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Anton Khudobin needs to prove himself as reliable option for Bruins

12.24.16 at 3:58 am ET
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Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has one win in eight games this season. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has one win in eight games this season. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s not goaltender Anton Khudobin’s fault that the Bruins lost to the Hurricanes by a 3-2 final Friday night. But at the same time, and for the sixth time in seven starts this season, he didn’t really help.

Saddled with the overtime loss thanks to a Teuvo Teravainen shot that beat him upstairs, the 20-of-23 night from Khudobin dropped his record on the year down to 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage.

Beyond the final saves total, though, the loss stuck out as another night in which Khudobin failed to make the big stops the Bruins without question need him to as the necessary breather to Tuukka Rask.

When the ice tilted the ‘Canes way with the Bruins up 2-0, the 30-year-old Khudobin was beat by a shorthanded breakaway goal from Jordan Staal and was clean by Justin Faulk off a faceoff play that Bruins head coach Claude Julien said was mentioned as something to watch out for heading into this game. It also didn’t help Khudobin that Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, who was peppered for 33 shots, seemed to make countless big stops — and at every turn, especially when the ‘Canes clawed back into the game — while Khudobin caved.

But at a certain point, you need — or better yet, expect — Khudobin to help himself.

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The Airing of NHL Grievances

12.23.16 at 4:08 pm ET
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It might be time to put the Winter Classic on the shelf  for a few years. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

It might be time to put the Winter Classic on the shelf for a few years. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In case you didn’t know, Dec. 23 is an official holiday. Happy Festivus!

In line with Festivus traditions, and before we get to the Feats of Strength, it’s time for the Airing of Grievances (NHL style). I got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it.

OK, Winter Classic and outdoor games, that’s enough

Remember the first Winter Classic? It snowed, the goalies were wearing winter hats on top of their helmets, and it involved the game’s best player (Sidney Crosby), and it went to a shootout where Crosby had the game on his stick (spoiler: he scored). The pictures that came out of that game were incredible, and it was clear that the NHL struck gold. And it took less than a decade for the league to let the event become completely oversaturated and just not that interesting.

In case you didn’t know or care to know (I honestly had to Google this), this year’s Winter Classic will be played in St. Louis between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. (This is now the fifth outdoor games involving the Blackhawks since 2009.) And at first, the venues were interesting. Ralph Wilson Stadium. Wrigley Field. Fenway Park. The Big House in Ann Arbor.

Now, we’ve cycled through so many venues that we’re now going back to Heinz Field. Neat. But who cares?

Between the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series (the game at Heinz field between the Penguins and Flyers is going to be filed under the Stadium Series umbrella), the league has simply had too many of these games in recent years and they often involve the same teams. Behind the Blackhawks’ five outdoor games, the Penguins will be in their fourth this winter, the Flyers will be in their third, same for the Red Wings and Rangers, and the Bruins have been in two.

The overexposure has really taken a lot of allure out of these games.

My idea: Put it on the shelf for a few years. Come back with a crazy awesome venue. Involve a non-traditional matchup, too.

Malcolm Subban, what’s the deal? 

The Bruins selected Malcolm Subban with the 25th overall pick in 2012. It’s 2016, and Subban has appeared in two games for the Bruins. He has not finished either one of those games. Subban was pulled after he allowed three goals on six shots in his NHL debut in 2015. A season later, Subban received an early hook with three goals on 16 shots against. Both starts lasted 31 minutes.

Subban has actually regressed in the AHL, too, with a 2-7-4 record for the P-Bruins this season. His .894 save percentage ranks 40th out of 47 qualified goaltenders and his 3.27 goals against average is the fourth-worst.

Subban may have hit finally professional rock bottom, too, with seven goals against on 39 shots in a Dec. 17 loss.

What’s weird about this is that Subban is better than this. It’s just… there’s something off. You can’t put your finger on it, exactly, but for me it does come back to his mental makeup and attitude. It’s as if when one goes in, they all go in. And an NHL goaltender can’t have that sort of mindset. Not even close to it, actually. Memories like goldfish. Not save attempts like goldfish.

The Florida Panthers are still Mickey Mouse

Jaromir Jagr is incredible. He’s the best. Love him to pieces. And it was awesome to see Jagr pass Mark Messier for second on the league’s all-time scoring list against the Bruins. But how absolutely goofy are the Panthers for stopping a game in the middle of play to hold a ceremony for the 44-year-old legend? The answer, of course, is very.

You can almost see the look on Jagr’s face that’s like, ‘Oh, God, we have to do this right now?’

Not only did it stop the Panthers’ momentum against the Bruins (and they had a ton of it), but it was just so weird. This was absolutely something that could have been held off on until the club’s next home game and actually meant something. Very little seemed to be gained from presenting a commemorative gold stick and interviewing an exasperated Jagr in the middle of the game. For both the Panthers and Jagr, as the club still lost for the eighth time in their last 12 games.

