Bruins

Plenty of encouraging developments for Bruins in OT loss to Maple Leafs

Plenty of encouraging developments for Bruins in OT loss to Maple Leafs

TORONTO – The Bruins ended up on the losing side of Saturday night’s Atlantic Division showdown even if they picked up the overtime point.

There’s some consolation they didn’t come away empty-handed in a showdown with the Maple Leafs and have come away with points in each of the last two games against Toronto and Tampa Bay though they haven’t won either of them.

But it’s also a clear indicator the Bruins have some things to work on that may have been masked a bit by their 5-1-0 start to the regular season when they didn’t face anybody of consequence outside of a road game in Las Vegas. The scoring imbalance, the looseness defensively and the inconsistency in focus, execution and effort from period to period have been problematic at times even as the B’s have jumped out to a pretty good start.

The good news in all of this is that they are starting to trend in the right direction. After mulling AHL call-ups and going through a six-game stretch where nobody outside of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak scored for the Bruins, the B’s finally received some secondary scoring outside of their Perfection Line.

Pastrnak still came up with the big goal late in the third period that pushed things to OT against Toronto in the 4-3 loss, and we could spend an entire column on the right-winger currently being on pace for 93 goals and 154 points this season.

But the Bruins also got goals from a couple of young forwards they need more from offensively in Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, and that’s a development that will make the B’s a far better hockey club in the long run.

“It was nice. You don’t want to rely on the top guys every night. Obviously they’ve been on fire, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to chip in,” admitted Heinen, who scored his second goal of the season and his first since opening night in Dallas. “It was nice, but it would have been even better if it would have been a win.”

Even better, Charlie Coyle, Chris Wagner and Brett Ritchie dented the score sheet for the Black and Gold as well and the B’s got offense from second and third lines that have been MIA this season.

“We definitely had more focus in those aspects,” said DeBrusk, of getting secondary scoring, improving their second-period play and getting more quality five-on-five play against Toronto. “It was talked about and everything wanted to pitch in. I think we put over 40 shots on them, so give their goaltender credit. He gave them a chance to win, but I definitely thought it was a better 5-on-5 game from our side compared to Tampa Bay.”

Other notable players like Charlie McAvoy and Karson Kuhlman still haven’t caught fire, and the B’s fourth line really struggled on Saturday night, but the hope is that things will turn for them as they did for DeBrusk against the Leafs.

The signs of offensive life will quell the talk of making a trade or promoting red-hot Anders Bjork at least in the short term, but it’s a trend that’s going to need to continue with the Bruins.

Another piece of encouragement from the overtime loss?

The Bruins played arguably their best second period on the young season after struggling for the middle 20 minutes for much of the year. The Bruins outshot the Leafs 15-3, controlled play and missed on two separate, wide-open scoring chances on the backdoor when both DeBrusk and Bergeron simply missed the net.

That essentially turned out to be the difference in a one-goal loss in overtime, but the improvement in an area that’s dogged them all year was pretty notable.

“I didn’t like that stretch [in the first period] where we just weren’t competitive enough,” admitted Cassidy. “We were trading chances a bit and it wasn’t going our way, so we need to be harder on the puck. In the O-zone I thought we were one and done, but then as the game went along in the second and third period I thought we were harder on it. It started with Coyle’s play [setting up the DeBrusk goal] where he controlled possession.”

On its face, the Bruins have lost two games in a row and come up a wee bit short in their measuring stick games against their immediate divisional rivals.

But there are arguably more things to be encouraged about in Saturday night’s loss to the Maple Leafs than during many of the empty calorie wins that the Bruins piled up in the season’s first couple of weeks against some of the NHL’s tomato cans.

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Sean Kuraly, Bruins fourth line 'trying to get back to what makes them a good line'

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Sean Kuraly, Bruins fourth line 'trying to get back to what makes them a good line'

BRIGHTON, Mass. — While there are obviously plenty of things that have gone right for the Bruins given their standing in first place in the Atlantic Division, their fourth line hasn’t really been one of them.

A big part of it, obviously, is the number of injuries suffered early in the season with left winger Joakim Nordstrom out of the mix for 11 games, so the continuity wasn’t there early in the season with a number of different faces on Boston’s energy line.

But the regular trio has been together for the last few weeks, and still hasn’t completely found the footing that made them one of the most effective fourth lines in the NHL last season. They have combined for just four goals in the first 20 games this season, and both Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly have been minus players this season.

