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Let’s Be Frank featuring Josh Dolan and Bruins’ Frank Vatrano

11.07.16 at 4:15 pm ET
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In the bowels of Warrior Ice Arena, WEEI’s Josh Dolan recently caught up with Boston Bruins forward Frank Vatrano for a segment aptly titled Let’s Be Frank.

The East Longmeadow, Mass., native and Josh talked all things 90s, growing up in New England, and, well, some problems that may separated the two from their paths along the way.

 

 

Bruins set to begin grueling week tonight vs. Sabres

11.07.16 at 2:32 pm ET
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Monday marks the start of a grueling five games in seven days for the Bruins. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Monday marks the start of a 5-game-in-7-days stretch for the Bruins. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

An extra hour of sleep, courtesy of daylight savings time, could not have at a better time for the Boston Bruins.

Set for the first leg of a back-to-back and the second leg of their first of 16 sets of three-games-in-four-nights, and with five games in the next seven days overall, Bruins coach Claude Julien knows that he has to manage what he can ahead of tonight’s head-to-head with the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.

“Obviously it’s not an easy schedule,” Julien said after the club’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “And you have to manage it the best you can.”

The massive workload was a known byproduct of a 2016 World Cup of Hockey that delayed the start of the NHL season by at least a week and with a bye week set for February (a new addition to the schedule for all 30 NHL teams), this was not something that’s necessarily blindsided the club, but something they’re not exactly accustomed to either. Not this early in the year, anyways.

And after a Sunday away from the rink, and with no set plans for Wednesday in Boston (the Bruins play at home tonight and then travel to Montreal for a Tuesday night head-to-head with the Habs), the Bruins have to be honest when weighing the pros and cons of more time on ice.

“We need to conserve our energy for the games right now,” admitted Julien.

But at 6-5-0 through 11 games and just one point out of the cellar of the Atlantic Division, the B’s bench boss knows that he needs to a 20-man effort to validate those days off.

“The better we play as a team, the easier it’s going to be because we’ll be able to utilize everybody,”  Julien said of this stretch. “If we have some guys that aren’t going well and you have to shorten up your bench, that’s when eventually it catches up to you.”

Julien has repeatedly noted the boost the Bruins have received from the Patrice Bergeron line and the Dominic Moore line, but has continued to stress the need for production from his second and third groupings. Most notably, the third line of Matt Beleskey, Riley Nash, and Austin Czarnik, which has a combined two points (Czarnik and Nash each have one) between the three players.

But on the heels of his first point of the season — a shorthanded assist recorded on a David Pastrnak goal in the third period of Saturday’s loss to the New York Rangers — Nash hopes that the monkey is finally off his back and that the offensive game will follow.

“Hopefully it helps [my confidence] grow,” Nash said of getting on the board with his first point in a B’s uniform. “I thought last game as a line we played pretty well and had some chances. Hopefully we keep playing with the puck more and getting more chances.”

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is expected to get the start tonight. Rask took his first loss of the year behind Saturday’s 19-of-24 showing, but is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage in seven games this season. Rask has nine wins and a .925 save percentage in 17 career games against Buffalo.

Forward Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Joe Morrow are the expected scratches.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins tonight.

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes

Matt Beleskey – Riley Nash – Austin Czarnik

Tim Schaller – Dominic Moore – Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

John-Michael Liles – Colin Miller

Rask

Slumping Matt Beleskey bringing his game back to basics for Bruins

11.07.16 at 12:46 pm ET
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Matt Beleskey is still looking for his first point of the season. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Beleskey is still looking for his first point of the season. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

This is not the first prolonged scoring drought of Boston Bruins forward Matt Beleskey’s career. It’s not even the first extended cold spell of his tenure with the club, actually. The odds suggest that it won’t be the last one, either.

But when the 28-year-old had a chance to step back from the ice — not by choice — as a healthy scratch in the club’s 4-3 shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last Thursday, he made damn sure he responded in his next on-ice chance. And though it did not come with what Beleskey would like more than anything right now (a goal, an assist, or a point in any fashion), the Bruins felt as if effort level from No. 39 was more in line with that of the player that set a career-high in points (37) last season.

Credited with six hits and four shots on goal in 17:56 of time on ice, Beleskey tried his best to engage in any possible way — an engagement plan that included an attempted fight with the Rangers’ J.T. Miller to which Miller (perhaps wisely) declined — and the Bruins noticed it.