All that said, I hope Jagr plays til he’s 60. No, 65. 80! 80 years old.

Give Jimmy Hayes some credit

Jimmy Hayes might be playing some of the best hockey he’s played in a Bruins uniform, and yet, he’s still the butt of everyone’s joke. That’s weird to me. Rarely have I seen fans of a team just openly mock a player — even when he finds a way to score a goal or record a point or even just make a good play — like the way I see people rip Hayes to shreds at every possible turn. If you’re going to dump on him when he struggles, at least be a little bit fair and give the dude some credit when he contributes.

Stop telling me that the Vegas Golden Knights have a cool logo

They don’t.

5 Things We Learned as Frank Vatrano scores in first game back in win over Panthers

12.22.16 at 10:23 pm ET
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Bruins winger Frank Vatrano scored in his first NHL game of the season in Thursday's win over the Panthers. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger Frank Vatrano scored in his first NHL game of the season in Thursday’s win over the Panthers. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

On the shelf for the first 34 games of the season as a result of September foot surgery, Bruins winger Frank Vatrano was counting down the days to his NHL return.

He had to be patient, had to bide his time (you could tell just how badly Vatrano, recalled and cleared to play after two games in the AHL last weekend, wanted to play against the Islanders the other night), and had to understand that even when he did come back, that there might be some time until he made a noticeable impact for the Big B’s.

That time, as it turned out, was just one-plus period.

On the ice for just his sixth shift of the night (and first of the middle frame), Vatrano beat Panthers James Reimer netminder with a signature quick wrister fired just 2:09 into the second period in a 3-1 win over the Panthers at the BB&T Center.

Reunited with Austin Czarnik — Vatrano’s preferred playmaking centerman during his absurd run with the P-Bruins a year ago — on the B’s third line with Riley Nash on the right side, the 22-year-old provided a noticeable spark and played with the shoot-first mentality that the Black and Gold had penciled into their top six before Vatrano went under the knife after a freak foot injury sustained while jogging.

The Bruins rolled with the momentum of Vatrano’s first goal of the season with a power-play goal from Patrice Bergeron, scored just 3:04 after their first goal, for Bergeron’s first goal in nine games.

And with a 2-0 edge through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins went into a defensive shell against the trailing Panthers, and it was Aleksander Barkov that beat Tuukka Rask up high, scored with under seven minutes to go in the third.

But the Bruins caught a break on a 6-on-5 chance for the Panthers when Keith Yandle whiffed on a puck at the attacking blue line after a Florida faceoff win and allowed Brad Marchand and David Backes to charge towards an empty net, where Backes deposited a goal for the dagger in a 3-1 final.

With the win, the Bruins improved to 3-0-0 against the Panthers this season.

Here are four other things we learned in the win…

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Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr could make history tonight against Bruins

12.22.16 at 7:22 pm ET
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Jaromir Jagr is one point away from moving into sole possession of the second-most points in NHL history. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Jaromir Jagr is one point away from moving into sole possession of the second-most points in NHL history. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have been here before. Jaromir Jagr, who might honestly be the first machine ever made (hit the bricks, waterwheels and windmills), has been here before. And yet, here they are, back for more.

It was in a Mar. 7 meeting between the Bruins and Panthers that the ageless Jagr moved into third place on the NHL’s all-time points list with an assist in the first period of a loss to the Black and Gold. Now, one offseason and 37 points later, the 44-year-old Jagr enters tonight’s game in need of just one point to pass Mark Messier for sole possession of second place on the NHL’s all-time points leaderboard.

With three assists in the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Sabres two nights ago, Jagr, who said he dropped 15 pounds over the summer, bumped his season total on up to 19, and his career total to 1,887.

Familiar with the Bruins long before his brief run with the club in 2013 — Jagr, acquired from the Stars in the lockout-delayed season, totaled two goals and nine points in 11 games with the Bruins (and added 10 assists in 22 playoff games, figures that are not included in those 1,887 points) — Jagr has made it a point in torching the Bruins since the club walked away from him following their Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks.

In 13 games against the B’s since 2013 between the Devils and Panthers, Jagr has totaled two goals and 11 points, and has recorded 34 goals and 101 points in 83 career games against the Bruins in his career.

After Messier, Jagr will begin a climb towards Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-best 2,857 points.

Something he will reach by 2080, when he is probably still playing.

Jimmy Hayes hopes to keep it rolling as Bruins visit Panthers

12.22.16 at 6:57 pm ET
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Jimmy Hayes skated in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes skated in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015 before he was traded to the Bruins. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

In Florida for the first of two road games before the league’s holiday break, the Bruins are expected to get both David Pastrnak and Frank Vatrano back in action when they square off with the Panthers tonight.

