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Bruins forward Noel Acciari looks back to normal in return to action

12.10.16 at 11:09 pm ET
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Bruins forward Noel Acciari skated in his first game since Nov. 7 in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins forward Noel Acciari skated in his first game since Nov. 7 in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

In case you didn’t know it by sight, the sound of the TD Garden boards rattling with each hit dished out by Bruins forward Noel Acciari served as a reminder that the 24-year-old was back in the lineup.

Absent from the previous 16 games with a lower-body injury, Acciari was back in his normal spot on the B’s fourth line with center Dominic Moore and winger Tim Schaller, and put forth another workmanlike performance, with two shots and three hits in 11:35 of time ice.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates,” Acciari admitted after his first game back, a 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. “I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on, and that’ll come with a couple more practices and games together.”

Deployed as the club’s energy line by Claude Julien, the Schaller-Moore-Acciari combination was its usual complementary group, with solid possession and pressure in the Toronto end, while also chipping in with their normal, aforementioned physicality. But Acciari knows the group could be even better.

“Just kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured,” Acciari, who has tallied two assists in 13 games for the Bruins this year, noted. “It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score.”

But if there’s a positive to take with Acciari — who played a one-game get-your-legs-back game with the P-Bruins, a Friday win over the Marlies in which he recorded an assist — it’s from the fact that his game very much still what it’s been for the Bruins since he burst onto the scene late last season, and that his lower-body ailment didn’t appear to limit him at all.

“You can’t think about it, because once you start thinking about it, that’s when you hurt yourself again,” Acciari admitted. “Out there, you play your game, whatever that may be, and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”

5 Things We Learned from an ugly Bruins loss to lowly Maple Leafs

12.10.16 at 9:40 pm ET
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Bruins/Leafs (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen made 32 saves in a 4-1 win over the Bruins. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

You remember that iconic rant by the late Dennis Green, right? “They are who we thought they were,” the then-coach of the Arizona Cardinals yelled. “And we let ’em off the hook!”

Bruins coach Claude Julien might be feeling something similar after his club dominated the puck, controlled the shots, and still somehow wound up on the losing side of things against the third-worst team in the league, the Maple Leafs, by a 3-1 final Saturday night at TD Garden.

In a first period in which the Bruins outshot the Leafs 11-to-2, the Bruins held the visitors without so much as an attempted shot for almost 15 minutes in what was a tie for their fewest shots allowed in a period this season, matching the measly two they allowed in the second period of Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Capitals.

But the most glaring number was not that of the shots the Bruins allowed, but rather the zero next to their name in the goal department, as the Bruins failed to put anything by Frederik Andersen in a first period that was unbelievably dominated by the Black and Gold.

And predictably, it was the Maple Leafs Leafs that scored first, 1:44 into the second period and on their fourth shot of the night, a bullet from 2016 No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews for his 12th goal of the season (and 10th road goal).

It was on just their ninth shot of the night that the Leafs added to their lead, too, when Zach Hyman got the perfect deflection of a wobbling Jake Gardiner shot on net for his fourth goal of the season, scored 15:14 into the second period.

The Bruins finally answered the Leafs’ tallies with a smart play by B’s winger Brad Marchand.

With Andersen having retrieved the puck behind his net on an attempted clear, Marchand sealed off any possible angle the 6-foot-4 netminder had, intercepted his clearing attempt, and caught Andersen in an awkward angle on a wraparound chance. And though Marchand’s initial shot didn’t break through Andersen, with the help of a poke from David Backes, Marchand was there for the second chance opportunity and his eighth goal of the season (and first since Nov. 29).

The goal extended Marchand’s point streak to five games, and brought the B’s within one through two periods of play.

But after taking two penalties in the opening eight minutes of a third period in which they were down by one, the Bruins paid, and it was off the stick of James van Riemsdyk, who scored just as Marchand was exiting the box, for his 12th goal of the year.

