Bruins

Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

BOSTON – The good news for the Bruins is that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

The relatively bad news for the Bruins is also that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

Clearly, the Bruins would rather be up 15 points than behind 15 points, but with every situation there comes challenges.

It certainly seems as if some disarming comfort and an old-fashioned lack of urgency have crept into the B’s game as they again stumbled through the first 40 minutes Thursday night before a patented third-period comeback earned them a point in an eventual overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.

The game against Chicago was particularly damning because it uncovered a real lack of focus in the overall game. The Bruins allowed a pair of special teams goals in the final two minutes of the first period and were caught napping again 17 seconds into the third to dig a 3-0 hole.

One can dissect the individual problems, whether it was a costly turnover from Charlie McAvoy on the power play that led to Chicago’s shorthanded goal, or the ensuing penalty from David Pastrnak that allowed the Blackhawks to double up with a PP goal 37 seconds later. Or Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug flat out getting caught flat-footed on Alex DeBrincat’s speed rush in the opening shift of the third that finally seemed to act like smelling salts to the Black and Gold.

It says something about the character and the overall talent of the team that they can continuously overcome deficits in the third period. There’s no denying they are the best team in the NHL in the final 20 minutes of the game.

They are outscoring opponents by a 2-1 margin (42-21) in the third period and have a whopping plus-21 goal differential when it comes to winning time.

But the lack of urgency out of the gate game after game of late sure looks like complacency and certainly looks like a team that knows they are far out ahead in the standings.

“Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are, is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.

"But, lack of urgency from period to period, absolutely. We’re going to continue to address it, but to get to your level 82 times a night for 60 games, if you feel you’re better than – you’re going to be in that second season, it is a challenge for a coach, and it’s a challenge for the players, but we’ll need [the urgency]."

The danger, of course, is that the Bruins turn into this season's version of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they race off to such a commanding lead that they never truly face character-building adversity in the regular season. The B’s have enough experience and talent to overcome that once they are in a playoff series, which would make them demonstrably different than a Lightning team that folded like a cheap chair in four games against Columbus last spring.

But there is still very much a danger now that the Bruins can float through the rest of this regular season where they only need to win half (27) of their remaining 53 games to still get to 100 points based on their bounding start. Essentially the Bruins could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still breeze right into the playoffs, and win the division as well.

It's difficult to stay sharp under those circumstances and it will be equally difficult to match the intensity in the postseason facing a team that will have been scratching and clawing in order to get there. Torey Krug maintained he didn’t know what kind of lead the Bruins had in the Atlantic Division standings, and that’s probably the best thing for the Bruins to do right now.

“I would say normally yes, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in that position right now,” said Krug, when asked if the Bruins need to guard against complacency. “I don’t why that is. It’s so early in the season and we’re chasing perfection, and there’s a high standard here. So maybe that’s where it comes from,  but it doesn’t feel like we’re that far ahead [of everybody else].

“We’re missing a lot of guys too, so you always feel like going into these games that you need to bring your ‘A’ game because of who we’re missing. As a veteran guy, you feel like you need to take more onto your shoulders. I’m not even sure if guys know [their lead in the Atlantic] and it’s probably a good idea to just stay in the moment.”

Clearly, Krug walks it the way he talks as it was the puck-moving D-man that notched the tying goal Thursday in the final minutes to cap off the three-goal comeback in the third period.

The one silver lining that could stoke the B’s hunger and keep them at least partially invested in the game-to-game gauntlet the next five months: The top seed in the Eastern Conference is still wide open in competition with the Capitals.

Home-ice advantage all through the playoffs is certainly something to play for and could be a difference in a conference final showdown with Washington, and that should be a carrot directly in front of the Bruins that the coaching staff can sell them on.

But at no point does it seem as if the Bruins are going to have to fight for their lives for the rest of the season and they are already close to finishing the season series with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, rivals that are chasing them in the standings.

