Bruins Summer Series: Jake DeBrusk looking to improve after a quiet postseason

Bruins Summer Series: Jake DeBrusk looking to improve after a quiet postseason

Today’s piece on Jake DeBrusk is the seventh in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

The belief was that Jake DeBrusk was going to be a difference-maker for the Bruins in these playoffs.

After scoring six goals a year ago in his first postseason experience just two rounds into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the thought was that the 22-year-old DeBrusk would be a big offense driver after scoring 27 goals in 68 games during the regular season.

Unfortunately for both DeBrusk and the Bruins, that isn’t the way it all shook out for the second-year left winger. Instead he got embroiled into a nasty little exchange with Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri that left him dinged up, and then fighting to find his game for most of the rest of Boston’s long playoff run.

There were some good games in there to be sure, and he still wound up with four goals and 11 points while ending up a plus-4 through four rounds of the postseason.

Still, newly acquired forwards like Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle outplayed DeBrusk during the postseason and left the Bruins brass hoping that the experience will make him a more effective playoff player moving forward.

“I thought we might see more from Jake, but then again it’s a learning experience. A couple of years ago he had a really strong playoff, especially against Toronto,” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive 1-on-1 with NBC Sports Boston. “But you’ve got to go through these experiences and hopefully learn from them and grow. That’s what I expect from Jake. I know these guys are all proud players and they understand the importance of playing well in the playoffs and not just in the regular season.

“That’s what I say to these guys. 'You really want to be known as a playoff player.' That’s what we all play for — to win the Cup. I expect Jake to learn from this and improve, not only during the regular season but you’ll see some growth in the playoffs because of this.”

Certainly, there is a streakiness to DeBrusk’s game that hasn’t really sraightened out over two seasons, and four rounds of postseason pressure is considerable for even the most talented of young players. There’s also an element of DeBrusk fully developing into what he’s going to be when things get nasty in the playoffs. Is he going to be a tough-minded, physical power forward type who can bring size and strength to the table as he matures? Or is he going to be another in a long line of skill players that rely on speed, hands and scoring ability to do all their damage?

At 6-feet tall there’s a chance for DeBrusk to continue adding strength and muscle to his frame as he gets a little older and perhaps bring a little more physical oomph when his skating legs aren’t moving at their top speed. But there’s also the simple fact that DeBrusk is doing plenty right already with 43 goals scored in his first two NHL seasons.

The Bruins just have to hope the experience of getting to a Stanley Cup Final is going to make DeBrusk a more complete player in every facet. And the 22-year-old keeps developing the playmaking, two-way ability and consistency factors within his game that still need some improvement after two very solid seasons to begin his NHL career.  

Key stat: 4 – The number of goals for DeBrusk in 24 playoff games for the Bruins this spring. DeBrusk had six goals in eight playoff games the prior spring.

DeBrusk in his own words: “I’m just trying to see the positives out of this year in general, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t win the last game of the year. We all believed that we were going to win it. We were right there.”

The biggest question he faces: How much better can DeBrusk get as a top-6 winger after scoring 27 goals during the regular season, but only scoring one more point overall in his second NHL season. There’s no question that the goal-scoring area was a big success for him in Year No. 2, but DeBrusk could stand to build the other areas of his game. Obviously, DeBrusk also needs to step up his playoff game after scoring just four goals in four rounds of the postseason this spring as well. Can DeBrusk regain his reputation as a playoff performer next season and beyond? That’s up to him to decide.  

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Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

David Backes was waived by the Boston Bruins late last week. The statement move to demote the veteran Bruin was part of two critical changes that the B's made to their team. The other was waiving fellow enforcer and physical forward Brett Ritchie.

After Backes' demotion, there was some speculation that the 14-year veteran may opt to retire instead of playing in the AHL for the Providence Bruins. But according to Bruins president Cam Neely, Backes hasn't indicated that he will do that.

"I don’t think he has a mindset of retirement," said Neely per Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe. "He’s a very proud man, and a professional. I still have the feeling he thinks he can help, so we’ll see where it goes from here."

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This isn't altogether surprising. Backes may be holding out hope that he'll get another chance to play moving forward if he can prove himself in the AHL. 

Backes turns 36 in May, but hockey players often have long careers. So, it's possible that Backes could find a role as a veteran depth piece for another team. It'll just be on a deal much cheaper than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bruins back in the 2016 offseason.

That said, it's worth noting that Backes has had concussion issues in recent seasons. So that could impact his decision-making moving forward.

In 16 games this season, Backes had just one goal and two assists for the Bruins. He'll take some time off before joining the Providence Bruins later this month.