And in what’s a definite no-brainer for Bruins coach Claude Julien, forward Jimmy Hayes is expected to remain in the lineup.

That’s not something that you would have said — let alone see actually happen — a month ago. Or even two weeks ago.

Rejuvenated on a fourth line with Anton Blidh and Dominic Moore, the 6-foot-5 Hayes has made an undeniable impact for the B’s in their last two games, with the only goal in Sunday’s win over the Kings, and on the ice for both of the club’s goals in a 4-2 loss to the Isles on Tuesday.

“He seems to be doing more,” Julien said of Hayes. “I can tell you he’s doing the things that we’ve talked about. He’s going to the net, he’s winning some battles, he’s playing with an edge, and he just seems to be finding his confidence. Those kind of things are important.”

“I just need to continue to play with confidence,” Hayes admitted. “It’s obviously been a long year but you stick with it, you just got to find a way to produce and find a way to stay in the lineup and be effective and help.”

There was an almost impossible struggle to Hayes’ year. Pointless through the first 19 games of the season (and 35 games overall if you care to include the 16-game goalless stretch Hayes finished last season with), Hayes was finally on the board with a Nov. 27 goal against the Lightning, but went another seven games without a point — and was in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch over that stretch — before last Sunday’s goal and Tuesday’s strong effort behind a team-leading six shots on net.

“You just need to find ways to get out of those struggles,” Hayes continued, “and sometimes they last a little bit longer than you want them to, but you just find a way, work hard, and be a good teammate.”

But Hayes knows that two points in two games doesn’t erase the past or permanently solidify his spot in the lineup just yet. But another strong night, and against the team that traded him to the Bruins two summers ago, certainly wouldn’t hurt.

“There’s always motivation to play and stay in the lineup and be an effective player, but especially against a team you used to play for,” the winger, who played in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015 before he was moved the Bruins in exchange for Reilly Smith and the retired-but-not-retired Marc Savard’s contract, said.

At the same time, Hayes isn’t one to obsess over the player (Smith) on the opposite bench.

It’s understandable given the fact that Smith emerged as a legitimate top six winger for the Panthers last year with a career-high 25 goals a year ago (and strong playoff performance) while Hayes battled his own inconsistencies in a 13-goal, 29-point campaign. The numbers still haven’t worked out in the B’s favor, of course, as Smith’s tallied six goals and 14 points in 33 games this season while Hayes has two goals and three points in 29 contests (though Hayes and Smith have the same amount of five-on-five goals this season while Hayes has accomplished the feat in 273 minutes compared to the 456 it’s taken Smith).

“I never look at who I got traded for,” Hayes, who has been moved three times in his NHL career, said. “Sometimes you forget who you get traded for. But he’s obviously a good player, and he’s part of that team’s success now.”

The good news for Hayes though is that he finally appears to be a working part of the B’s success.

With Pastrnak and Vatrano likely back, forwards Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller are the expected healthy scratches up front for the B’s, while defenseman Joe Morrow is likely to sit as a scratch for the fifth straight game.

Tuukka Rask is expected back in net for the Bruins. In a night that simply was not his, Rask was lifted from Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders after he allowed three goals on 13 shots, but enters play with two wins in two head-to-heads with the Panthers this season. Overall, the 29-year-old has 17 wins and a .949 save percentage in 21 career games against the Panthers.

The Panthers are expected to counter with James Reimer. He made 30 stops in a 3-1 win over the Avalanche last Friday, and has four wins and a .904 save percentage in 12 games for the Panthers this season. Reimer has seven wins in 15 games against the B’s.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes

Frank Vatrano – Austin Czarnik – Riley Nash

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

Anton Blidh making impression on Bruins with agitating ways

12.21.16 at 7:07 pm ET
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Anton Blidh scored his first NHL game in Tuesday's loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Anton Blidh scored his first NHL game in Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

It will take all of a minute — maybe even less, actually — to talk with Bruins forward Anton Blidh before the E-word comes up.

Energy.

It’s what he’s about, and it’s what the coaching staff — be it in Boston, Providence, or back home in Frolunda, where Blidh’s professional career began — expects of him.

The Bruins found that energy behind the first goal of Blidh’s NHL career in a botched comeback attempt Tuesday night, too, though the look on Blidh’s face after the game did not scream that of a player happy to have scored the first goal of his National Hockey League career. The words that came out of that face all but confirmed that.

“It’s a nice experience,” a blunt Blidh said of the goal, which was banked off Islander defenseman Nick Leddy and into the net. “I’m glad to score my first NHL goal, but we lost and that sucks.”

