Bruins

Talking Points: Marchand leads way on and off the ice

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Talking Points: Marchand leads way on and off the ice

GOLD STAR: You’ve got to give it to Brad Marchand. After being the only guy that showed any emotion or anger in throwing down with Lars Eller in the third period of Boston’s embarrassing blowout loss to the Washington Capitals, Marchand clearly helped spark the Bruins into a higher level of performance once night later against the Buffalo Sabres. More importantly, Marchand did it on the ice as well with four assists and a plus-3 rating while making key plays on all three of Boston’s goals scored with a Sabres goalie still between the pipes. It shows just how much leadership Marchand showed in taking a stand against the Capitals on Wednesday night, and then backing it up a day later with a much higher level of play on the ice.

BLACK EYE: The Buffalo Sabres are going to need better goaltending if they’re going to demonstrably improve this season, and they flat out didn’t get it against the Boston Bruins. Sure there were defensive breakdowns on the final two goals with Ryan Donato and David Pastrnak left way too wide open to shoot the puck in tight around the net. But the first goal was a tough one to give up as Zdeno Chara beat Hutton to the short side with an admittedly good shot that took tons of pressure off the Bruins, and gave them a whole lot of confidence moving forward. Hutton finished with three goals allowed on 25 shots, which isn’t terrible while not being nearly good enough to get the job done against the Black and Gold.

TURNING POINT: The game was pretty touch-and-go early in the proceedings without a score, and with the Bruins perhaps still smarting a little bit at the spanking they’d suffered one night prior in Washington DC. But the Bruins started making little plays that made all the difference in the world whether it was Jaroslav Halak with a couple of early stops at key moments, or it was David Pastrnak leaping to poke check a puck away on the backcheck as it looked like the Sabres were going to enter the zone with speed and possession. Those little first-period‘ detail plays’ led up to Zdeno Chara finally scoring the first goal of the game and sending the Bruins on their way in a game they desperately needed.

HONORABLE MENTION: It doesn’t get much more impressive than a shutout performance in his Bruins debut for Jaroslav Halak. Halak made a couple of key saves early when the game was very much in question and really went to work in the second period with 11 saves while protecting a two-goal lead against a Sabres team that showed some desperation. The interesting question now is how things are going to shake out moving forward with Halak and Tuukka Rask, and how their playing time will be meted out. Is there any chance whatsoever that the Bruins would change course and play Halak on Monday afternoon instead of Rask after the first two games? I don’t think it will happen this early, but it sure makes for some interesting conversation.

BY THE NUMBERS: +9 – the combined plus/minus for Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak in Thursday night’s win over Buffalo after they combined for a minus-6 rating in the blowout loss in the season opener against Washington.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We were just brutal everywhere. I don’t think we needed film to show us that. We knew we just had to compete harder, come back harder and win more puck battles. We did that and it worked out in our favor.” –Brad Marchand on the turnaround from last night in Washington a shutout win in Buffalo.   

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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.