Bruins

Don't expect a fireworks show from this Bruins team around July 1

Don't expect a fireworks show from this Bruins team around July 1

The period around the NHL Draft and the July 1 opening of free agency is always a time for hockey fans to let their fantasies fly free.

It’s a time when a big-ticket free agent like Artemi Panarin seems like a possibility, or there’s a P.K. Subban-type available in a trade just right around the corner. It’s a time when hope always springs eternal for all 31 of the NHL fan bases, and sweeping, wholesale improvements still feel like a possibility.

Unfortunately, Bruins fans will need to face the reality that it doesn’t look like the Bruins have much of a realistic shot of making those big-time improvements to an NHL roster that came within one Game 7 of capturing the Stanley Cup earlier this month.

All one needs do is look at the TSN trade bait list, which annually is the “go to” for NHL players in the rumor mill leading up to the July 1 opening of NHL free agency. There isn’t a single Bruins player listed in the Top 40 of NHL players likely to be moved around the free agency period when trades come fast and furiously.

Torey Krug isn’t listed on there despite being in the last year of a reasonable contract with the Black and Gold, and David Krejci isn’t listed either despite reduced no-trade protection (he can soon be traded to half the teams in the NHL) in his contract come July 1. Certainly there’s no David Backes on the list as nobody is in the market for a 35-year-old power forward making $6 million who is coming off a seven-goal season, and being a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues.

The Bruins would like to make improvements to a team with an aging core group that showed their age at times during the postseason, but there’s going to be a pretty extreme limit to what they can do based on the salary cap. There’s also a delicate balance where it’s clear the B’s don’t want to do too much to mess with the mojo of a team that was good enough to play in 106 regular season and playoff games this past season.

Then again, it’s also a team that benefitted from the Lightning, Capitals and Penguins all losing in the first round of the playoffs, and that’s not likely to happen again next season or any other time soon during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We have everybody in the same room to talk about what’s the identity we’re trying to have as a hockey club, as an organization, and we’re going to stick to those. Now, there are some changes as the league continues to evolve. Does it work all the way from Game 1 of the regular season to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup? There’s a twisting along the road between those two points of time,” said Don Sweeney. “I think you have to have the balance. I think you have to have the depth in an organization and be able to match up in a bunch of different situations against a bunch of different teams to even give yourself a chance, so yes, we’ll have an identity.

“Bruce can speak to the tenets he wants his hockey players to play with, but you touched on a bunch of them. It’s hard to teach courage, it’s hard to teach speed, hockey sense piece is another area, so we’re trying to identify them, as every team is trying to identify those same things. We had a good team this year and it showed.”

The Bruins have roughly $12 million in salary cap space after signing Steven Kampfer to a two-year, $1.6 contract, and pretty much all of that is going to be used up to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen.

Bruins President Cam Neely was forthright with his comments post-Cup run that the Bruins could use another top-six forward, and truthfully have needed one for the last couple of seasons while 34-year-old David Backes hasn’t worked out as that guy.

“What do we need moving forward or next year? Yeah, well, obviously I know it’s been talked about at length about another top-six forward, so we’ll see where that ends up,” said Neely. “I think our bottom six was pretty strong this year, so if we can strengthen in the immediate future our top six, you know, that’s something we’d like to try and do. We’ve talked about that for a couple years now.”

So how do they do that if they have no cap space, won’t trade Krejci or Krug and don’t have any way to remove Backes from their salary cap?

That would be pretty much impossible. As it is right now, they don’t have the money to pay the $5 million plus per season that Marcus Johansson is going to get in free agency and they don’t have the kind of cap space it’s going to take to trade for Jason Zucker, Phil Kessel, Chris Kreider, Nikolaj Ehlers or James Neal that might be available in trade talks over the next couple of weeks.

All of that could change if somebody approaches the Bruins with an offer they can’t refuse for Krug or really gives them good value for Krejci, but then the Bruins would suddenly have a hole for a 50-point scorer on defense or a No. 2 center when there isn’t a ready-made replacement in the organization. When you look at it from that perspective, making those big, sweeping deals does seem a bit rash with a Bruins team that’s built steadily upward over the last three seasons.

It also feels like the Bruins are stuck right now due to salary cap constraints, no-trade provisions and a farm system that doesn’t have any suitable replacements at the center position. So don’t expect major fireworks when NHL free agency hits on July 1 because it looks like the Bruins will be bringing back a hockey club that looks very similar to the one that left the Garden ice dejected after Game 7 just a couple of weeks ago. 

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Bruins getting frustrated with shootout futility: 'Usually shootouts are 50/50, right now it feels like it's 20/80'

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Bruins getting frustrated with shootout futility: 'Usually shootouts are 50/50, right now it feels like it's 20/80'

BOSTON – Boston, we have a problem.

One of the big bugaboos for the Black and Gold this entire season has been the shootout, and their complete futility at what’s essentially a skills challenge to determine a winner and loser in NHL regular season game. It cropped up again in Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at TD Garden where the Bruins let a one-goal lead slip away in the final minute of the third period and watched as another team waited them out in overtime and the shootout for the two points.

For the second straight time, Charlie Coyle finally scored a goal for the Bruins during the shootout making him the only effective player in that arena this season. And Jaroslav Halak kept them in it with some acrobatic saves in the extra session.

But in the end, the B’s best available players didn’t come through in the shootout session and the Bruins dropped to 0-4 this season when it comes to the shootout.

“I think so,” admitted Pastrnak, when asked if the shootout problems have become a bit of a mental issue at this point. “We know it hasn’t been our strength and we haven’t been able to pull a win out of the shootouts. It sucks obviously. Usually shootouts are 50/50, but for us right now it feels like it’s about 20/80.”

Or 0/100 actually at this point.

Part of the issue for the Bruins is their inability to beat teams in overtime and the other part is a complete inability to even be competitive in the shootout.

“In our group, now, at some point, the conversation becomes ‘do you sell out in overtime because we struggle in shootouts, right?’ But, at the end of the day, I thought we’ve made strides in overtime,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We lost a lot of [overtime games] early, at least we’re getting our opportunities to win in overtime, so we’d like to be able to close one of those out. But that’s a bit of the, maybe, what’s happened in the shootout, right?

“When you get in all alone [at the net on breakaway chances], we’re more of a volume team, even though we have high-end skill, it would seem in the short sample size. It’s now growing into a larger sample size, so it’s something we’re looking at. But we’re not going to overanalyze. Every day, it’s been so much time in practice [so] we [can’t] forget about the rest of the game that I feel is more important for us down the road, but we do need to address it. We have, but maybe we need a little bit more time on that.”

Part of the problem is that Boston’s goaltending becomes less than elite in the shootout, and it’s a noted area of the NHL game that Rask has never particularly liked, or felt comfortable with, during his NHL career. Halak gave the Bruins a fighting chance with diving saves in Saturday night’s loss, so that wasn’t the issue at all.

Instead it’s a Bruins team that’s 2-for-16 overall in the four losses in the shootout this season, and Boston’s big offensive guns in Marchand (0-for-4) and Pastrnak (0-for-3) are a combined 0-for-7 this season. Pastrnak is now 3-for-20 over his career with a very middling 15 percent success rate in the shootout, but Marchand is a bit better with nine goals in 41 career attempts for a 21.9 percent success rate.

Strangely enough, Patrice Bergeron is one of the most accomplished shootout guys on the Bruins roster with 28 goals in 89 attempts for a 28.1 percent success rate, but he was never tapped in any of Boston’s first three shootouts before being unavailable due to injury on Saturday.

The Bruins tried something different by giving fourth line winger Chris Wagner shootout attempts in each of the last couple of games after showing some decent moves within his breakaway chances.

But Wagner is 0-for-2 as well and at this point doesn’t really merit any more looks ahead of more offensively accomplished players on the Bruins roster.

So what can the Bruins do at this point given the shootout futility where their best players aren’t getting it done?

Part of it involves sticking with guys like Pastrnak and Marchand that have the goods to eventually succeed in the shootout, and part of it might be practicing it a little more often than the Bruins do in their hectic practice schedule during the regular season.

The other part?

It’s probably time to use some younger guys like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that don’t have a book on them already around the NHL when it comes to shootout tendencies, and perhaps grooming one of them to be a shootout specialist with a varying degree of moves. They may never be the shootout weapon that TJ Oshie is with his career success rate of over 50 percent in the shootout, but they might actually pick up the extra point once in a while.

That is something the Bruins aren’t doing right now and it’s already cost them four very valuable points this season.

Haggerty's Talking Points: Cut Halak some slack in Bruins loss>>> 

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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

Talking points from Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals at TD Garden . . . 

GOLD STAR: The Bruins wouldn’t have even received a point in Saturday night’s game if it weren’t for the efforts of Jaroslav Halak. The B’s netminder stopped 42 shots and was brilliant from beginning to end against a Capitals team that outshot Boston nearly 2-to-1 through the course of the entire game. He stopped 17-of-18 in the first period when the Bruins didn’t have their legs under them, and would have stolen the game for Boston if Zdeno Chara could have cleared the zone ahead of T.J. Oshie’s game-tying in the final minute of the third period. He was just as good in the shootout, with diving stops that kept the Bruins in the extra session, and certainly deserved a better fate at the end of the day.

🏒 HIGHLIGHTS FROM BRUINS' 3-2 LOSS TO CAPITALS

BLACK EYE: It’s time for Bruce Cassidy to stop over-thinking the shootout. He tried to use Chris Wagner based on a pretty good breakaway move he’s showed at times, and the thinking there was that perhaps an outside-the-box choice work create a shootout spark for the Bruins. Well, it has not, and instead Charlie Coyle is the only player that’s had success in the shootout this season for the Bruins, who are now 0-for-4 in shootout games. They need to go with a much more straight-ahead shootout philosophy, where they just get their best offensive guys out there quickly. That means having Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as two of your top three guys to start, and perhaps featuring Coyle more now that he’s enjoyed some success. One thing is certain: They need to do something differently, because whatever they’re doing right now isn’t working.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were hanging on by a thread while protecting the one-goal lead in the third period, and were outshot by an 11-6 margin by Washington while they put a ton of pressure on the Boston defense. Jaroslav Halak was up to the challenge for most of the period and the Bruins had a couple of chances to extend the lead, including a David Krejci redirect that went through Braden Holtby’s pads and trickled past the net, but the undermanned Bruins simply ran out of gas when it came to holding their slim lead. With the Bruins missing their best defender in Patrice Bergeron due to injury, T.J. Oshie scored the game-tying goal with a little less than a minute left to play with Sean Kuraly out on the ice with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. That’s not the ideal shutdown forward crew for the Bruins and it came back to bite them in the end.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak was one of the few Bruins playing with some energy throughout the game, and he scored what looked like was going to be the winning goal a few minutes into the second period. Pastrnak had a monster shift where he kicked things off for David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy to connect for a scoring chance, but McAvoy missed the open net with a one-timer shot from the slot. Pastrnak alertly picked up the puck and fired a bad angle shot for his 17th goal of the season. He was a key piece of offense with the Bruins missing so much of their firepower between Bergeron, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk. Pastrnak finished with the goal, 10 shot attempts and a couple of takeaways in 22:58 of ice time for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-for-4 – The Bruins’ record in the shootout this season. They continue to lose vital points in the glorified skills challenge, with only Coyle seemingly enjoying any success.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “He was our best player by far. [It’s] disappointing that we couldn’t finish it because I thought our third period, we really bought into what we needed to compared to the Florida game, for example. We didn’t give up much at all [at the end of the game].” –Bruce Cassidy, on Halak and the improved third period for the Bruins, compared to their collapse against the Panthers a few days ago.

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