Bruins

Hagg Bag mailbag: Airing of grievances a month into the season

Hagg Bag mailbag: Airing of grievances a month into the season

A light week for the Hagg Bag mailbag this week with the Bruins playing three games and readying for another one on Sunday against the Flyers that’s all of a sudden taken on greater importance. Coming off the half-hearted, terrible loss to the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday night, perhaps Bruins are too aggravated for words or suggestions.

But the truth is that the loss to the Red Wings, for now, is the outlier in what’s otherwise been an overwhelmingly impressive season, and it could just be a one-game hiccup after a pair of high intensity back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Montreal. Or the last few games could be a sign that the Bruins are starting to get a little looser with their play and bad habits are beginning to creep into their overall game.

It remains to be seen what exactly is going on with the Black and Gold. As always these are real questions from real fans using the #HaggBag hash tag, real messages to NBCS Facebook fan page and real emails to my jhaggerty@nbcuni.com email address.

Now on to the bag:

Joe,

What do you think the Bruins are going to do about the logjam on D that they have? Obviously it’s good to have more bodies than you need for the playoffs. But once Miller and Moore are healthy they’ll have 9 guys capable of playing NHL minutes plus the guys in Providence they think are close to ready (Lauzon, Vaakanainen). They have to trade at least one of these guys, right? But will they be able to with both Moore and Miller have had somewhat pedestrian seasons, large-ish contracts, and now having injury concerns attached to them? What do you think they’re going to do?

Best,

--Will

JH: I actually don’t think they need to trade anybody unless it’s for cap reasons. They’ll certainly risk losing Steve Kampfer on waivers by sending him to Providence if they need the roster spot at the NHL level, and I think perhaps Connor Clifton could benefit from some AHL time as well given his recent level of play. I’m not sure whether it’s because Clifton knows Miller is close to a return and that means somebody is going to be the odd man out, or if he’s just struggling with consistency as a player that hasn’t completely proven they are an NHL D-man over the course of a full season.

Clifton has just one point in 14 games this season – the beauty of a goal scored against the Canadiens – and has been a defensive liability over the last couple of games while being a minus player in two of his last three games. He hasn’t really created much offensively to offset some of the defensive issues and truth be told he’s not doing a lot to differentiate himself while in the lineup. A healthy Kevan Miller would be much more of a difference-maker for the Black and Gold than Clifton, so perhaps they will risk losing him via waivers.

The bottom line: I don’t think the imminent return of Miller is going to force the Bruins to do anything major, but cap-wise and roster-wise the return of John Moore later this month may be a little more difficult to navigate for the Black and Gold. All that being said, you can never have too many quality NHL defensemen in the organization. The chances of everybody staying healthy through this month aren’t very good, so it could also be that an injury to somebody else comes around the same time that one, or both, D-men are healthy and ready to play.

Have we already reached the "Tuukka is slumping- time for Halak to start 10 in a row" portion of the year? Seems a bit early for that - no??

--meathome472 (@meathome472)

JH: No. I’m not ready to hit the panic button after the notoriously slow-starting Rask had one of the best months of October in his entire NHL career. Rask is still third in the NHL in goals against average (1.99) and fifth in save percentage (.933) even after the debacle in Montreal. He sucked against the Habs and let up three soft goals. There’s no two ways about it. But the loss in Detroit was not his fault on a deflection in front along with two PP goals for the Wings and an empty netter at the end. Historically, November and December are very good months for Rask so I’m going to give him a little rope to see if he can maintain his high level of play while liberally using Jaroslav Halak as the backup over the next few months as well.

I am certainly not afraid to kick up a goaltender controversy if the circumstances dictate it and Rask’s play goes into the dumpster, but we are nowhere near that right now with the goaltending. It’s one bad game for the B’s goaltenders and that’s it. They are entitled to one of those every once in a while.  

If DeBrusk can go [against the Flyers] Cassidy should give Senyshyn a shot @ RW with Krejci. Everyone else on the roster has been given a chance. Senyshyn would add speed and size to Krejci's line. And playing with 2 superior offensive players may elevate Senyshyn's game. Can't hurt to try it.

--Mark Ierardi (@kram93291)

JH: If the Bruins continue to suffer injuries up front, I think you may see Senyshyn at least get a look with Krejci for a few shifts at some point during these games. But as good as he was against Montreal on Tuesday night, Senyshyn was unimpressive in his 7:58 of ice time against the Red Wings on Friday. He wasn’t strong on the puck, he wasn’t doing anything offensively and he wasn’t using his speed or size to any impact in the game. The third line with Senyshyn, Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork wasn’t anywhere near as good in their second go-round.

Maybe Bruins are just overrated? ONE TOP line, great D, good goaltending, bad media.

--Me (@gohabsgo999)

JH: Bad media? Bad media? At least the Bruins have one top line. The Habs don’t have top lines and they don’t have great D. Instead they caught the Bruins playing their third game in four days after emptying the tank the night before against Pittsburgh at home, and were also extremely lucky that Tuukka Rask had his worst game in about two seasons. Nothing to puff your chest up about, anonymous Habs fan account.