The good news is that some offensive opportunities are beginning to come their way, enough so that Wagner has been unsuccessfully tapped for the shootout in each of the last two instances where the Bruins made it to the extra season.

But it’s also clear to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy that his fourth line needs to get back to basics and do what they do best in playing with speed and physicality, shutting down top lines and occasionally popping in secondary offense when chances present themselves. Right now they are doing some of that, but clearly haven’t hit the high levels they were at a little more often last season.

“I think [Kuraly] is losing sight a little bit of what makes them a good line, and what makes him a good player. He’s visibly frustrated when he’s not finishing, which I get. Guys want to score. But that shouldn’t then affect the rest of his game, and I think it has a little bit. We’ve pulled them aside as a line, especially the assistant coaches, and have gone through things when they’re solid,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think the puck is finding Sean and the rest of their line; they just have to finish. But he really has to make sure what his primary role is and that’s been our message to him.

“That’s being a shutdown guy and making life miserable for one of their top two lines, and then get the job done on the penalty. I don’t want to say the offense is gravy, but you’ve just got to play through that part of it and not let if affect you mentally.”

Kuraly himself admitted that it hasn’t been an easy go of it this season and understands exactly what needs to be done to get them back to their high level of play.

“My details can be better and that’s my focus. I want to be top end at the little things and the details,” said Kuraly, who has been a minus-3 with just five shots on net in the last five games for the Bruins. “I think some of that might have slipped lately and my focus is going to be getting that back to what it was. It’s realizing when I do that, I give the team a good chance to win — and when I don’t, it can hurt us. A lot of that can fall on me.”

Maybe what the B's fourth line needs is simply to play crash-and-bang hockey with some responsible defense thrown in for a couple of games. Once they have become difficult to play against once again, then the offense will follow afterward.

It remains to be seen exactly when the B’s energy line is going to make the expected turnaround, but it sounds like everybody is on the same page as to how exactly that’s going to happen, when it does happen.

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Bruins' Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie trending toward return vs. Devils

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Bruins' Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie trending toward return vs. Devils

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The Bruins should get at least a couple of pieces of their team back from injuries for Tuesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Brett Ritchie (upper body) both skated without restrictions in Monday morning’s practice at Warrior Arena, and it sounded like they would play against the Devils barring any setbacks following practice. For DeBrusk, it will be a welcome return after a five-game absence and he’ll hope to pick up where he left off with goals in each of the two games before he got hurt early in the first period against the Canadiens on November 5.

“I’m feeling good,” said DeBrusk, who has three goals and six points in 15 games this season. “I’ve obviously been missing the game, so it was great skating with the boys today. I scored in back-to-back games before Montreal, so I used the time [out with injury] to reflect on things and rejuvenate myself in a way. It was different things that were getting to me a little bit. I used the time to be more mature with my approach [to the game] coming back whenever that is going to be.”

Patrice Bergeron (lower body) didn’t skate with the Bruins on Monday and will be a game-time decision against the Devils while planning to travel with the team to New Jersey. Torey Krug (upper body) skated ahead of practice on Monday and could be nearing a return to the lineup as well, but he won’t be playing against the Devils.

“Ritchie and DeBrusk both skated and no residual effects right now, so we anticipate they’re going to play,” said Cassidy. “We’ll put them as game-time decisions. “Krug skated. He’s not available [against the Devils] so he’ll be available a little later as well.”

As far as other injured Bruins are concerned, Kevan Miller has had a couple of days off the ice, “won’t play this week” but is looking at a possible return to game action next week after he was not on the ice with the team on Monday morning. John Moore (shoulder surgery) did skate with the main group and continues to make progress in his recovery from offseason surgery.

Tuukka Rask will get the start against the Devils on Tuesday night, and both Brendan Gaunce and Urho Vaakanainen were called up to the Bruins ahead of Tuesday’s trip to New Jersey. It didn’t look like Gaunce will be playing against the Devils, however, unless somebody expected to play isn’t able to at game time.

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings for Tuesday night’s game vs. the Devils based on practice:

PROJECTED LINES

Brad Marchand David Krejci David Pastrnak
Anders Bjork Charlie Coyle Danton Heinen
Jake DeBrusk Par Lindholm Brett Ritchie
Joakim Nordstrom Sean Kuraly Chris Wagner

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk Brandon Carlo
Urho Vaakanainen Connor Clifton

STARTING GOALIE

Tuukka Rask

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