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Bruins’ Frank Vatrano recalled, practices, but won’t play vs. Islanders

12.20.16 at 1:20 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano is nearing a return, but will not play tonight vs. the Islanders. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Frank Vatrano is nearing a return, but will not play tonight vs. the Islanders. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Through their first 33 games of the season, the Bruins have scored the fourth-fewest goals per contest (2.30) in the league while simultaneously averaging the third-most shots per game (33.3). Add it up and you have a Bruins club that simply lacks an offensive finish.

But one of the club’s projected finishers, winger Frank Vatrano, out since foot surgery in late Sept., is back, and there’s hope.

Just not yet.

Recalled by the Bruins for their Monday morning practice after two games in the American Hockey League over the weekend, Vatrano was once again on the ice for the optional morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of tonight’s head-to-head with the visiting Islanders, but will not suit up for tonight’s tilt, according to B’s coach Claude Julien.

The Bruins are, as expected given their need for consistent scoring (read as: they’re not going to rush him and deal with a setback), seem to be taking their time with the 22-year-old winger.

In two weekend games with the P-Bruins, Vatrano had inevitable some rust to his game, but contributed two goals (one of which being an empty-netter) and totaled eight shots on goal, and felt more comfortable with each shift.

“Friday I got better as the game went on,” Vatrano, who has scored 38 goals in 38 AHL games since the start of last season, said. “Sunday I felt really good. I felt I had my pace up. My battle level was good. I thought I was good in all three areas of the ice.

“The biggest things were the things you really can’t work on in practice, like taking contact, getting hit. That was something that was eye-opening right away, especially playing in the minors,” the East Longmeadow, Mass., native admitted. “First shift I got hit pretty hard. After that I kind of got my legs underneath me and got used to taking contact again.”

Initially projected to be a fit somewhere on the Bruins’ top six — be it on his off wing on the right side combo with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, or to the left of David Krejci and David Backes — the former UMass-Amherst standout is chomping at the bit to help a B’s team that’s scored two goals or fewer in 22 of their 33 games to date.

“I want to help the team in any way, whether it’s scoring goals or doing something else,” Vatrano continued, “but [scoring goals] is obviously something I do very well, and hopefully I can bring that to the team.”

Whenever that may be.

Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes scores second goal of season in win over Kings

12.18.16 at 6:58 pm ET
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Jimmy Hayes scored his second goal of the season in Sunday's victory over the Kings. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Jimmy Hayes scored his second goal of the season in Sunday’s victory over the Kings. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

There was a chance that Jimmy Hayes’ days in Boston were numbered. A good, maybe even great, chance actually. There’s still a chance that is the case for the much maligned winger from down the road.

But it won’t happen before Hayes has his say.

Back in the lineup after sitting out Thursday’s loss to the Ducks as a healthy scratch, something he’s done five times this season, and on a fourth line Dominic Moore and Anton Blidh, it was the 6-foot-5 Hayes that chimed in with the only goal of the B’s 1-0 victory over the visiting Kings at TD Garden in a Sunday afternoon matinee.

Parked in front of Kings netminder Peter Budaj as B’s defenseman Colin Miller juked around a challenging winger and fired a low, seeing-eye shot on net, it was Hayes that got his stick on a puck on its way to the net for just the second time this season, scored 4:20 into the first period.

The goal developed off a faceoff win, dish to the point, and with Hayes driving to the front of the net the entire time. It was a slice of the Hayes the Bruins thought they were acquiring from the Panthers in a July 2015 trade saw him swapped for Reilly Smith.

“That’s key from the fourth line,” Hayes said of the effort. “You’re going to have to find ways to get on them and be disruptive and we’ve got to keep the puck out of our net, but be able to get down there and create a little offense – it’s always nice.”

“He was better,” Julien confirmed after the win. “He resembled probably the older Hayes that we had at times last year than the ones we’ve seen this year. You’re hoping a guy has kind of turned the corner and is starting to find their games here a little bit.”

With Hayes, it’s not just about production, but rather his night-to-night effort in the little areas of his game.

“I think it’s a matter of with his size he’s got to win battles along the walls,” Julien said of Hayes. “He should be good in front of the net, tipping pucks and finding those loose pucks and I thought tonight not just that but he forechecked well. He had a good stick. Hopefully it’s a confidence builder for him and he gets to become a better player moving forward.”

Out of a top nine role and put on the fourth line, Hayes played a simplified game that saw a greater focus on his forecheck and getting his big frame and stick in shooting lanes, something that led to forced turnovers and chances in the attacking zone.

“I thought we played on our toes. I thought we played pretty aggressively getting in on the forecheck and getting pucks back, and playing on the move,” Moore said of the line with Blidh and Hayes on the wings. “[The Kings] defend pretty well, but I thought we were able to beat our check a few times and get some pucks to the net.”

Now on the board with his second goal of the season, Hayes’ work is not even close to done, especially with Frank Vatrano’s eventual return to the big club looming (Vatrano skated in two of the P-Bruins’ three games this weekend). And after all, it was nine games ago that Hayes got on the board with his first goal of the season and appeared to have turned a corner before he fell back into his old habits and returned as a healthy scratch. But Sunday, the effort was there, and the goal followed.

