Bruce Cassidy

Jaroslav Halak steps up in goal for Bruins, and they're more than grateful

Jaroslav Halak steps up in goal for Bruins, and they're more than grateful

BOSTON – The Bruins would be best off not thinking too deeply about where they’d be if they hadn’t signed Jaroslav Halak back on July 1.

The goaltender they signed to be a backup has been much more than that this season, and sits second in the entire NHL in goals against average (1.77 goals against average) and save percentage (.945) this season. Halak also consistently chipped away at Tuukka Rask’s playing time after starting the season as the back-up, and stepped up in a major way to stop 77-of-79 shots this weekend in back-to-back wins over Toronto and Vegas as Rask stepped away for a personal leave of absence.

Halak stopped 37-of-38 shots against the Golden Knights in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Vegas, and was equal to the task as the Golden Knights got some pretty good chances against him with redirections and action in close to the net. When it’s all said and done, Halak is 6-1-2 in 11 games for the Bruins thus far this season and has really only had the one bad game in the blowout loss to the Canucks.

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Otherwise he’s been way better than the expectations and has given the Bruins the kind of steady, sometimes spectacular goaltending they’ve missed at the start of the last few regular seasons as Rask struggled.

“We’ve seen it from day one. We knew he was a good goaltender. I couldn’t sit here and say he’d be leading the league in save percentage, goals against, or whatever he is, first or second. We knew he’d be solid. He’s certainly exceeded expectations, and it’s what required right now,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s getting lots of starts, guys are confident in front of him and we’re starting to understand how he is.

“He stops a lot of pucks. There are pucks laying there that we’ve got to clear, so we’re starting to get that. Hey, converge the slot, get it out of there, get going and so how he plays the puck we’re reading off better each game. I’m happy for him. He’s a hard-working guy, and he’s had good success in this league. It’s required for him right now, and he’s giving it to us."

The Bruins are expected to meet with Rask on Monday and he may rejoin the team as shortly as Tuesday prior to a road trip out West. So Halak may be able to get some rest shortly as the B’s resume their planned tandem for this season, and perhaps Rask will even begin to push back if he’s been able to adequately resolve his personal matters.

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For now, though, Halak is in the middle of a hot streak that can’t possibly extend for the entire regular season, but the B’s and the goalie will ride it out for as long as it lasts.

“We knew we had to play better after the Vancouver game and you know, [Saturday], Toronto, they have a good team,” said Halak. “They traveled in and they tried to win in the first period and we were able to just kind of get out of the period and, like you said, to control our second and third and we played a great game. And then [on Sunday] we did the same thing.”

As Cassidy said after the game, “Just keep it going, Jaro.” 

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Looks like the Bruins have found a third-line answer with the kids

Looks like the Bruins have found a third-line answer with the kids

BOSTON – Don’t look now, but it seems like the Bruins are starting to find some answers for a third line that’s confounded them all season.

It’s too easy to call them the Kid Line and probably too on the nose to come up with some moniker centered around 22-year-old Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s “JFK” nickname, but it sure looks like 23-year-old Danton Heinen, JFK and 22-year-old Anders Bjork are finally gelling as a young, fast and aggressive third line. They kicked in a 5-on-5 goal and had some really promising, energetic shifts in Boston’s 4-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night, and showed how good the Bruins can be if they can start to get a little more consistency from all of their forward lines.

The caveat is clearly that it’s only been two games and JFK still has a long way to go as a bona fide NHL center, but in an important development the last few games are probably the best that both Heinen and Bjork have looked all season.

“I thought [Heinen, JFK and Bjork] had a good weekend. Obviously, they got a goal. It helps when you’re young. Before here you’re used to getting on the score sheet, so you get frustrated if you don’t. They got rewarded [and] it was a good goal,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They did it the right way, started in D-zone, they played it, they won a puck, got it behind their D, won a foot race and got it to the front of the net. So it wasn’t lucky. It wasn’t a fluke. It was the right way to do things, and they got rewarded for it.

“Hopefully that reminds them how they need to play. Then after that a few more pucks find them. They win some pucks down low. They’re attacking the net. I thought our fourth line was outstanding too, the [Sean] Kuraly line, so you get your bottom-6 really chipping in and that’s what it’s going to take for us to win on a consistent basis. I think we’re aware of that. Our top line is good. Our second line’s coming around. The power play generally produces, but at the end of the day you need balanced scoring to do it every night and we’re starting to see that the last three games. I think we’ve been much better in that area.”

In the last few minutes of the first period in a scoreless game, Heinen got the puck out of the defensive zone and kick started a give-and-go play with Bjork where a lead chip pass to space took full advantage of the right winger’s blinding speed. Bjork got behind the Vegas ‘D’ and then slipped a pass to a wide open Heinen in front of the net for the easy goal to get Boston on the board. It was Heinen’s second goal in the last three games, and the first real tangible signs that one of the B’s best rookies from last season was starting to get his game on track.