Josh Brolin is the voice for Thanos. How the hell do you get an Oscar for that???

--Mike Lamonica (@MookieMarshmont)

JH: I thought Josh Brolin had one of the best CGI performances of all time as Thanos in Infinity War and Endgame. He was more deserving in Infinity War if you were going to talk about him for any kind of Academy Awards, but let’s be honest here: The only actor with any shot of Oscar consideration in Endgame would be Robert Downey Jr. in his Iron Man swan song. He was phenomenal in that movie as he’s been right along for his entire decade of work as the face of the MCU.

Best CGI of all-time and another Oscar-worthy performance: Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as brought to life by Andy Serkis. That was award-worthy acting in an epic movie trilogy, but those kinds of movies almost always get snubbed by the awards voters. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, especially with Statler and Waldorf (Scorsese and Coppolla) now openly complaining about comic book movies. As if cranking out mob movies one after another is any kind of artistic accomplishment.

Joe,

Something I was always curious about. On a play like that with the [Torey Krug/Patrice Bergeron] deflection, if the official scorer isn’t sure if the guy deflected it do they get any input from the players themselves about who scored? The guys on the ice know who scored.

--Jason (@Jason45126115)

JH: Sometimes the referees will ask the guys on the ice who scored. Sometimes somebody from the team will notify the off-ice officials between periods and the NHL off-ice officials always review the video following the period to make sure they got the initial call right. That goes double for plays where it’s unclear on assists, or goals. Amazingly the goal in the Detroit loss was never changed from Torey Krug to Patrice Bergeron even though it seemed pretty clear on the video the puck changed direction after Krug’s point shot was redirected by Bergeron in front of the net. So even with all of the tools at their disposal, the right call still sometimes eludes the final score sheet.

What did we really expect from two refs from Quebec talking to a "situation room" in Toronto about a questionable call in Montreal against the Bruins?

--kraigernetes (@craig_tracey)

JH: That’s some X-Files level conspiracy theory stuff, Craig, and I’m here for it. The bottom line, in my mind, is that Charlie Coyle had control of the puck once it hit his skate and was between his legs entering the offensive zone. David Pastrnak said it best the other day:

“When you have the puck under your control, you can skate backward with the puck [entering the zone], right? You can be out of the zone and still not be offside. We’re NHL players, so when you have the puck on your skates it’s pretty much under your control. It’s a tough call,” said Pastrnak. “We are not referees...but this is the NHL. We are all skilled players here. Once you have the puck on your skate, it’s pretty much under your control and it doesn’t matter if the puck is behind the blue line first or not. I think it wasn’t offside, but it’s just a tough call and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

So it never should have been called off-side at any point during the review, and saying that when it takes three minutes to pore over instant replays it’s probably time to let the play stand as it was called on the ice. Take it from the guy that’s on pace to score 30,000 goals this season for the Bruins.

MORE HAGGS: Bruins suffer their worst defeat of season vs. Red Wings>>>

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What career would Bruins have chosen if they weren't hockey players?

What career would Bruins have chosen if they weren't hockey players?

If members of the Boston Bruins didn't make it as professional hockey players, then what would they have done instead?

Well, the players themselves gave some insight into that alternate realm, and Zdeno Chara's back-up career path, in particular, is awesome.

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Defenseman John Moore could see Chara as a politician because of "how cerebral and professional he is," according to The Athletic's Joe McDonald. On the other hand, the captain does have his real estate license, so Brandon Carlo believes he would be a real estate agent.

It's pretty hard to believe that no one pictured Chara as a basketball player. The nearly seven-foot tall big man could've been just what the Boston Celtics needed -- we're kidding of course.

Brad Marchand and Kevan Miller's alternate reality couldn't be any more opposite than Chara's. Both Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly noted that the pair would either have a hunting show or become hunters in general.

And as for Tuukka Rask? Well, Joakim Nordstrom believes the B's netminder would become a musician of some sort. After all, he did receive an awesome Metallica drum set in honor of his 500th NHL game.

Although they could've done any number of things, we're pretty glad they decided to sport black and gold sweaters.

Bruins at the Break: Charlie McAvoy hoping to rebound from disappointing first half

Bruins at the Break: Charlie McAvoy hoping to rebound from disappointing first half

The “Bruins at the Break” is a five-part series this week with the B’s on a bye, and will examine the first half of the regular season and how it could potentially impact the remaining 31 games in the second half of the year. Today we look at the biggest disappointment prior to the All-Star break.

The list of disappointments isn’t very long for the Boston Bruins through the first 51 games of the regular season.

They built up 70 points and hold a seven-point lead in the division, and many of their key players including David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo are enjoying excellent seasons.

However, it hasn’t been all that great over the last six weeks, as the Bruins have battled a bit with their focus after getting out to a double-digit points lead in the first half of the year, but on balance things have been good for the B’s.