“That’s what it’s going to take to stay in the lineup every night and find a way,” Hayes said.

“You’ve got to battle hard and that’s what’s expected from Claude [Julien] and I expect that from myself.”

5 Things We Learned from Tuukka Rask’s fourth shutout of the year as Bruins beat Kings

12.18.16 at 3:41 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask made __ saves Sunday against the Kings. (Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports)

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask made 18 saves Sunday in a shutout win against the Kings. (Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports)

When you’re forced to juggle the lines up into utter nonsense as the Bruins were — and have been on numerous occasions this season — down top-line winger David Pastrnak for Sunday’s home tilt against the Kings, what’s the biggest thing you hope for? Ideally, balance.

Be it scoring balance, defensive balance, or whatever balance suits your roster the best. For this current collection of B’s forwards, that balance can be found within their effort — and more specifically, their forecheck — on lines one through four. And that’s exactly what Sunday’s head-to-head with the Kings brought, as they consistently made life hell for any and all L.A. defenseman, and gutted out a 1-0 victory on Garden ice.

With Pastrnak out, Riley Nash was moved up to the first line to the right of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Ryan Spooner was moved back to the left side of a second line with David Krejci and David Backes. Austin Czarnik centered a hardworking line with Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller on the wings, and Jimmy Hayes drew back into action as the right winger of a fourth line with Anton Blidh and Dominic Moore. It was the perfect blend that left the B’s a four-line forechecking attack that stymied the Kings.

The Bruins scored first, at the 4:20 mark of the first period, as Jimmy Hayes deflected a Colin Miller seeing-eye shot for his second goal of the season, and through Peter Budaj for a 1-0 lead.

It would be the lone goal of the opening frame, and hold up as the only tally by either side through two periods of play, as the Bruins’ three-zone commitment frustrated the Kings to just 10 shots on B’s netminder Tuukka Rask.

But when the Bruins failed to convert on a four-minute power play following Tyler Toffoli’s high stick on Zdeno Chara early in the third period, you could begin to feel the ice tilt the Kings’ way.

Then came a Schaller penalty for tripping the Kings’ Drew Doughty, and Rask seemed prime for a challenge.

But the B’s penalty kill came through with yet another kill, and the club was in the clear for their 17th win of the season.

In a relatively harmless afternoon in terms of legitimate scoring chances against, the 29-year-old Rask made 18 saves for his fourth shutout of the season while the Bruins improved to 3-0-0 on the year in matinee games.

Here are four other things we learned in the win…

Read the rest of this entry »

Riley Nash gets bumped to top line for Bruins vs. Kings

12.18.16 at 12:57 pm ET
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Riley Nash will move to the first line for today's Bruins vs. Kings game. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Riley Nash will move to the first line for today’s Bruins vs. Kings game. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Not even halfway through their 82-game schedule, the Bruins are set to begin their third run without the services of David Pastrnak when they play host to the visiting Kings in a TD Garden matinee.

Out for two games due to a suspension for a hit to the head of the Rangers’ Dan Girardi, then out for three games with an upper-body injury, the Bruins’ runaway top goal scorer and league’s second-highest scorer to date — Pastrnak’s 19 goals are two behind Sidney Crosby for tops in the NHL — will be out on a day-to-day basis as he recovers from a successful removal of the olecranon bursa from his right elbow (a minor surgery to treat commonly called liquid elbow). 

With Pastrnak out, Riley Nash has assumed his normal spot to the right of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the club’s first line. Nash has totaled one goal and five points in 32 games this season. Down a forward, Jimmy Hayes will also draw back into the lineup and skate on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Anton Blidh. Hayes has one goal on 42 shots in 27 games this season.

The Bruins have gone 3-2-0 in Pastrnak’s absence this season.

In net, Tuukka Rask gets the call for the B’s. The 29-year-old Rask stopped 33-of-37 shots in an overtime loss to the Penguins last Wednesday, and enters play with 15 wins and a .930 save percentage in 23 games this season. Rask has two wins and a .923 save percentage in five career games against the Kings.

Los Angeles counters with Peter Budaj.

The veteran journeyman came up with a 39-save shutout against the Penguins two nights ago, and comes into action with 14 wins (three shutouts) and a .913 save percentage in 24 starts. Budaj has five wins in six career starts against the Black and Gold.

This is the first of two meetings between the Bruins and Kings this year.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Riley Nash

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes

Tim Schaller – Austin Czarnik – Noel Acciari

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Rask

Bruins winger David Pastrnak undergoes elbow surgery

12.17.16 at 1:56 pm ET
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David Pastrnak.

David Pastrnak.

There was a noticeable absence from Saturday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.

David Pastrnak, who has wowed the entire league with 19 goals (just two behind Sidney Crosby for the league lead) and 26 points in 27 games this year, was not anywhere on the B’s top two lines, and wasn’t even on the ice for that matter. Then came an update from Bruins general manager Don Sweeney.

“David underwent a successful removal of the olecranon bursa from his right elbow on Friday, Dec. 16 at Newton Wellesley Hospital by Dr. Matthew Liebman,” Sweeney said in a brief statement released this morning. “His condition will be re-assessed on a day-to-day basis.”

Sweeney added that Pastrnak would “likely be unavailable” for the club’s Sunday head-to-head with the Kings and Tuesday contest against the Islanders.

This is the same ailment that caused Bruins forward David Backes to miss five games in 15 days earlier this season.

Admiral’s mailbag: What the heck is going on with Patrice Bergeron?

12.17.16 at 9:09 am ET
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Patrice Bergeron is a game-time decision for the Bruins.

Patrice Bergeron is a game-time decision for the Bruins.

Here’s your mailbag. Thanks for all the questions, and keep them coming …

Patrice Bergeron has just looked off most of the season. Is this the beginning of a decline or is he hurt? Danny, Quincy, MA

He’s still having issues with his nagging “lower body injury” (i.e. his foot) and, as it would with any skater, it’s hampered his game. You hate to criticize a guy who gives his heart and soul every shift but when he sets such a high bar, it’s easy to notice when there’s been a drop-off. And 4-5–9 in 28 games is well below his standard. Bergy is in that area where he’s not too banged up that he can’t play but the team also needs every point it can get right now so he’s not gonna come out of the line-up to rest up/heal. (I suppose he could also be delaying surgery and doesn’t want to shut his year down.) I don’t suspect whatever ails him will get better if he continues to play though. The team will need to determine what kind of shape he’ll be in come April and whether a rest during the winter is better in the long run. Either way, it sucks to see.

Are you surprised by the Ottawa Senators so far this year? Alan, Portland, ME

Yeah, a little bit. I definitely didn’t expect to see them second in the Atlantic a week or so before Christmas. Erik Karlsson is the type of superstar defenseman every GM dreams about at night (after daydreaming about Brent Burns all day) and he paces their offense as his 7-21–28 leads the team. Still, I don’t think they’re long for that slot. They have some nice pieces on offense but they’re hardly a juggernaut. You can’t help but feel for their goalie Craig Anderson, who has taken a leave of absence to be with his wife as she undergoes cancer treatment. But Mike Condon is a drop-off from Anderson and it will be tough for the Sens to maintain their position missing their No. 1 goalie; every single point is huge, especially in the ridiculously tight Eastern Conference. Regardless of when he does return, I still Tampa Bay wiggles its way back into the top three.

Do the Panthers regret trading Gerard Gallant? Vic, Woburn, MA

They sure won’t say so publicly but I imagine they’re having second thoughts about canning the popular coach early in the season for no real logical reason. The Panthers have gone 2-6 since Gallant’s infamous cab ride, making the firing look even worse. Now, Dale Tallon is being shuffled back into the GMs chair. Or maybe he isn’t, depending on who you listen to. The Panthers didn’t come flying out of the gate but they were certainly keeping pace under Gallant. Today? The Florida Panthers appear to be a mess and have a lot more questions surrounding them then they did a month ago.

What the hell happened to Colorado? John, Plymouth, MA

No kidding. The Avalanche had a bright future just a few years ago with burgeoning stars like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog playing under franchise legend Patrick Roy. They looked poised to return the Denver franchise to its glory days. Not quite. They’ve scored an NHL-low 63 goals in 28 games while surrounding 90 for a league-worst -27 in goal differential. Their goaltending has been subpar. They’re just not a very well constructed team or a good team and the future doesn’t look too great either. There are no easy fixes in pro sports and particularly true in Denver right now.

Frank Vatrano cleared to play, assigned to P-Bruins

12.16.16 at 3:51 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano

Christmas has come early for a Bruins club short on goals.

Forward Frank Vatrano, out of action since he underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left foot on Sept. 26, has officially been cleared to play and assigned to the AHL where he’s eligible to suit up for the Providence Bruins in their Friday night game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

The 22-year-old Vatrano has been seen at Bruins practice in recent weeks, and seen with the P-Bruins when the Big B’s have been on the road, and comes back to the rink after an absurd first professional season last year in which he tallied an AHL-best 36 goals (and 55 points) on 187 shots in 36 games for the P-Bruins. Vatrano also totaled eight goals, 11 points, and put 99 shots on net in 39 NHL games.

Back in the AHL to get readjusted to game speed, a full weekend slate of games will be the perfect reintroduction for Vatrano, as the P-Bruins have three games this weekend beginning with tonight’s head-to-head with the Sound Tigers, Saturday’s road game with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and a Sunday home game with the Syracuse Crunch.

An undrafted talent out of UMass-Amherst and East Longmeadow, Mass., native, Vatrano was initially pegged to be a fit somewhere in the B’s top six — be it on the right side of the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron or on the left side of a second line with David Krejci and David Backes — when the season began.

In 32 games without Vatrano, the Bruins have scored the 10th-fewest goals in the league despite having played a league-high 32 games (75 goals for) and averaged the 8th-fewest goals per game (2.34 goals for per night).

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