The Leafs added a fourth goal, scored with 1:33 left in the third, on an empty-net dribbler from Connor Brown.

It was all the support Andersen needed in a night that required 32 saves.

With the loss, the B’s are officially on a losing streak, with back-to-back regulation losses, and three consecutive defeats overall.

Here are four other things we learned in the loss…

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Top-heavy Bruins know they need answers from first power-play unit

12.10.16 at 4:44 pm ET
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David Backes has three power-play points this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have the fifth-worst power-play in the NHL through 28 games this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Only six NHL teams had a better power play than the Bruins, who clicked at a 20.5 percent success rate, did a year ago. A season later, only four teams have scored fewer power-play goals than the Bruins, with 12, have tallied through the opening 28 games. Their percentage has hovered around the strugglesome total figures of the latter, too, as their 14.5 percent success rate ranks as the fifth-worst in the NHL.

The shortcomings of the group have been prominently displayed over the team’s last eight contests, too. The Bruins have posted an 0-for in six in those eight games, including an 0-for-2 mark Thursday night against the league-worst Avalanche, and have gone 2-for-23 overall over that stretch (8.7 percent success rate).

For a team with a top-heavy first unit — with David Backes as the net-front presence, Ryan Spooner along the half wall to the right of the net, Patrice Bergeron as the bumper, and David Krejci and Torey Krug as the roaming points — that’s not even close to good enough.

Though the group has remained (for the most part) intact from what it was a year ago (the biggest change was the offseason personnel swap that brought Backes in as a replacement for Loui Eriksson as that group’s goalie-screening deflection extraordinaire), and while the coaching staff has shown tremendous patience in attempt to simply let them all work it out, there’s no doubt that there’s a growing sense that something (read as: the personnel) simply has to change if these struggles continue.

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Noel Acciari, Danton Heinen recalled from AHL ahead of Bruins vs. Leafs

12.10.16 at 1:36 pm ET
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Danton Heinen has been recalled from the Providence Bruins. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Danton Heinen has been recalled from the Providence Bruins. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Stuck in a two-game losing streak, and hindered by disastrous 0-3 deficits less than 26 minutes into each loss, the Bruins have made two calls to I-95 in search of a jolt of life to their forward corps, with Noel Acciari and Danton Heinen summoned from the P-Bruins.

For Acciari, the return to the B’s comes after just a one-game AHL stint that he felt was needed after missing the previous 16 NHL games with a lower-body injury sustained in a Nov. 7 win over the Sabres.

Credited with an assist in a 5-3 win over the Marlies last night, Acciari’s AHL gamer wasn’t about production, but rather getting his legs back.

“I felt good, first period was just trying to get my legs back under me, but after that, I felt better” Acciari admitted of his Friday night with the P-Bruins. “I definitely needed that game just to get back into some sort of game-shape, game focus, some mentality.”

The 25-year-old Acciari will be reunited to his once familiar fourth line spot on a line with Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller.

In the case of Heinen, however, a return to the big club was earned through what’s been an impressive run with the P-Bruins.

Credited with seven goals and 13 points in 13 AHL games since his demotion, the 21-year-old has shot the puck noticeably more in the minors than he did in during his first taste of NHL hockey (31 shots in 13 AHL contests compared to six shots in seven NHL games this season), and has obviously found production in 13 points versus the goose egg he posted to begin his year in Boston.

Set to begin his night on the left side of a line with David Krejci and David Backes, and despite his recent AHL success, Bruins head coach Claude Julien wasn’t quick to put the weight of the world on Heinen’s shoulders.

“My hope is that [Heinen] can come in and play and give us some good hockey,” Julien said following the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “He’s a skill player. It’s about getting some confidence in his game when he went down there, and the pace of his game has to be a little bit better. And the battles — and coming out with the puck more often on the walls.”

