Bruins

Patrice Bergeron serves one of his annual reminders of his greatness

Patrice Bergeron serves one of his annual reminders of his greatness

BOSTON – Every once in a while Patrice Bergeron decides to remind everyone why he’s one of the best hockey players in the world.

The 33-year-old Bergeron did that again in Monday afternoon’s 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators in the B’s home opener at TD Garden with the fourth hat trick of his 15-year NHL career. That he did it in just his third game back after missing the entire preseason with back spasms only adds to Bergeron’s degree of difficulty and serves as a reminder that we’re watching something pretty special every time the Black and Gold take the ice.

Sure, Bergeron isn’t an 18-year-old kid anymore and missing nearly all of training camp was at least in part to avoid some of the nagging injuries that have caused him to miss time early in each of the previous two seasons. But even at 33 years old Bergeron is the best player on the Bruins roster and is still the best two-way center in the NHL capable of shutting down the other team’s best players, dominating in the face-off circle and occasionally dropping the old three-goal barrage against an unsuspecting team like the Senators.

“I’m impressed with everything Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] does to be honest with you. He plays at both ends. We use him in every situation, so good for him to get us going on time tonight,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy on Bergeron. “Usually we rely on him to give us a good start, may take away from, if we’re looking at certain matchups. But we like to start them simply because they generally get the puck and get going on the other end, put them on their heels.”

Bergeron showed a little bit of everything in the four-point game against Ottawa. On the first shift of the game Bergeron and Co. kept Ottawa hemmed into their zone, and then Bergeron pounced on a loose puck at the goal line after David Pastrnak took it hard to the net. Later in the period, Bergeron showed his deadly shooting skill by sniping a top corner bid from the right face-off circle after Brad Marchand had deftly slid a drop pass back to him.

Then in the third period, Bergeron made perhaps the most elite play of the day when he snapped a backhanded saucer pass across the ice to Pastrnak crashing the far post, and Pastrnak was able to sweep the landing back into the back of the net. It was super high-skill at both ends of the play and clearly illustrated why the Perfection Line continues to be the best forward trio going in the entire National Hockey League.

“It’s phenomenal. You see why guys are so connected with him and why he’s such a great player in this league. He’s not out there just cherry-picking and finding the easy ones. He works for every inch that he gets and he’s doing all the ugly stuff, along with scoring the goals,” said David Backes. “You can’t be happier for a guy that is able to play a 200-ft game. He’s responsible defensively, he goes out for all the hard shifts in the D-zone, the penalty kill, and then gets his reward on the power play.

“The hat-trick is great, but that backhand pass saucer, that lands on Pasta’s stick on the backdoor, I don’t get it. We might have to have a talk tonight and he can explain that to me. Maybe I’ll implement it next game.”

As Backes referenced, it wasn’t just the offense production telling the whole story for Bergeron either. Bergeron and Co. shut down the Ottawa players they were matched up with, Bergeron won 14-of-24 faceoffs over the course of the game and it was No. 37 that set the tone by scoring on the game’s very first shift. After a weekend off and an afternoon matinee on a Monday, the Bruins could have very well snoozed through the opening moments of the home opener against a pitiful Ottawa group.

Instead, Bergeron showed leadership by injecting his energy into the game and setting a lead for the rest of the Bruins to follow. That’s something that truly great players do when they’re at the top of their games, and Bergeron is still there even as he approaches the notable 1,000 NHL games played mark in the middle of the season.

The one thing that you won’t get from Bergeron, though: Don’t bother trying to get him to do any talking about himself and his accomplishments.

“Yeah [the hat trick] is [nice]. It’s one of those things that is kind of not necessarily always part of my game or something you see often,” said Bergeron. “They’re definitely nice to have, but like I said, one was a lucky bounce and great plays on the first two by Pasta [David Pastrnak] and Marchy [Brad Marchand].”

It’s pure, unselfish Bergeron to credit lucky bounces and his teammates for him scoring three goals and providing the Bruins with their first iconic moment of the 2018-19 season. But those watching him for the last 15 years know that they’ve been watching something special in No. 37, and no amount of modesty is going to tone that down.   

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Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

There are few secrets about the Bruins or the strengths and weaknesses that face them heading into the stretch run and Stanley Cup Playoffs that follow.

The Bruins rely on the NHL’s best line — the Perfection Line — superior special teams play, and the NHL’s top goaltending duo along with a strong defensemen group for their winning formula, and it’s proven plenty good enough during the regular season in recent years. The B’s currently sit at an NHL-best 86 points on the season and have a six-point lead on everybody else in the NHL aside from their hard-charging divisional rivals in Tampa Bay.

The Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games after a ragged stretch of play in December/January and have been rolling since the NHL All-Star break while understandably feeling good about their game right now.