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David Pastrnak set to take part in cool Shooting Stars competition

David Pastrnak set to take part in cool Shooting Stars competition

David Pastrnak will be the sole Bruins player representing the Black and Gold at NHL All-Star Weekend commencing in St. Louis tonight, so he’ll be the guy the Bruins fans will be watching when it airs on NBCSN tonight starting at 8 p.m.

Even cooler, the 23-year-old Pastrnak will be taking part in an exciting new part of Friday night’s Skills Competition with the inaugural “Shooting Stars” event.

While it was perhaps a little bit of a surprise that Pastrnak won’t be defending his title in the Honda NHL Shooting Accuracy competition that he won at last year’s NHL All-Star Weekend, it’s no surprise at all that the league chose his star power and natural charisma to help usher in this newly invented shooting competition.

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Pastrnak is leading the NHL with 37 goals at the All-Star break and is on pace for 60 goals and 113 points this season in a half-year that’s already garnering Hart Trophy talk for the B’s right wing.

The Shooting Stars will involve players standing approximately 30 feet high on a platform and shooting at targets on the ice just as Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin did in a recent video starring the two faces of the Penguins.

Along with Pastrnak, here are the rest of the “Shooting Stars” competitors, also including a pair of female players from the U.S. and Canadian select teams that will be selected by social media vote:

Participants:

  • Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
  • Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
  • Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
  • Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators
  • Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
  • David Perron, St. Louis Blues
  • Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a rundown on the Shooting Stars competition, courtesy of the NHL: Ten players — eight NHL All-Stars, and one American Elite Women’s All-Star team member and one Canadian Elite Women’s All-Star team member — will compete in the Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars™.

Players from the American and Canadian Elite Women’s All-Star teams will be selected by social media vote. Players will be positioned on an elevated platform behind the goal, approximately 30 feet above the ice surface, where they will shoot pucks at a variety of targets located on the ice, with each target possessing different point values. One at a time, each player will attempt seven shots and earn points for each target hit.

• Pucks that do not hit a target will earn no points.

• Pucks that bounce, deflect, or otherwise ricochet onto or into a target will be counted for the highest scoring value they hit.

• A puck that hits the face of a target then falls into the center will be scored as if it went directly into the center.

• A puck that hits the center and bounces out will be scored the point value of the center.

• A puck that bounces off the ice then up onto or into a target will be awarded the corresponding value.

• A puck that hits the base of the target will not be awarded any points.

• Players may hit the same target multiple times.

All scoring denominations will be decided by the on-ice officials. If at the completion of the event there is a tie for the highest score, players will shoot three pucks each to determine a winner. If the players remain tied after the three pucks, a sudden death “score-off” will occur.

NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

The Bruins sit at the break in the NHL regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division and are a virtual lock for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There is plenty for the Black and Gold to be proud of as David Pastrnak leads in the NHL in goal-scoring and the Perfection Line, power play and goaltending have been undeniable strengths for the team all season.

But there are also some needs on this team with the trade deadline roughly a month away, and the Bruins are expected to be active over the next month looking to improve a team that ultimately fell short in last season’s playoffs and will need some new blood on a roster that’s played a lot of hockey over the last 18 months.

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The biggest need for the Bruins remains a top-6 right wing capable of scoring goals, finishing off plays and being enough of an offensive weapon that the Bruins don’t become a one-dimensional offense in the playoffs too reliant on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak when the going gets tough.

There won’t be any shortage of candidates for the Bruins at the deadline and really, truly it will come down to A) their desperation level to fortify their offensive attack B) the development of their young players over the next month and C) how much they are willing to give up in assets — either in a big way like with Rick Nash a couple of years ago or smaller, more reasonable moves like Drew Stafford or Marcus Johansson-level trades that actually ended up working out pretty well in the short term.