With Acciari and Heinen in action, Anton Blidh has been assigned to Providence after one assist, seven shots, and 13 hits in a four-game NHL sample, while Jimmy Hayes will return to the press box as a scratch for the second time in the last five games.

What happened to good old days of teams not wanting to play in Bruins’ barn?

12.10.16 at 9:43 am ET
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The Bruins' home ice isn't as intimidating as it used to be. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins’ home ice isn’t as intimidating as it used to be. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

Before the Bruins were shoe-horned into their current locale, they played in one of the most intimidating arenas for opposing teams on the planet. Ask any Ranger or Red Wing or Nordique from the ‘80s the last barn they wanted to go into for a big game was and most would say without thinking, “Boston Garden”.

With its smaller-than-average ice surface, boisterous crowds, and balconies that jutted out practically to the center ice logo, the Garden was like visiting a bar in a rival neighborhood where you’d just hope to escape in one piece.

Those were the days.

Today’s iteration is about as scary as a Disney movie and opposing teams essentially help themselves to the recliner and remote. It’s particularly galling when the dregs of the league are leaving town with two points and no bruises. It’s quite a turnaround from just a couple of years ago when teams knew they were in for a battle and snagging even a point was a grind.

Though the Bruins do have a 7-6 home record so far this season, opponents haven’t exactly had their hands full while visiting Boston. Part of the reason is the team lacking sandpaper in their game all too often; they’re just not hard enough to play against. Some nights, the crowd is sitting on its hands and isn’t exactly doing the team any favors (“is the team reacting to the crowd or is the crowd reacting to the team?” is the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” of sports).

But the audience isn’t paid to perform, the team is. So it’s on them when they lose. The team went 17-18-6 on Causeway St. last season with too many subpar efforts and that malaise has seeped into this year.

To put it simply, the Bruins need to be much tougher to play against in their home barn than they have been for the last couple years. They need to re-establish dominance and make it uncomfortable for visitors once again. Home arenas are where you’re supposed to win but the B’s are only doing it about half the time.

There’s no magic pill to fix everything but effort and concentration on the task at hand are two things that players can control. If the Bruins can find their successful recipe from just a couple seasons ago (they went 31-7-3 in their 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy-winning season), then they can not only stop leaving points on the board against inferior teams but also serve notice to the rest of the league that any success on their ice will come with a price. But until that happens, teams won’t be afraid coming into Boston like they used to.

Bruins coach Claude Julien laments team’s play in loss: ‘They got to be better’

12.09.16 at 1:48 am ET
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Anton Khudobin made just 17 saves in a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin made just 17 saves in a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

On the second leg of a traveling back-to-back, perhaps Thursday’s head-to-head with the Avalanche was your classic scheduled loss.

But that doesn’t mean that Bruins head coach Claude Julien would be OK with an effort of a schedule loss, which is exactly what the B’s put forth in a 4-2 loss to the Avs in which the Bruins didn’t skate well, didn’t defend all that well when they needed to, and didn’t get much of anything from starting goaltender Anton Khudobin.

“There was a lot of problematic things,” Julien said after the loss. “No doubt that the power play could have helped us in the first period and failed to do that. They got to be better. We needed some saves tonight, we didn’t get them, [Khudobin]’s got to be better. A lot of things here that we can be better at and take responsibility but at the same time, you got to move on here and to me it’s one of those nights that had we been smarter from the get go, we would have had a chance.”

It began in net, where Khudobin surrendered four goals on just 22 shots against, including the first three in just 24:09, to once again put the Bruins in an 0-3 hole for the second time in as many nights and even quicker than the night before.

“Yes, I agree with that,” the 30-year-old Khudobin, whose record dropped to 1-4-0 and save percentage dipped from .902 down to .888, said when told about Julien’s criticism of his game. “It’s just four goals is too much. That’s it.”

Beat cleanly on the first three goals of the night, all unassisted markers for the Avs, Khudobin was not given much to work with from a B’s offense that was silent with the exception of David Pastrnak, who scored his 17th and 18th goals of the year in defeat.

