Hagg Bag Mailbag: Digging through the Bruins' first week of the season

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Hagg Bag Mailbag: Digging through the Bruins' first week of the season

It’s another hockey season and that means another year’s worth of Hagg Bag mailbag to keep us both entertained for the year. With the season just a couple of games old, we don’t have a ton to go on about this season’s Black and Gold. But they are 2-0-0 with enough offense, strong goaltending and a pretty good all-around game that sees them able to beat opponents both good and bad.

With that in mind, it’s certainly far from an angry Bruins fan base to start the season off with the team on the West Coast and winning hockey games. Give them some time to air their grievances, but for now it’s a happy, shiny Hagg Bag mailbag.

As always these are real questions from real fans sent to my twitter handle using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails to my email account and messages sent to the NBCS Facebook fan page. Now, on to the bag:


Why can the Bruins not find a solution to filling the right wing position on Krejci’s line? I know it was going to be Rick Nash if he hadn’t retired, but that was two years ago. I like Kuhlman but he isn’t the solution. Would love to see Bjork or Heinen on the first line and drop Pasta to the 2nd line. The Perfection Line gets lots of reps on the PP, so why not move things around a bit?

--David Sheedy

JH: I think we will see that at points throughout the season, David. Obviously, the Rick Nash thing didn’t pan out the way they hoped due to the concussion issues, and they haven’t found a permanent solution since then. You could also make the argument that signing David Backes was a planned attempt to fill that spot as well, but Krejci and Backes have never really found that permanent chemistry to keep them together.

So the Bruins get Karson Kuhlman for now, who certainly looks like a bottom-6 winger with a little offensive upside to my eyes. I think the Bruins have decided they want Anders Bjork on the left side, so putting him up with the top line isn’t something they’re really keen on doing that. Ditto with Heinen, who is on the left side on the third line as well right now.

They may give Brett Ritchie a few looks on the top line, freeing Pastrnak up to man that second line with Krejci, but I don’t think we’re going to see it for an extended look until the Bruins bring in another legit top-6 right wing. Maybe that’s a kid in development or somebody they trade for leading up to the deadline à la Marcus Johansson, but I suspect we’ll see a whole lot of the Perfection Line until they find another truly capable top-6 right wing option. Kuhlman is going to have to prove it to me before I’m going to believe he’s the guy.

[The Bruins] look like a more physical team, but is there enough offense?

--howie (@depo99)

JH: It’s two games into the season, so it’s not really time to dig too deeply into anything. Now if they have to scratch and scrape for goals again Tuesday night in Vegas? Then it might be time to start asking some questions. They also haven’t played any of the big, bad teams in the NHL yet either, so let’s see how they fare against them.

#HaggBagg The Bruins seem to be very high on Heinen but I don't see it, what are your thoughts on him?

--Jimmy McDonough (@jimdunna)

JH: I don’t necessary think they are high on Danton Heinen as much as the Bruins want to see his development through to see what kind of player he becomes at the NHL level. Is he a finished product at 24 years old? I don’t think so, but he’s also a guy who's averaged 14 goals and 40 points over his first couple of NHL seasons. He’s got skill, he’s smart, he’s responsible as a two-way guy and he’s still relatively cheap with an upside. They will continue to see if they can find a way to unlock more from him as a player. If it’s not there, then they have a pretty good third-line player for the next couple of years and they will move on from him when the time comes, and his price tag outweighs what he’s bringing to the table. I can safely say this: If a young guy like Jakub Lauko clearly outplays Heinen, then the Bruins will find a way to get the better young player up to Boston, and they will find a way to move on from Heinen.


Just saw your NHL Power Rankings. The Canadiens missed the playoffs by just two points, they finished at 15 in your power rankings last year, they have the same young team that's matured a year, and you now have them at 27. Huh?

--Jim Kislinsky

JH: Those were the NHL Power Rankings right after the July 1 free agency period, big Jim. I was punishing Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens for that ridiculous offer sheet attempt with Sebastian Aho. In truth, the Habs look like a borderline playoff team to me this season and should be around 15-20 to start this season.

Are you concerned about A: Halak eventually taking Rask’s job and B: Fred’s poor bowel habits? #haggbagg

--charliework (@millburysshoe)

JH: Who is Fred? And the only bowel habits that I’m concerned about are my two kids. Everybody else’s poor bowel habits are between them and their respective bathrooms. I don’t think Jaroslav Halak will overtake Tuukka Rask for his job completely, but I think he will again push Rask for playing time and force him to be on-point during the regular season.

My question is this: Can we go back in a time-travel machine à la "Avengers: Endgame" and allow Halak to take Rask’s job for Game 7 against St. Louis a few months back? Is that possible? Too soon?