There are no shortage of trade options expected to be available at the trade deadline, so let’s go through a few of the skilled top-6 forwards that will be available (All salary information via Cap Friendly):

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
2019-20 stats: 
48 GP, 17 G, 15 A, 117 SOG
Contract: $4.625 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20, modified no-trade clause

The price may have just gone up even more with Chris Kreider getting selected as an All-Star this weekend, and it’s well-deserved given his ability to parlay skating speed and a 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame into an average of 25 goals and 50 points each season. He’s fast, he’s big and he will play on the nasty side from time to time, bringing a lot of different elements that the Bruins could use in their top-6 right now.

Kreider is Boston’s top choice at the trade deadline and will be a player that the Bruins could potentially pay a high price for as they did with Rick Nash a few years ago. Given his background as a Massachusetts native and a college hockey player, one would also expect they’d be planning to keep Kreider beyond this season if they traded for him.

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
2019-20 stats: 
49 GP, 12 G, 15 A, 126 SOG
Contract: $4.6 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20

The 27-year-old Toffoli is a natural right wing, has a Stanley Cup title on his résumé and is on pace for 20 goals and 45 points this season for a Kings team that doesn’t have much in the way of offense at all. Toffoli has surpassed 30 goals and 50 points once in his career, but is more along the lines of a player capable of the numbers he’s putting up this season.

It certainly looks like the 6-foot, 200-pounder has lost some of his game as the Kings have edged away from competitor status, and perhaps a return to a legit Cup hopeful like the Bruins would return some of the bounce to his game. He won’t cost nearly as much as Kreider, and remains a secondary option for the Bruins should they miss out on their top targets. That being said, there will be shortage of suitors for a player like Toffoli as well.

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 stats: 
44 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $4.65 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21, modified no-trade clause

The 28-year-old winger has really blossomed with New Jersey and has been good for at least 20 goals and 50 points in each season with the Devils while providing a deadly option on the power play. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder would bring a shooter and finishing presence to Boston’s second power play unit and is exactly the kind of player who could finish off a lot of the David Krejci set-ups that aren’t currently turning into goals.

Palmieri would undoubtedly cost the Bruins a first-round pick and a significant prospect given that he’s signed through next season and isn’t a straight “rental” player. But once again Palmieri would be a player who would likely fit into Boston’s long-term plan.

On the downside, Palmieri isn’t the ideal solution at just 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and is more of the same of what they already have, and wouldn’t necessarily give the Bruins somebody to battle with the big defensemen corps that have successfully bottled them up in the playoffs.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Montreal Canadiens
2019-20 stats: 
25 GP, 7 G, 10 A, 57 SOG
Contract: $700,000 salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Bruins passed on Kovalchuk when they could have signed him to a two-way, $700,000 contract, but instead traded away perfectly good assets to Montreal for his services at the trade deadline?

It would be the second time Don Sweeney would do something like that after he similarly passed on Lee Stempniak as a tryout option in training camp and then traded draft picks to Carolina in exchange for him at the trade deadline five years ago. The 36-year-old has four goals and eight points in eight games since going to Montreal and now has seven goals and 17 points in 25 games this season.

It wouldn’t be a big cost for the Bruins to acquire him, and he’s another goal-scoring talent who could be dynamic with David Krejci, and a potent finisher who could make Boston’s second PP unit a lot more dangerous.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
2019-20 stats: 
46 GP, 19 G, 12 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $3.1 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

The Bruins could go a different route and trade for a third-line center that would allow them to push Charlie Coyle over to the wing for the rest of this season, and for a playoff run. Coyle would certainly bring the size, strength and offensive ability that the Bruins need for a top-6 wing, and J.G. Pageau is the kind of scrappy two-way center who would bring speed, tenacity and some underrated offense to the table along with penalty killing and face-off ability.

The 27-year-old is on pace for 33 goals and 54 points this season and already has three shorthanded goals in 46 games this season. Considering he’s already matched his season-high in goals and is just 12 points away from his career-high in that category too, it might be the right season to buy in on JGP as a rental before he hits free agency.