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“We’re taking a lot more value in [the defensive] part of the game, and some of it is getting the balance in the lines so that they’re fresh, getting everyone involved,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think most of our minutes now you’ll see, our forwards are typically at the least amount is 10 minutes sometimes for the lower guys if they’re not killing too many penalties, so I think that helps everyone stay in the game as well.”

When the Bruins are going well as they are right now, they are getting balanced play from their roster. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and it’s something that gets exposed when they play high-quality competition.

The weaknesses on the Bruins roster are equally clear and easy to diagnose because it’s been the same old thing for the last handful of years.

The Bruins have tried multiple times to acquire top-6 wingers who can produce offense, whether it’s been band-aid deadline solutions like Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford, or a stab at an attempted long-term fix when they traded for Rangers power forward Rick Nash. They couldn’t predict the abrupt, concussion-influenced retirement from the NHL for Nash following a few months in Black and Gold, and so a top-6 winger continues to be Don Sweeney’s "white whale" on the Bruins roster.

Once the playoffs begin and the Bruins face deeper, bigger and stronger defensive groups, the prolific Perfection Line routinely goes through stretches where they are held in check by opponents. It’s a prominent factor when the Bruins lost to the Lightning in the second round two years ago, and one of the prime reasons the B’s fell in seven games to the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final.

When it happens, the Bruins become almost completely reliant on their power play to provide offensive punch while the other forward lines haven’t been able to effectively fill the scoring void.

The only way that’s going to change is for the Bruins to bring in a top-6 forward who can play the role of game-breaker and finish off the offensive chances set up by linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins need another forward line that can put a scare in opponents offensively and they simply don’t have it consistently right now, just as they haven’t had it in the last handful of seasons.  

With names like Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman and Jason Zucker now off the trade deadline board, the Bruins are down to some of their top big-name trade choices in Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri and Josh Anderson.

Kreider would be the optimal choice because of his skating speed, consistency and the size and occasional mean streak that the Bruins could surely use among their top-6 group. But there are options out there provided Sweeney doesn’t get hung up waiting for Kreider to be made available to teams.

The other need for the Bruins at this point?

With Kevan Miller out for the entire season to this point with a fractured kneecap that sidelined him for last spring’s entire Stanley Cup Final run as well, the Bruins are a little light on the back end. The B’s could use a big, strong, hardnosed and physical defenseman capable of holding other teams accountable and doling out physical punishment in the D-zone.

The Bruins may have found an in-house solution in 22-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who most recently served a two-game suspension for drilling Derek Stepan with a big, high hit against the side boards in a home win over the Coyotes. But that particular roster need is the reason they were linked to defenseman Brenden Dillon in trade rumors before he was eventually shipped from the San Jose Sharks to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a couple draft picks.

It’s also less than ideal to rely on a rookie like Lauzon as a rugged, grizzled enforcer on the back end when it comes to playoff time. That’s something else to consider when Don Sweeney goes shopping over the next five days ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, a date that’s quickly becoming anticlimactic given all the trades getting consummated well ahead of time.

Sweeney knows the team’s greatest needs, he’s on the clock and the pressure is on the Bruins general manager to adequately address them ahead of next Monday’s deadline.

NHL rumors: Could Chris Kreider reach extension with Rangers before trade deadline?

NHL rumors: Could Chris Kreider reach extension with Rangers before trade deadline?

All eyes will be on the New York Rangers as Monday's NHL trade deadline nears.

Rangers winger Chris Kreider is the top player rumored to be available, but there's no guarantee New York trades him. Kreider is in the prime of his career with a contract that expires at the end of this season. The Rangers have a couple options to consider. One is trading Kreider for a package of draft picks and players. Another is to keep him and risk losing a valuable player for nothing in July. A third is signing him to an extension.

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What are the chances of Kreider and the Rangers coming to terms on an extension? Here's what longtime Rangers reporter Larry Brooks of the New York Post wrote Sunday:

While contract talks are ongoing between management and the pending free-agent winger’s camp, it’s probably about 50-50 that Kreider and the Blueshirts will agree to a long-term contract over the next week in which the team plays Wednesday in Chicago, Friday in Carolina and Saturday at home against the Sharks, two days prior to the Feb. 24 deadline.

Later in Brooks' story, he writes, "It is believed that the Blueshirts would be willing to go six years, but perhaps not at as much as $7 million per."

TSN reported Tuesday the Bruins and Colorado Avalanche have emerged as frontrunners for a Kreider trade. He would be a huge addition for both teams.

The Bruins are in need of secondary scoring behind the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Kreider also is from Boxford, Mass., and played at Boston College for three seasons. The Avalanche are dealing with injuries to key players, including star forward Mikko Rantanen, who is expected to miss multiple weeks. Other teams including the defending champion St. Louis Blues reportedly have shown interest in Kreider.

There's more pressure on the Bruins to do something than the Avalanche. Several of Boston's top competitors in the Eastern Conference, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning, all of made trades over the last two weeks to bolster their depth for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Haggerty: Bruins are in a pretty good cap situation before deadline