Bruins

Karson Kuhlman looking like the front-runner for right wing spot on Bruins second line

Karson Kuhlman looking like the front-runner for right wing spot on Bruins second line

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins ended last season with rookie Karson Kuhlman manning the right wing on David Krejci’s line during the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

It appears that, barring a surprise performance in Bruins training camp or an injury, the Bruins will start the season the very same way a few weeks from now. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned David Backes and Brett Ritchie as other potential candidates, and didn’t rule out Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen from getting looks there either.

“We know we have Kuhlman that can play [on the second line] and I don’t think he’s going to drop off. He may flat line, I don’t know, but I don’t think he’s going to get worse,” said Cassidy. “To me he’s a bit of a person that’s going to keep working on his craft and get more comfortable. From there, we had Backes out there and we know that’s not a full time solution. [Brett] Ritchie is a wild card. We don’t know if he can play out there. He got some reps today in practice and we’ll probably look at it for a game or two.

“Those are the guys that come to mind. It could go to Heinen if he plays his off-side. They played together last year with DeBrusk and he could go there if we feel like he can help there. Bjork is a wild card. He’s played there. But we have him on the left side and we’re going to try him there. We know would start opening night with Kuhlman there and we’re going to be fine. But we’ll look at it and see if there’s a better fit right away. Ritchie is somebody we don’t know, so he could get in there and win that battle [for the spot]. It’s a bit of what’s the best fit and how it’s going to affect the rest of your lineup.”

But the 23-year-old Kuhlman clearly showed the Bruins coaching staff something last season even if the three goals and five points in 11 games last season didn’t exactly scream out top-6 winger. He had some good games certainly, and was excellent in Game 6 of the Cup Final vs. the Blues after he replaced Backes in the B’s lineup against the St. Louis Blues.

He brings speed, two-way play, maximum effort and hockey smarts to the table, and those are all things that will help the Bruins at points for as long as he’s there. But let’s be honest here. There’s a reason that Kuhlman went undrafted during his career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and he was solid, not spectacular, in the AHL with 12 goals and 30 points in 58 games during his first season of pro hockey last year.

He’s good enough to be okay at the NHL level playing with a high level, creative player like Krejci, and he showed chemistry with the playmaking Czech and Jake DeBrusk in his limited time last season. It certainly sounds like he’s got a fan in Krejci, and that matters when it comes to his linemates.

“He’s got maybe a better shot than we’d seen his first time through in training camp,” said Cassidy, alluding to some goals he scored in the regular season and playoffs. “Then you talk to Krejci and he’s been around a long time. He’s had a lot of wingers and he’ll give you some feedback as well. [He says] Kuhlman gets to the right spots and makes plays at the right times. So some of it is your own eyes and some of it is trusting the guys on the ice that are playing with him.”

All of that is well and good, but he still scored only 15 goals and 35 points in 69 combined games between the AHL and NHL last season. He’s also just 5-foot-11, 185-pounds with a modest skill level that’s not going to help Boston’s difficulties scoring during even strength play last season.

It wouldn’t surprise anybody is Kuhlman is just good enough to be a place-holder until the Bruins find a permanent play-finishing solution on Krejci’s line. Certainly he’s not going to be confused with guys like Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla that played on Krejci’s line during his best seasons with the Black and Gold.

So don’t be surprised if the Bruins are once again in search of a top-6 right wing sniper at the NHL trade deadline this season to eventually be an upgrade over Kuhlman. But for now, the Bruins will once again fix it on the fly for a few months after never finding a permanent solution this summer, and instead turning to the same, old in-house candidates that were never quite enough last season.

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

GOLD STAR: Matt Grzelcyk kicked off the scoring for the Bruins and finished with the first two-goal game of his NHL career in the win over the Devils. Grzelcyk had the two goals along with a plus-2 rating in 19:16 of ice time while showing exactly what he can do offensively with Torey Krug out of the lineup. The second score in the third period was a highlight-reel goal as he faked out PK Subban at the offensive blue line and then rocketed a shot under the crossbar past Mackenzie Blackwood to ice things for the Black and Gold. Grzelcyk finished with three shots on net, a hit and a blocked shot in the biggest offensive game of his career.

BLACK EYE: PK Subban looked bad against the B's. Subban finished with a minus-2, took a lazy tripping penalty in the third period that led to David Pastrnak’s insurance power-play goal and then got completely posterized by Grzelcyk on a third-period goal where he dangled right around the New Jersey D-man. Subban didn’t do much of anything at the offensive end either aside from one shot in the slot area that Tuukka Rask made a pretty routine save on. It all underscores just how much Subban’s skills have apparently eroded due to either age or injuries because he sure isn’t the same guy that he was in his younger years in Montreal.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins had a solid 2-1 lead after the first 40 minutes, but they had given up a goal late in the second period that ate away at their momentum a little bit. So, it was important for them to come out guns blazing in the third and that is exactly what they did while blowing the Devils out of the water. The Bruins scored three goals and took advantage of some sloppy mistakes from the Devils to pull away in a game that felt a lot closer than it ultimately ended up being on the scoreboard. Certainly, seeing the B’s pull away from teams in the third is a much more welcome sight than the third-period implosion we saw against Florida a week ago.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Krejci was excellent sliding in as the top center between Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, just as he was last season when Patrice Bergeron also missed time with an injury. Krejci got the secondary assist with a great backhanded pass on Grzelcyk’s first-period goal and then he set up Pastrnak for his first-period score as well. Krejci finished with a couple of assists, a plus-3 rating and 7-for-14 on face-offs in 15:49 of ice time. Krejci is again showing exactly what he could do if he was ever centered between a pair of elite offensive wingers instead of the carousel of right wings the Bruins have provided him the past couple seasons.

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 – the number of goals for Pastrnak this season after another two-goal outburst. That leads the NHL. There have only been seven games this season for the Bruins where he hasn’t scored a goal.  

QUOTE TO NOTE:  “I don’t think we made one mistake in the third [period]. We just played winning hockey in the third.” –David Pastrnak, to NESN on the B’s pulling away from the Devils in the final 20 minutes.

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Is it time to start getting worried about Bergeron's lower body injury?

Is it time to start getting worried about Bergeron's lower body injury?

Is it time to get nervous about Patrice Bergeron if you’re a Bruins fan?

Maybe so.

Bergeron, 35, took the ice at the Prudential Center in New Jersey for the Tuesday morning skate ahead of the game against the New Jersey Devils and he was declared a game-time decision. Bruce Cassidy said that Bergeron would take the warm-up and then decide his availability.

"He felt a lot better today, but I don’t want to confirm it just yet,” Bruce Cassidy said to reporters in New Jersey after the morning skate. Cassidy was then asked if they might be a little careful about playing Bergeron in back-to-back situations when he does come back. “It’ll be his call. He’s been around a long time. He knows his body better than we do, so we’ll talk about it. Obviously, I wouldn’t say it automatically that we would do it, but it’s something we’d have to consider so that he’s as healthy as possible going forward.

“We talked about that this summer. We talked about that with a few players because of the long playoff run last year. We may have to look into that.”

Instead, Bergeron missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury suffered last weekend and all are left to wonder if it’s for precautionary reasons against a bottom-feeder New Jersey team, or if it’s because the old groin problems have cropped up for him again. The mere fact that Bergeron missed the warm-up after the Bruins expected him to take it this morning, is a warning sign that the injury didn't respond as they were hoping it would. 

Certainly, a “load management” type plan with Bergeron would be smart as the B's hope to have him at his level best when it matters most down the stretch and into the playoffs, where last spring the groin issues dogged him in the  Stanley Cup Final.

The concern is that Bergeron could possibly again be dealing with the groin issue that over the summer needed a PRP (blood-platelet plasma) injection to get him healthy for training camp. If that is indeed the case, and it appeared to be when he tweaked his lower body while getting hauled down on an offensive zone face-off on a second-period power play in Toronto, then this might be something the Bruins and Bergeron will have to manage going forward.

That seemingly is the only thing that could slow down the Bruins, who sit atop the Atlantic Division at 13-3-5, and a Perfection Line that’s been routinely dominating opponents the first month-plus of the season.

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