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There have been some individual disappointments, however, and the play of young defenseman Charlie McAvoy has been the biggest one to date.

Fresh off a strong postseason run to the Stanley Cup Final and signing a three-year bridge contract that many thought was going to be for many more years and much more money, expectations were sky-high for the 22-year-old defenseman entering his third full season.

After all, the third year at the NHL level is usually when young No. 1 defensemen really come into their own and really begin to dominate at both ends of the ice. Drew Doughty finished in the Top 10 in Norris Trophy voting and got All-League consideration in his third season, P.K. Subban won a Norris Trophy in his third NHL season and Erik Karlsson scored 78 points and won his first Norris Trophy in his third NHL season as well.

Some other high-end D-men like Victor Hedman took longer to develop, of course, but the 6-foot-6 Hedman also entered the league at 18 years old with an incredibly raw offensive game in a shutdown defenseman’s body.

McAvoy this season has done some good things, so it’s far from an out-and-out disaster. He leads the Bruins with 23:14 of ice time per game in his 48 games played this season, and he’s remained relatively healthy after being plagued with injuries in his first couple of seasons.

McAvoy is blocking shots and playing the physical game most nights, and he’s taken some big, big hits from opponents including getting lined up by T.J. Oshie in a message-sending game by the Capitals right before Christmas. There are some nights he’s been excellent and simply playing instinctively up to his skill level rather than showing the tentativeness that hurts his overall game.

"With Charlie, it’s just, he’s got to stay in the moment, that’s when he plays his best hockey. We’re not in there feeding him,” said Burce Cassidy. “It’s not information overload for that particular type of player. It’s protect the middle of the ice, be assertive with the puck when you see ice and make good decisions when to go.”

But the 22-year-old has seemingly regressed a bit offensively without a single goal in the first half of the season prior to the All-Star break, and is on pace for a very disappointing 28 points for the entire season.

To put it in perspective, Par Lindholm, David Backes, Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton all have more goals than the offensively gifted McAvoy this year. That is not how anybody envisioned things going for a player in McAvoy who many tapped as a potential Norris Trophy candidate this season. Watching players like John Carlson and Roman Josi perform this season makes one realize just how far McAvoy is from reaching that level of play anytime soon.

There have also been some games like the one in Pittsburgh right before the All-Star break when he coughed up a puck to Evgeni Malkin behind the Boston net in the third period, and that directly led to the B’s losing the game. That particular defeat led to Bruce Cassidy sharply criticizing his defensemen overall with the specific message clearly intended for McAvoy.

“We saw some poor defending, poor goaltending I think in Philly. [Against Pittsburgh] I thought it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie, they were good goals. But we get beat off the wall on the first one. The last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you. It’s a rimmed puck [the] goalie needs to get out and stop. The D need to communicate.

“You need to make a play. You can’t turn the puck over there. There’s too much of that going on. Guys that have offensive ability have to start playing to their strength a little more on our back end, or we have to seriously consider what type of D corps do we want? We are supposed to be mobile, we are supposed to be able to move the puck, break pucks out and add to our offense. Right now that is a challenge for us.”

Given that it was an important game lost on McAvoy’s stick, it sure felt like that message was being sent to the youngster more than anybody else.

There are anticipated growing pains to be sure for a 22-year-old defenseman expected to spur offense and play in a shutdown role against the other team’s best players on a nightly basis, and it sure feels like we’re seeing them with McAvoy this season.

“For me, it’s just playing hockey. Every night I’m lucky and I’m happy I get to take a lot of pride in the defensive side of the game lining up against guys who are world class players. I really take pride in just shutting them down. [Chara] takes a lot of pride in that and he sets the precedent in how we approach those things,” said McAvoy. “Then it’s easy for me to follow his lead. Whatever the game presents is what I try and get [offensively]. I feel like I’m building my game right now. I’m trying to build it from the defensive zone out.

“Things just happen and you’ve just got to play and have fun. At times if I’m going through streaks where I’m not having much opportunity or chances, that’s when I look at it and say where I can start joining in more. But I feel like I’m getting these chances. Some of it is just shooting more, and some of it maybe is just bounces. It’s been kind of new to me where it’s a streak like this. I know that if I build my game from the defense out and that I’m a defenseman first and foremost. If I can do the best I can every night to keep the puck out of our net, hopefully when we get to the other side of the net I can start helping put it in theirs.”

Given the aging nature of Boston’s core group of players and the massive role that McAvoy is expected to play for this team moving forward, it’s no understatement to say they need much more out of their 22-year-old D-man if they are going to do anything this season. They need to him to be more creative, more assertive and more effective when the puck is on his stick and they need McAvoy to be a factor that opponents have to account for on a nightly basis.

While things like Norris Trophies and All-Star recognition are obviously already off the board for him this season, the good news is that McAvoy and the Bruins have 31 games left to find the youngster’s mojo before it really begins to matter once the playoffs get started.