-- Another local hockey product is going to be associated with the Minnesota Wild, as Springfield, Mass., native Paul Fenton has been named the new general manager.
 
-- The Golden Knights tale is one of some very shrewd moves prior to their opening season, and a lot of things that have gone their way since then.

 -- Something tells me Bruins fans aren’t going to get tired of offensive highlights from New York Islanders rookie Mat Barzal. They are a glutton for punishment, after all.
 
-- The Toronto Maple Leafs front office is now completely under the control of Kyle Dubas, as both Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter have exited the organization.
 
 -- Here’s a look at the short-term salary cap picture for the Detroit Red Wings as they continue to build back up toward being a playoff power.
 
*For something completely different: So I’m buying in on Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia talking Star Wars on this podcast. Who knew big CC was a Star Wars guy?

A look at Bruins in free agency: Anton Khudobin

A look at Bruins in free agency: Anton Khudobin

It was a bit eyebrow-raising when Bruins team president Cam Neely last week mentioned backup goaltending as a priority for the Bruins on their offseason shopping list. The assumption was that the Bruins would find common ground with looming free agent Anton Khudobin after a stellar season in which he played 31 games as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

The ability to play well and play relatively often is a mandatory one with the Bruins as the formula for team success includes a plan that gives their No. 1 in Rask ample physical and mental rest in the regular season.

A return for Khudobin, 32, is still the most likely scenario for the Bruins when all things are considered given that he posted a 2.56 goals-against average and .913 save percentage as the perfect backup to Rask, and given that he wants to stick around in Boston.

“I want to be here. I like [it] here. I’ve been in California, I’ve been in Texas, I’ve been in Carolina, I’ve been in Minnesota. I’ve been in a lot of cities and a lot of states, and Boston is my favorite one,” said Khudobin, with the trademark twinkle in his eye as he discussed a city he returned to two years ago after his first stint with the Bruins. “That’s clearly [the truth], and it’s not because I want to give it a shot, or try to say I’m so nice I’m going to just sign here. This is my favorite city. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to sign here, or if I’m going to go away, or if I’m going to sign here. Boston is still going to be my favorite city.

“Don [Sweeney] knows that I love it here. I love the city and everybody knows it. How much is it going to be a factor in signing a new contract, I don’t know? I don’t think it will be a factor. I don’t think it matters. It matters what they can offer and how much I’m willing to take. For me personally, I would love to stay here. I’m 32 right now, and if I’m going to play until 40 I would love to play another eight years here. That’s clear for me. If we will get a deal, today, or tomorrow, or in free agency, I don’t know. But if it will happen in Boston, I will be happy.”

So, the good news is that the B’s and Khudobin are halfway there with the player clearly in love with the city and the team and has already proven he can provide the support Rask clearly needs. Still, it’s also a safe bet that, coming off a strong season, Khudobin is going to want a bit of a raise from the two-year, $2.4 million contract he signed a couple of years ago. Perhaps his season was even good enough to entice a goalie-challenged NHL team into giving him another go-round as a possible No. 1 candidate after mixed reviews in his one and only shot with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The uncertainty of Khudobin as a possible free agent come July 1 and the poor conditioning that factored into an at-times bad opening season in Boston might just be giving the Bruins pause about bringing him back on a multi-year deal. That seems to be bearing out in some of the B’s organizational comments about the backup goaltending headed into the offseason.

“I thought [Khudobin] had a great year for us. He really stepped in when Tuukka was struggling a little bit and gave us an opportunity to win hockey games,” said Neely. “If he we didn’t have that, we certainly have had the year that we did. He’s well-liked in the locker room and starting last year with those two big games against Chicago and the Islanders before he followed it up with a great start this year.

“Obviously it has to make sense for us. When somebody has a really good year headed into UFA they want to see what’s out there, so you can’t blame them for that.”

Certainly, the Bruins could, and should, be willing to go into the two-year, $3-3.5 million range for Khudobin given the stability he helped bring to the goaltending situation. That would be a fair league rate for a backup goalie. The problem for the Bruins is that they don’t have any ready-made alternatives within the organization. Zane McIntyre had a very mixed AHL season with the Providence Bruins and Malcolm Subban was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights via waivers at the beginning of this past season.

“Zane had pushed the previous year. He had an up-and-down year this year. Had some real good pockets of games where he was excellent, and other games where some of the situations, he didn’t necessarily rise up to. He’s in the [backup goalie] mix, certainly, to push for our group. We’re exploring bringing Anton back and see if that might work,” said Sweeney. “If not, we may have to go to an alternative. Daniel Vladar was around, played a lot more games this year. He will be in Providence next year as part of the development process for him.

“[Kyle] Keyser came in at the end of the year, as well, had a good year. He’s part of it. Jeremy Swayman also had a very good year in Maine and took over the starting role there. We feel like we’re starting to make sure we address it appropriately, and hopefully one of these guys emerges as the next number one for the Boston Bruins. It’s an area we have to make sure that we’re spot on. We’ll be looking at [McIntyre] again this summer, and it starts with where our talks with Anton go.”

So let’s be honest about the names mentioned above. The 20-year-old Vladar has played 12 games in the AHL the past two seasons and Swayman is in the middle of his collegiate career with the Black Bears. Keyser was last spotted being taken to the hospital via ambulance after getting hit in the neck with a puck at a Bruins playoff practice. He was expected to be fine afterward, but it’s clear he’s also not ready to be an NHL backup straight out of junior hockey.

So, McIntyre is the only candidate with any qualifications to be an NHL backup next season and his 3.97 GAA and .858 save percentage in eight NHL appearances should give the Bruins a whole lot of pause given the importance of the position. Certainly, there will be some backup goalie candidates in free agency that have experience with the Bruins organization whether it’s Chad Johnson, Michael Hutchinson or Jeremy Smith, or Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen or Jaroslav Halak that might be ready to transition fully into an aging, oft-used backup at a discount in Boston.

The good news is that the Bruins should have a lot of different backup goalie options to choose from if that’s the plan come July 1, but the better news would be if both Khudobin and the B’s come to a sensible agreement to keep Rask and Khudobin intact as a tandem. After all, they finished last season fourth in the NHL in GAA (2.57), tied for ninth in save percentage (.912), and gave the Black and Gold a chance to win just about every night.

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