It was Pastrnak that allowed the Bruins to claw within one of the Avalanche, but it didn’t last, as Carl Soderberg put the final nail in the Bruins’ coffin with a goal scored with under three minutes left in the second period, and a rather tame third period that saw the Bruins simply run on fumes en route to the end of their six-game point streak in which they seized 10-of-12 points overall.

Still, the Bruins weren’t going to blame their seventh game in 12 days for their struggles.

“Everybody has a tough schedule. Everybody is facing, at some point of the season, some tough road trips time-wise and travel-wise,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said of any fatigue that the Black and Gold battled in the loss. “They were ready to play us and they were the better team, especially in the first 20. I think, in the second, we created a lot more chances and we cut down on their lead. We took some penalties that cost us the game and from that point, we were always chasing.”

Things should get a little easier for the B’s with a Saturday night visit from the conference-worst Maple Leafs. Then again, that’s what you could have said about Thursday’s game with the Avs, who entered play with the fewest points in the entire league.

5 Things We Learned as Avalanche snap Bruins’ 6-game point streak

12.08.16 at 9:29 pm ET
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The Bruins' six-game point streak came to an end Thursday night against the Avalanche. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins’ six-game point streak came to an end Thursday night against the Avalanche. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Despite the positives that came with their ability to come back from an 0-3 the night before in Washington, Thursday’s defeat at the hands of the Avalanche served as a reminder to the Bruins that they can’t spot the opposition three goals any given night and expect to draw back even.

On the second leg of a back-to-back with travel, the Bruins and netminder Anton Khudobin were torched by Avalanche forward Matt Duchene just 5:30 into the first period when Duchene weaved his way through three Bruins — including a shoddy defensive effort from B’s forward Ryan Spooner — to find the perfect shooting seam for his 10th goal of the season (all of which have come on the road).

With a chance to counter on the power play, a botched keep-in from defenseman Torey Krug was snagged up by Nathan MacKinnon and marched the other way for a brilliant breakaway tally that beat Khudobin up over his glove just 7:27 after the Duchene goal to make it 2-0 in favor of the Avalanche.

The two-goal edge held through 20 minutes of play, and John Mitchell wasted no time in making it three just 4:09 into the third period when he came down with speed and beat Khudobin cleanly blocker side for his first goal of the season.

Just like they did in the Nation’s Capital the night before, the Bruins had spotted their opponent a three-goal edge, this time doing it in just 24:09 of hockey compared to the 25:51 they did against the Caps the night before.

And just like they did at the Verizon Center last night, the Bruins fought back with a response, the first off a David Pastrnak rush right out of the box (with the help of a great bounce pass off the opposite boards from Tim Schaller), to beat Calvin Pickard and bring the B’s back within two with 7:57 left in the middle period. It would be Pastrnak that countered his own goal just 1:20 after that, too, with a brilliant execution of a faceoff win from Patrice Bergeron and stellar passing sequence from Brad Marchand and Torey Krug that left Pastrnak alone in the high slot for his second goal of the game and 18th of the season.

In the blink of an eye, the Bruins were back in it.

They were controlling pace, the Garden crowd was finally alive, and then Kevan Miller was whistled for a penalty. The Bruins survived that penalty, though, and it appeared that they were set to resume their frantic attack the other way.

But just as Miller exited the box from his late-period penalty, it was Carl Soderberg that caught Austin Czarnik and Brandon Carlo in no man’s land and punched back with his fourth goal of the season and the Avs’ fourth goal of the night.

A backbreaking goal if there ever was one, the Soderberg goal reestablished the Avalanche’s two-goal edge with just 2:55 left in the second period, and set the tone for a third period that saw the Black and Gold simply run out of gas.

Khudobin made just 17 saves in the losing effort, while the B’s six-game point streak (4-0-2) came to an end in the process.

Here are four other things we learned in the loss.

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