Change my mind: We should trade Vaakanainen, +2 other prospects (pick your poison Senyshyn, Zboril, Bjork, Frederic) for a legit 2nd line Winger. #haggbagg

--Roger Goodell (@rg_haterarde69)

JH: I don’t think we’re going to see Urho Vaakanainen traded because the Bruins know they’re going to need left-side help given that Zdeno Chara is 42 years old, and both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk are free agents following this season. Vaakanainen will likely be needed to step up for somebody rather quickly depending on the circumstances, and I also think the young D-man is just scratching the surface of what he can do as an NHL defenseman.

A more interesting scenario to keep in mind: The Bruins go through this season and decide that Charlie McAvoy, Grzelcyk and Vaakanainen are developing to the point where they consider trading Krug before losing him as a free agent. Could they bring in a top-6 winger if they package Krug along with a prospect or two going the other way? Possibly.

Good Afternoon Haggs

Read your roster 2.0 projection and have been watching the preseason games and I agree on most of your projections but I am going out on a bit of a limb and say Jeremy Lauzon stays (or should) over Kampfer. For a couple reasons:

1. I don't think he will get claimed on waivers and with recent signing of Petrovic to a two-way deal (provided he clears) you still have veteran depth if he does.

2. Big Zee could probably use a breather and not play a full 82. Lauzon gets worked in for 35-45 games between resting Z and injuries.

3. We have to see what these kids got and start integrating them into the team. Prospects tend to lose value after 3 or 4 years and are no longer prospects. Vaakanainen and Axel Andersson are still young, Jakub Zboril and Lauzon are running out of time.

4. I like Lauzon's grit and he is a left shot which is where we will need to build with Zee's age and Krug's contract situation. Right side is set for the next few years at least.

One thing the Red Wings were very good at in their heyday was implementing youth and not growing stale. [They were] never afraid to move on from a player before it was too late. I also like the way [Oskar] Steen has played. He is pushing, but I think Bjork and Kuhlman get first kick at the can.

Looking forward to the real season. 


DJ Lund

London Ontario

JH: Obviously the roster was set and it included Steve Kampfer and Karson Kuhlman while Jeremy Lauzon, Vaakanainen, Zboril and Bjork started out in Providence. I’m not sure I see Lauzon up with the big club in Boston unless injuries hit the Bruins in a big way, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Vaakanainen get the first call if a left shot guy is needed even after a “meh” training camp from him.

I just wanted to include DJ’s email because he put plenty of good thoughts in there, and they shouldn’t be lost just because the roster projections are now in hindsight.

The bottom line with Kampfer is that the Bruins want a veteran who can sit for long stretches, play either side and be effective in a pinch-hitting role when they need him. It’s a tough gig and Kampfer has proven that he’s capable of doing it. That’s value for a 7th defenseman.

#HaggBag thoughts on taking a chance on Ho Sang


JH: My thoughts are “hard pass.” If the Bruins were interested in him they would have made a claim on him when he was placed on waivers by the Islanders. He’s a skilled forward, but he’s also been a problem pretty much the entire time he’s been in their organization. I don’t think the Bruins really need that at this point even if he would be an interesting right wing candidate. There’s still question whether or not he’s even an NHL player based on the numbers he’s put up at the AHL level, and there’s definitely question as to whether he’s a top-6 guy at the NHL level.

Hey Joe,

Extended post season let down is a thing backed by stats. What can the Bruins do to avoid this and break this trend from happening to them?



JH: Hey Brian. They’re doing plenty to combat the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” as it were. They ratcheted things down in the preseason while playing six games instead of the customary eight exhibition games. They brought along many of their veteran regulars very slowly with guys like Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron not even getting into games until late in training camp. They’ve kept 42-year-old Zdeno Chara under 20 minutes of ice time in each of the first two regular season games played thus far. They will continue to do as much as they can to balance “load management” and make sure guys like Chara and Bergeron aren’t overworked prior to the postseason.

But the numbers are the numbers, and the Bruins know they are going to “hit a wall” at some point during the regular season, as I wrote about a few days ago. The hope is that the true organizational depth, the elite level of their core group and the NHL’s best goaltending duo in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak will keep them from digging themselves too much of a hole.

Will they have enough in the tank come playoff time? That’s the million dollar question and there’s really no way of knowing until they get there. But recent history over the last 10-15 years says that the Bruins don’t have much real hope of getting back to the Cup Final again this season if they’re being realistic. They can hope they are the outlier, but they are called outliers because they are the exception rather than the norm.

Five bold Bruins predictions for 2019-20 season>>>>>

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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.


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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