Really, it showed exactly what the kids are capable of when the confidence, skill, and youthful exuberance are all working together properly in tandem.

“I think it starts with us playing hard and especially attacking on the fore-check. I think JFK plays so well defensively and so does Heino [Danton Heinen] too. I think we have been solid there and, obviously we can improve a little bit,” said Bjork. “But that’s helped our transition game, which has helped us get in on the forecheck. That’s where we’ve created opportunities just by attacking and screening hard. Yeah, it’s been good. Hopefully we can continue that.”

The real key to unlocking the third line’s potential might just be Forsbacka Karlsson, who brings more speed, more skill and an ability to be the responsible two-way defender when Heinen and Bjork speed out in the transition game. JFK didn’t get on the board in his first two games, but he nearly set up Heinen for a goal on a beautiful wheeling cross-ice pass in his season debut and has adopted more of an attack mentality himself after being a little too passive in past experiences with the big club.

It’s even an improvement on training camp when both JFK and Trent Frederic weren’t quite ready to win the third line center gig, and that left the Bruins juggling David Backes, Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and others as ill-fitting stopgap options until one of the kids was ready.

Well, it looks like JFK is finally ready to run the third line administration for the Black and Gold.

“Maybe [it’s] just time. Maybe [it’s] just expectations for us were high. I would guess that six weeks or whatever it is that he’s been down there after a full year, I would guess he’s hungry to be here and stay,” said Cassidy. “It’s kind of, what does the second go-around say? He had a quick indoctrination here against Washington a couple years ago, one game, and then goes down there and doesn’t play a lot with the big club and then preseason doesn’t work out.

“I think at some point the switch has to go off, okay this is what I need to do. I think he’s doing what we’re asking him to do, and he’s playing to his strengths. He’s still got a ways to go [and the] puck battles could be better, but I like the progress I’ve seen out of him. He seems to be a much more engaged player and that’s all we’re asking: be engaged every night. We’ll walk you through the rest, and hopefully you’re good enough to stay here.”

For now it looks more than good enough on the new-look third line, and that’s a great development for the Bruins. Now it’s up to the three kids to keep the energy and production up consistently, and provide the B’s with something they’ve been missing all season. 

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Jeremy Lauzon shines as injury fill-in with first NHL goal

Jeremy Lauzon shines as injury fill-in with first NHL goal

BOSTON – Rookie defenseman Jeremy Lauzon has quietly and solidly filled in when the Bruins have needed him this season, so it was fitting that he was rewarded rather quickly in his NHL career with his first career goal.

It was a bit of a fluke play, but it turned out to be the game-winning goal for Lauzon and the Bruins in a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights less than 24 hours after he was an emergency call-up to fill in for the injured Brandon Carlo. Sean Kuraly had fired a deep, long distance entry into the Vegas zone, and the puck took a wild carom off the end boards that caused Malcolm Subban to fall down as he was trying to play the puck out of his crease.

That left the hustling Lauzon with a wide open chance and the puck coming right at him, and the young B’s defenseman fired a shot into the vacant net for Boston’s second goal of the game. It may not have been a scorched blast from the point or an end-to-end rush, but it may just turn into that by the time the 21-year-old Lauzon tells his grandkids about it someday.

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“He works hard. He’s got good instincts to get up the ice. I think he’s played well here. There are some areas below the goal line in our end where he has to learn what’s available, how to move the puck, how to protect it…but that’s just experience I think,” said Bruce Cassidy. “No matter what level he’s at, that’s a work in progress. But the rest of his game, that’s just physicality, his willingness to get up the ice, close gaps, kill penalties, he’s been pretty good for us.

“I’m happy for him. He’s a likeable kid, so good for him. You only get your first NHL goal once, and some guys don’t get it [at all]. So, it’s nice for him to get it at home, and I think it turns out to be the game-winner.”

Lauzon is simply trying to carve out a niche for himself while the B’s are beset with so many injuries on the back end, and he’s been solid with the goal and a plus-1 rating while averaging 12:24 of ice time in his five games with Boston. There’s a strong likelihood that Lauzon won’t be here long with Charlie McAvoy, Urho Vaakanainen and Kevan Miller all working toward returns to the lineup, but he’s going to do the best job he can while he’s filling in for the banged up Carlo.

“I think a lot for sure,” said Lauzon, when asked what it means to contribute to the team while he’s here. “My goal is to stay here as long as I can, and I thought I played hard defensively and [had] something to contribute and do my part.

“I think it’s a good feeling for sure. It’s something that you’re looking for all your life playing in the NHL, and when you’re younger I think you’re… you imagine scoring your first goal and being able to accomplish that is something big. I’m pretty happy about it.”

Now after living out one of his childhood dreams, Lauzon and the Bruins will get focused on the task at hand with a big West Coast road trip coming up and little time for a rookie to dwell on past accomplishments.  

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