Bruce Cassidy

Bruce Cassidy on lack of Bruins response: 'I'm comfortable with the guys sticking up for one another'

Bruce Cassidy on lack of Bruins response: 'I'm comfortable with the guys sticking up for one another'

BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy addressed the elephant in the room earlier today after the Bruins were roundly criticized for failing to step up and protect goaltender Tuukka Rask when he was concussed by a punch to the head Tuesday night in Columbus.

It was a tepid response form the B's with Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Joakim Nordstrom challenging the skill forward (Emil Bremstrom) that knocked Rask out of the game, and nobody playing with much fire or anger in a limp 3-0 loss to the Blue Jackets.

For a couple of days, Bruins fans and media alike bashed the Bruins for failing to stand up for their goaltender and playing a softer brand of hockey than people are used to around the Hub where they were once known as the Big Bad Bruins.

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Certainly it’s a different NHL than it was in the 1970’s or even nine years ago when the Bruins last won the Cup with an extremely tough crew, but Cassidy said he still believes that his players stick up for each other when the moment calls for it.

“I do believe that this team plays together, sticks together [and] has been accountable for years. We’re not the same makeup as maybe we were in the 1970’s or 2011 for that matter," said Cassidy. 

"We’ve tried to change our roster – that’s Donny and I both – we’ve had discussions on who we’ve drafted. You draft skill guys like [Anders] Bjork, [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk and you can put [Pastrnak] in that mix too because he’s that type of a skill player and that’s the direction we’ve tried to go while keeping – obviously [Zdeno] Chara is more than tough – the Kevan Millers of the world. [He] happens to be injured and that’s a tough one. Connor Clifton is a guy that gives us some bite sometimes [but] he’s injured.

“We’ve tried to keep certain guys in the lineup. Chris Wagner is a physical player, [David] Backes had some of that in him, but he gets concussions a little bit and now we’re talking about what level is he going to be able to go for his personal health? I think we’ve tried to balance it.

“But if it’s out there [that there was a lack of response], people have a right to say it. I believe that if anything happens the guys in this room will be together. I think the incident the other night [in Columbus] to be perfectly honest nobody knew what the hell happened in the first. Then we addressed it between periods and a couple of guys tried to engage [Emil] Bremstrom.

"If we want to go back and talk about other teams, and how they’re built, we can have that conversation. I think there are teams that are less physical than us and I think there are a few that are more [physical]. We’re trying to be the best of both worlds with our roster and we’ll see where it leads us.”

Cassidy pointed to the current situation with the Black and Gold where arguably their toughest, meanest warrior in Miller has been almost an entire calendar year with kneecap problems, and 35-year-old Backes understandably isn’t the willing pugilist he once was due to a slew of concussions he’s suffered since coming to Boston.

But does that speak to a need for that kind of player on a Bruins roster that suddenly seems to have tipped the scales way toward speed and skill rather than brawn, strength and a little bit of snarl?

“We will deal with internally. I’m comfortable with the guys sticking up for one another. Do we need a little more of it some nights? We need maybe somebody to pull it out of us on some nights,” said Cassidy. “That’s where I think it’s out of the coaches to pull it out a little bit or it’s up to a player that’s a pest to stir it up a little bit. We’ll address that internally as well.”

Cassidy referenced the impending return of Anton Blidh from shoulder surgery as a possible player that could stir the pot for the Black and Gold and get their dander up in some of the nights when it’s lacking across the 82-game regular season.

But with all due respect to Cassidy, they are missing some serious snarl and tough guy attitude in their lineup with guys like Miller, Brett Ritchie, Connor Clifton and David Backes either injured or unable to bring even a little smidge of the old Big Bad Bruins to the table when it’s called for.

It’s clear as day when they run up against bigger, tougher and heavier teams like the Capitals and Blues that the Bruins are lacking in those areas, and it’s to a point where even teams like the Blue Jackets know they can rattle cages when they’re playing the Black and Gold.

Talking Points: Elvis the goalie KOs Bruins after B's goalie Tuuka Rask is KO'd

Talking Points: Elvis the goalie KOs Bruins after B's goalie Tuuka Rask is KO'd

GOLD STAR: Elvis Merzlikins has a shutout streak of 137:51 going for the Columbus Blue Jackets and made some very good saves behind a good defensive effort from the Blue Jackets while stopping 34 shots in shutting out the Bruins for the first time this season Tuesday night, 3-0. 

The Jackets may have found their long-term goaltender amidst the injuries and the roster turnover this season and he played very well over the final 40 minutes as the B’s got their bearings a little bit and fired 27 shots on net. The Bruins went all the way until this portion of the season before getting shut out, so it took a different goalie named Elvis in the building to finally keep the Black and Gold off the scoreboard. 

