Bruins

NHL getting in their own way punishing Zack Kassian for Matthew Tkachuk beatdown

NHL getting in their own way punishing Zack Kassian for Matthew Tkachuk beatdown

Matthew Tkachuk has only been in the NHL for four seasons, but the reputation is already settling in for what kind of player he’s going to be.

Surely he’s a good one, as evidenced by the 34 goals and 77 points he scored for the Calgary Flames last season. And he’s also an effective agitator that’s already developed a heated, hated rivalry with LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.

But the 22-year-old Tkachuk is also developing a reputation as a player that won’t ever make himself accountable for what he does on the ice. Say what you want about guys like Tom Wilson and Brad Marchand that constantly flirt with going over the line, but they will also drop the gloves when the situation calls for it.

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Tkachuk made a new enemy on Saturday night in the Battle of Alberta as he drilled Edmonton Oilers tough guy Zack Kassian multiple times, including a pair of borderline hits that knocked off Kassian’s helmet upon impact.

People can say the hits were clean because he didn’t lift his elbow or launch off his skates. But Tkachuk was also clearly looking to get head contact with a vulnerable player that was turned away from him.

Kassian finally had enough after the final time when no penalties were being called and rag-dolled Tkachuk in epic fashion while drilling him with a few punches when he wouldn’t drop the gloves and settle it in old school fashion.

Kassian then let Tkachuk have it after the game as well.

“If you’re going to hit like that you have to answer the bell once in a while. Especially 1, 2, 3…he followed me into the corner in the third and was clearly targeting me. All in all, he’s just a young punk that has to figure out that aspect of the game,” said a pretty frank Kassian to reporters following the game. “It’s sad because he’s a pretty good player, but he’s a [expletive] to be honest. Straight-up. That’s the definition of it. He wouldn’t fight me two years ago because I was a fourth liner, and now I have 14 goals. What’s the excuse now?”

As far as most were concerned, the matter was settled on the ice as it has been in the NHL for decades. Tkachuk ran around without the refs stopping him, and then Kassian sent a message for it to stop in a sequence that ultimately set up the Flames to win the game when the Oilers power forward lost his cool.

Nobody got hurt and the Battle of Alberta had some real heat between the Flames and Oilers for the first time in a long time.

Not so bad, right?

Well, now the NHL Department of Player Safety has forced their way into the situation just like NHL linesmen are forcing their way into on-ice disagreements that used to organically escalate into combatants dropping the gloves. The Player Safety Department announced they will hold a phone hearing for the Oilers forwards “Roughing/Aggressor” role in the fracas.

Since when is the aggressor the guy that got wallpapered into the boards from behind?

Kassian is probably looking at a suspension similar to the two-game sentence tossed at Milan Lucic when he jumped Blue Jackets forward Kole Sherwood, and Tkachuk isn’t facing any discipline after rattling Kassian’s cage throughout the game.

Maybe the NHL will handle it the proper way and simply slap Kassian with a fine rather than a more draconian suspension for doing what many NHL players want to do to Tkachuk. 

It's another example of the NHL protecting a rat-type player that doesn’t want to answer for their predatory actions on the ice and instead going after somebody that was defending themselves in the way they know best.

One player is pretty clearly trying to knock the other one’s head off while lining him up for hits that he doesn’t see coming. The other one is simply trying to curtail the action albeit by throwing the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Tkachuk around like he’s a child that snuck his way into a men’s league hockey game.  

There are times when the NHL is stepping in and Disney-ifying a league that was built on hard hits, rivalries and hatred on the ice, and going far away from part of what drew many fans to the game in the first place. This is one of them.

There were no concussion and no injuries. There was no collateral damage. This was about two players that settled things the old-fashioned way on the ice and a league that needs to get out of the way in the rare instances when it’s still handled the right way between players these days.

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

David Backes was waived by the Boston Bruins late last week. The statement move to demote the veteran Bruin was part of two critical changes that the B's made to their team. The other was waiving fellow enforcer and physical forward Brett Ritchie.

After Backes' demotion, there was some speculation that the 14-year veteran may opt to retire instead of playing in the AHL for the Providence Bruins. But according to Bruins president Cam Neely, Backes hasn't indicated that he will do that.

"I don’t think he has a mindset of retirement," said Neely per Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe. "He’s a very proud man, and a professional. I still have the feeling he thinks he can help, so we’ll see where it goes from here."

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This isn't altogether surprising. Backes may be holding out hope that he'll get another chance to play moving forward if he can prove himself in the AHL. 

Backes turns 36 in May, but hockey players often have long careers. So, it's possible that Backes could find a role as a veteran depth piece for another team. It'll just be on a deal much cheaper than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bruins back in the 2016 offseason.

That said, it's worth noting that Backes has had concussion issues in recent seasons. So that could impact his decision-making moving forward.

In 16 games this season, Backes had just one goal and two assists for the Bruins. He'll take some time off before joining the Providence Bruins later this month.