Like lights left on from 9-to-5, it was energy wasted. And lots of it.

In just his seventh NHL game, and third since his latest NHL recall less than a week ago, the sixth-round draft pick from 2013 was a force on the B’s fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, and paced the Bruins with a forward-leading eight shot attempts (five landed on net), and has found solid production out of the gate to his NHL career, with one goal and two points, along with 16 shots on goal and 18 hits. Blidh’s contributed that to the table while also maintaining that annoying-to-play-against style that’s become noticed by teammates and opponents alike, as Blidh was credited with three hits on the night. He’s also made life awfully difficult for a Bruins front office short on space but undeniably incapable of sending Blidh down given the way he’s responded since getting that first taste of NHL life (and subsequent but brief demotion back down to the bus life of the AHL).

“He brings a lot of speed and he’s got some skill,” Hayes said of Blidh’s north-south game. “He just continues to get pucks to the net and he plays hard and he gets underneath the other team’s skin, he’s been very effective.”

Not an overly physical presence, what Blidh does to opponents is more bothersome than anything else. Drew Doughty’s slash on Blidh last Sunday — something Blidh did not retaliate on, instead goading the perennial Norris candidate into a two-minute minor — showed that. And it’s that ability to seek and annoy that’s become an asset to that line.

“That’s a great quality for him to have,” said Hayes. “He continues to find ways to get out there against the top opponents to get under their skin and try to get them to draw some penalties. I think he’s been doing a heck of a job of it.”

There’s a definite comfort factor when it comes to Blidh as well, as it’s rare for an agitator to simply come in and start going bananas in front of the net or against the opposition, unless he wants to develop a reputation and put his own team in danger.

“I think if you’re smart about it and he does a good job I have no issues with that,” Claude Julien, who went as far to refuse to call the Blidh-Moore-Hayes line a fourth line, said of Blidh’s agitating nature. “If anything, I like his game. He’s forechecking, he’s one of those guys that’s going to go to the front of the net. I keep talking about that in every press conference I have is our net-front presence — well, he’s not afraid to go there. I like that. Sometimes doing those things really ticks off the other team.”

“I come in, [and it’s] like give me a couple games and I can make my game,” Blidh, who considers Gothenburg, Swe., his hometown, said of his ability to adapt into the NHL and figure out his exact role. “[I’ve] felt more comfortable.”

And the more comfortable Blidh gets, the more uncomfortable life will be for the Bruins’ opponents.

David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano could play for Bruins before holiday break

12.21.16 at 3:39 pm ET
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Bruins winger David Pastrnak (elbow) is nearing a return. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger David Pastrnak has missed the last two games with an elbow injury, but is nearing a return. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins scored just one goal on 30 shots last Sunday. Last night, they scored just two times on 50 shots. If you care to go back even further, the Bruins have scored just 14 goals on their last 251 shots over the last seven games (a shooting percentage under six). That’s in line with the club’s year-long struggles in this department, too, as the B’s have the league’s worst shooting percentage as a team (6.71%).

So it’s no secret that the Bruins need an offensive injection ahead of a four-game road trip — though broken up by the league’s holiday break — that begins with Thursday’s game against the Panthers.

Insert David Pastrnak and/or Frank Vatrano.

“Either guy could [play],” Bruins coach Claude Julien said when asked about Pastrnak and Vatrano’s availability for the club’s two-game trip to Florida and then Carolina. “There’s no sure shot answer to that, we still have to make sure everything is OK before that happens.”

On the ice for Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, it was the 20-year-old Pastrnak, who has missed the last two games after the removal of an olecranon bursa from his right elbow last Friday (the same injury that kept David Backes out of action for five games earlier this season), that led the stretch and was all smiles in the B’s locker room. 

“I’m happy I’m back on the ice,” Pastrnak said. “I missed two games, it could be worse. Always can be worse.”

Pastrnak has tallied the second-most goals in the NHL this year, with 19, and Pastrnak has accomplished this while missing a total of seven games on the year (two to suspension and five combined games with two different injuries).

In the case of Vatrano, a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders, it’s more about simply biding his time in the hopes of a return after scoring two goals on eight shots in two games for the P-Bruins last weekend. At the same time, there’s no denying the 22-year-old’s eagerness to get back into action after a near three-month long recovery from foot surgery.

“I just want to get into as many games as possible,” Vatrano admitted. “Obviously I wasn’t in the lineup last night, but I wouldn’t take it as a negative. They want me to be ready when I’m ready. I wanna step in and be ready and not have any rust in my game.”

A native of East Longmeadow, Mass., Vatrano recorded 36 goals in 36 games for the P-Bruins a year ago, and added eight goals and 11 points on 99 shots in 39 NHL games with the Bruins.

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