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Unfortunately, the Bruins didn’t do a lot to make the Columbus goalie feel uncomfortable between the pipes after the Blue Jackets knocked Boston’s goalie out of the game.

BLACK EYE: Tuukka Rask literally gets the black eye as he was knocked out of the game only 1:12 in by a shot to the side of the head that concussed him. It was a dirty play by Columbus' Emil Bemstrom as he cruised by the front of the net. It went without even a penalty call from the refereeing crew, who apparently thought that Rask was caught with an inadvertent high stick. 

So, Rask was done before he even managed to make a single save and instead Jaroslav Halak replaced him and allowed three goals. Now, for the second year in a row, Rask has a concussion right around NHL All-Star time and is probably going to be out of the lineup for a bit.

TURNING POINT: Rask was knocked out with a cheap shot to the side of the head and the Bruins did nothing in response. 

They also did nothing on the scoreboard as they managed just seven shots on net in the first period and had no response either as a team on the ice or by taking control and gaining revenge by winning the game. 

Instead, the Bruins shuffled through a meek first period and played a little better but never truly responded in the 40 minutes after while chasing the game against a strong defensive Columbus team protecting its lead. Certainly, it got better in the final 40 minutes, but the Bruins lost this game with everything that transpired in the first 20 minutes.

HONORABLE MENTION: Seth Jones didn’t factor into the scoring, but he was tremendous. He played 27 minutes as the No. 1 defenseman for Columbus. Jones finished with a plus-1 rating along with five shot attempts and four blocked shots while assisting Elvis the goalie in the shutout effort. He was part of the wall of defense for the Blue Jackets blocking shots and stifling the B’s offense.

There were plenty of offensive contributions from assorted Columbus players as well up and down the roster, but Jones was one of the focal points for the Jackets in dealing the B’s their first shutout loss of the season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first shutout loss for the Bruins this season as they almost made it to the All-Star break without one.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Should have our guys had a better response? I think there could have been...It was pointed out after the first period, that our goaltender got bumped. But listen, it's a little late then, you can't take the law into your own hands." –Bruce Cassidy, to reporters in Columbus, when asked if there was enough of a response from his team after Rask was knocked out of the game.


Ritchie returns to Bruins lineup after encouraging signs vs. Nashville

Ritchie returns to Bruins lineup after encouraging signs vs. Nashville

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – With the moms' visit is over for the Bruins, they'll look to continue to win with a lineup at the Barclays Center on Saturday night against the New York Islanders that will be exactly the same as the one that played so well in Nashville on Tuesday. 

That means Zdeno Chara (jaw infection) will return after a one-game absence against the Winnipeg Jets and Brett Ritchie will replace David Backes. Backes was slotted back in against Winnipeg ostensibly to get some ice time while the entire roster’s moms were with the team the past few days, but his most recent games against the Devils and Jets (zero points, two shots on net and about eight minutes of ice time in each game) have not screamed out for more opportunities.

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“The mothers were here and our plan was to use everybody for obvious reasons. I think it’s a good team-building exercise and we try to use everybody on our roster anyway, so it was as good a time as any,” said Bruce Cassidy. “[Brett Ritchie] just happened to come after one of his better games [against Nashville]. He’s fighting for consistency, but that’s the way it worked out. I told him he would go back in and that’s what he’s doing [against Brooklyn].”

For Ritchie, in particular, it’s a key period of time in his stint with the Black and Gold as he showed something in a physical, engaged effort against Nashville while other forwards are on the mend that might challenge him for a roster spot such as Karson Kuhlman.

It’s important for Ritchie to show more after a quiet, lack-of-impact first half that included two goals, six points and a minus-3 in 24 games to this point in the year.

“I think he was good at creating separation. It’s not just going in and banging the glass and getting your hit and then they break out. It’s getting in there at the right time and separating the man from the puck. He was good at that,” said Cassidy. “I thought he held onto some pucks better.

“He’s a big man and he needs to learn how to separate without exposing the puck and move it when he does get flooded [with defenders]. I don’t think he’s done a good enough job of that on some nights, and that’s just part of the job description no matter what size you are. He got there [to the net] to create some anxiety for the goalie and forced the D to occupy him. It’s very simple. Create some looks pucks on the fore-check, go to the net or [be] the shooter or [be] the playmaker. Whatever your part is play it on your line and he did a good job of it.”

The third line of Danton Heinen, Charlie Coyle and Ritchie definitely has a different look with the size and strength of two out of the three players. They focused on that and helped turn it into offense against the Predators. Now, they will look to build on that against the Isles and continue to create secondary scoring that’s finally reappeared in the past couple of wins for the Black and Gold.

In addition to the changes up front, Tuukka Rask will be back between the pipes at the most lacking current arena among the NHL's 31: