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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).

Bruins’ Anton Khudobin on struggles in loss: ‘Cluster-[expletive]’

12.16.16 at 5:10 am ET
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Anton Khudobin has just one win in six starts this season.

Anton Khudobin has just one win in six starts this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin’s return to the Bruins has not been a pleasant one.

Back with the Bruins after three seasons away, the 30-year-old talked at great lengths this past fall about his happiness upon returning back to what he considered a “family” with the Bruins, and the Bruins clearly had hopes that Khudobin could provide the necessary safety net behind Tuukka Rask that the club lacked over the last two seasons with incapable backups such as Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson.

Instead, Khudobin’s struggled to the tune of just one win and an .882 save percentage after his latest effort, a 23-of-27 losing effort against the Ducks, the team Khudobin called his own a season ago.

“I thought the first period was pretty good,” a visibly frustrated Khudobin said. “The second, a couple of unlucky bounces. The third goal went through my five-hole, went behind, and then came back… cluster-[expletive].”

To say that the Bruins have lacked consistency from their backups this year would be a lie, as they’ve been consistent, just not in the way the Black and Gold need them to be, with losses in all but one of their nine games with Rask on the bench between Khudobin (six games), Zane McIntyre (two games), and Malcolm Subban (one game).

“It’s tough when you’re playing once in awhile,” Khudobin, who has made two starts in the last seven days, admitted. “You want to get a bright result, but, I didn’t get it, again. So, really, just more probably angry than disappointed.”

But Khudobin’s teammates aren’t going to let No. 35 fall on the sword by himself.

“He made some saves for us, especially in the first period,” B’s defenseman Adam McQuaid said of Khudobin. “We had some breakdowns, some odd-man rushes, and it’s more on us to play better in front of him, and I mean, you’ve got guys putting in rebounds in tight, and those are areas where we’ve got to be stronger. So, we’ve got to be stronger for him.”

“We believe in every single guy,” Bruins alternate captain David Krejci said when asked if the team believes in Khudobin. “First goal was all me. Everyone had their guy, I just couldn’t put the stick on it, tried to clear it, but things are going to happen. Dobby had zero chance on that, and I felt like we should have done a little better job in front of him. They had always two guys crashing the net, and they got a couple bad goals, so we’ve got to do better job at this and help him out a little bit better.”

If these struggles continue, Khudobin would become the only Bruins goaltender to have appeared in at least six games in a season and post a sub-.900 save percentage in the Claude Julien Era, but Khudobin isn’t going to sulk his way there just yet.

“Go in for the practice, talk to Coach Goalie Bob [Essensa], see what we can do better, and keep moving forward,” Khudobin said of his plan moving forward. “Nothing can kill me right now. Obviously, it’s disappointing. I’m not really happy.

“But, I’m not going to put my head down and say that I’m done.”

Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk makes TD Garden debut

12.16.16 at 4:50 am ET
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Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk made his TD Garden debut Thursday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk made his TD Garden debut Thursday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk’s father, John, has punched in at TD Garden for almost five decades as a member of the Garden’s “Bull Gang” crew. Thursday night, however, there was a new Grzelcyk timecard at the arena, as Matt, fresh off his NHL debut the night before in a 4-3 overtime loss in Pittsburgh, made his hometown NHL debut.

But the 22-year-old defenseman from Charlestown, a stone’s throw from the Garden, was not trying to psych himself up beforehand.

“I think [you] just treat it like any other hockey game,” Grzelcyk said. “You see the gameplan before and you’re just trying to go out there and execute with the rest of the guys. So, I was just excited for puck drop.”

After all, Grzelcyk is used to playing at the Garden in big games, albeit as a four-year standout with Boston University.

“I think I was more comfortable today,” the third-round draft choice from 2012 noted. “I got to play in this building a couple of times in college. So, I think just playing in those big game scenarios kind of helped me.”

In 10:24 of time on ice, Grzelcyk put one shot on net, and was burned on a Kevin Bieksa breakaway goal that saw Grzelcyk chase the veteran defender to no avail after Ryan Getzlaf caught the ‘Grz’ and the Bruins napping on Bieksa’s exit from the penalty box.

“That’s something that is kind of a teaching point to me,” Grzelcyk admitted of the snafu that led to Bieksa’s second goal of the season. “I have to recognize the guy is coming out of the box there. At that point in the game, you can’t be too risky. I try to make plays all the time and I’ve just got to stay back there and man in there.”

5 Things We Learned as Anton Khudobin’s struggles continue in loss to Ducks

12.15.16 at 9:43 pm ET
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The Bruins dropped their fifth game in the last six contests with a 4-3 loss to the Ducks. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins dropped their fifth game in the last six contests with a 4-3 loss to the Ducks. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

One week to the day after he was publicly called out by head coach Claude Julien for not making enough saves when the Bruins needed them, Anton Khudobin was back in net with a shot at redemption.

It was a familiar situation for Khudobin, too, as the Bruins were back in town after a road game the night before (an overtime loss, no less) while their opponent sat comfortably in Boston.

But the story remained the same for the struggling 30-year-old, as Khudobin once again let the Bruins down by way of a mediocre 23-of-27 night en route to a 4-3 loss to the Ducks at TD Garden.

Although this one featured a new one for Khudobin, as he surrendered a two-goal lead almost as quickly as it was given to him.

After a sleepy start in which the Bruins didn’t really do much of anything, the Bruins broke the game open with two goals in 13 seconds. The first was off a bullet from Zdeno Chara, good for Chara’s first goal in 22 games, and with Patrice Bergeron providing a great screen on Ducks netminder Jonathan Bernier. The Z party rolled on into the next shift when Austin Czarnik followed Chara’s goal immediately off Ryan Spooner’s great feed to No. 27 that saw Czarnik find a sliver of space above Bernier to bury home his second goal in the last three games.

But the Ducks, well rested and apparently awake from the sound of the B’s goal horn, countered 14 seconds later, as David Krejci tucked home a loose rebound into his own net, a goal that was credited to Andrew Cogliano after a ferocious crash around Khudobin’s crease. The Ducks drew even just 5:06 after the Cogliano goal when Kevin Bieksa came out of the penalty box, with possession over the blue line all alone, and beat Khudobin for his second goal of the season.

Even on the scoreboard at 2-2 and in shots at 11-11 through 20 minutes of play, the Ducks finally grabbed a hold of the lead just 55 seconds into the second period when Josh Manson barreled around the net and banged a loose puck through Khudobin for his first goal of the season, which pushed Khudobin’s struggles to seven goals on just 35 shots against in his last 80:55 of hockey.

The Bruins bailed Khudobin out with a power-play goal just minutes later on a putaway shot from David Krejci, but again, the Ducks countered with a goal of their own, a Rickard Rakell all alone shot 2:56 later, to give Anaheim a 4-3 lead.

At numerous points throughout the night — and on a few of Anaheim’s goals for that matter — Khudobin was let down by the B’s team defense. The Bruins should have had better awareness on the time left in Bieksa’s penalty. The Bruins should have picked up their men in front of the net on the Cogliano goal, or the Manson goal, or the Rakell goal, but at a certain point, the Bruins need Khudobin to bail them out like the way Tuukka Rask bails them out. And that might not be necessarily fair to Khudobin, who is obviously the team’s backup and not in Rask’s caliber as a goaltender in this league, but he’s not the only backup in such a case.

Khudobin has now dropped five of his six starts this season.

Here are four other things we learned in the club’s fifth loss in their last six games…

Read the rest of this entry »

Bruins netminder Anton Khudobin gets start vs. Ducks

12.15.16 at 6:58 pm ET
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Anton Khudobin will start against the Ducks. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin will start against the Ducks. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Back in Boston after two straight overtime road games against top notch Eastern Conference foes in the Canadiens and Penguins, including one last night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Bruins coach Claude Julien isn’t taking any chances with his star netminder.

“Tough choice,” Julien said with a grin when asked if it was Anton Khudobin in net for tonight’s head-to-head with the visiting Ducks.

Read as: There was no way B’s netminder Tuukka Rask was finding his way back in net for his third start in four nights.

The 30-year-old Khudobin was criticized by the B’s bench boss after his last start, a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche last Thursday in which Khudobin allowed four goals on just 22 shots against, and comes into this start with just one win and an .888 save percentage in five games this year.

But if there’s a positive to take when it comes to Khudobin’s start, it comes from the fact that this is a Ducks group he’s familiar with from his 2015-16 season with the organization, which featured three wins and a .909 save percentage in seven starts. And if this year has taught us anything, it’s that Khudobin gets up for games against his former clubs, evident by his stellar 29-of-30 showing against the Hurricanes (the team that traded him to the Ducks two summers ago) on Dec. 1.

The Ducks will counter with Jonathan Bernier. The 28-year-old Bernier has five wins and a .907 save percentage in 12 games this season, and comes into action with three wins and a .901 save percentage in nine career games against the Bruins.

On a lineup note for the Bruins, Jimmy Hayes will return to the press box as a healthy scratch, while Anton Blidh, recalled from the P-Bruins early this morning, is set for the fifth NHL game of his career. Blidh has one assist and seven shots in four NHL games this season, and scored one goal on six shots during his brief demotion back down to the AHL.

This is the first of two meetings between the Bruins and Ducks this season.

Bruins recall Anton Blidh, assign Danton Heinen to Providence

12.15.16 at 5:11 pm ET
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Anton Blidh

Anton Blidh

Back in Boston for the second leg of a back-to-back that started in Pittsburgh last night and with the Ducks rested and waiting for the Black and Gold, the forward shuffle from Boston to Providence continued Thursday morning with the recall of forward Anton Blidh from the P-Bruins and corresponding reassignment of forward Danton Heinen back down to the AHL.

Returned to the AHL five days ago, Blidh scored a goal and added six shots in his two-game return to the minors, and comes back to the B’s with one assist, seven shots, and 13 hits in four NHL games this year.

Heinen, a healthy scratch in the last two contests, had one shot on goal, one hit, and was credited with one takeaway in 14:00 of time on ice in his only game during the recall, a 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs last Saturday. Heinen has seven goals and 13 points in 13 games for the P-Bruins this season.

Blidh will be eligible to suit up for the Bruins-Ducks game tonight.

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