“I think Matty seemed to be a little bit more on top of his game the way we’re used to seeing him,” Bruins coach Claude Julien noted. “That was encouraging for us, but at the same time I think the Bergeron line has been giving us lots of momentum and our fourth line, the Moore line, has.”

Still, and understandably so, the Bruins want to see even more from the group.

“Those two other lines have to give us a little bit more,” Julien, who scratched the line’s other slumping winger, Jimmy Hayes, on Saturday, said. “We can’t continue to rely upon just a couple of lines. We have players on other lines that are very capable of giving us more.”

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Bruins’ struggling power play hits new low with minus-2 performance in loss to Rangers

11.06.16 at 1:04 am ET
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Kevin Hayes scores one of the Rangers' two shorthanded goals Saturday night (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Kevin Hayes scores one of the Rangers’ two shorthanded goals Saturday night (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins’ power play has struggled to score all season. On Saturday, it also struggled to prevent the Rangers from scoring, as Boston went 0-for-3 on the man advantage and surrendered two shorthanded goals in a 5-2 loss.

With Saturday night surely marking a season low point, it’s worth examining just how bad the Bruins’ power play has been, and whether there’s hope for a turnaround.

First, the basics. The Bruins rank dead last on the power play, converting on just 7.9 percent of their chances. On top of that, they’ve now given up three shorthanded goals, which is tied for the most in the NHL. They’ve allowed as many goals as they’ve scored while on the man advantage, which is obviously terrible.

Digging a little deeper, it becomes apparent that the Bruins’ power-play struggles aren’t just a matter of bad luck, either. In fairness, there was a little luck involved in each shorthanded goal Saturday. Tuukka Rask made the initial save on Derek Stepan’s, only to have the rebound bounce off Stepan’s leg and in. Then the rush leading to Kevin Hayes’ started with a weird bounce off the glass behind the Rangers’ net. But in both cases, the Bruins also got caught with too many guys up ice, allowing the odd-man rushes to happen.

When it comes to the not-scoring part of the power play, though, the biggest problem is that the Bruins aren’t creating enough chances. According to corsica.hockey, going into Saturday the Bruins had the fourth-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes on the power play and fourth-fewest shots on goal per 60. Their five shots on goal in six minutes of power-play time Saturday night will help lift those numbers a little, but the point remains that the B’s aren’t getting the puck to the net enough.

All of that can be the result of any number of things, whether it’s poor zone entries, a lack of movement in the zone, not getting to rebounds and blocked shots to create second chances, or simply not taking shots when they’re there. In the Bruins’ case, we’ve seen a little bit of all of that this season.

Despite the numbers and despite Saturday’s abysmal effort, some Bruins insist there are reasons to be optimistic.

“I mean, we know we have a great power play — proved that last year — but it’s got to click,” Brad Marchand said. “I thought the last couple games, tonight even early — they get a couple goals — we were moving around really well. We had a few good opportunities that we easily could have scored on. So, if we keep going like that then the pucks are going to go in the net.”

Marchand is right that the power play looked better Thursday in Tampa, and you can understand him looking for a silver lining in Saturday’s performance as well, but it also needs to be pointed out that the Bruins were 0-for-11 in the four games before that Lightning game.

Marchand is also right that the Bruins’ power play was very good last season, when it ranked seventh in the NHL at 20.5 percent. The only major change on the top power-play unit is Marchand replacing Loui Eriksson. Eriksson was terrific in front of the net, but his departure shouldn’t single-handedly sink a unit that includes talented players like Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner and Torey Krug. There’s some talent on the second unit, too, particularly in David Pastrnak and Colin Miller.

The Bruins should be capable of generating clean entries and creating better looks on the power play, but they have yet to show that on any sort of consistent basis this season. Until they do, the man advantage will remain not just an area of weakness, but a legitimate detriment to the team.

“The Tampa game was a lot better, but we’re back to square one,” Bergeron said. “We’ve just got to do the job. We’re good enough players. It’s about believing and having more confidence right now and being desperate on the power play. We’re hurting the team and you can’t do that.”

Massachusetts native Jimmy Vesey returns to TD Garden for first time as professional

11.06.16 at 12:27 am ET
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Jimmy Vesey has been impressive early. (Credit: USA Today Sports)

Jimmy Vesey has been impressive early. (Credit: USA Today Sports)

TD Garden welcomed back a familiar face Saturday night, as New York Rangers forward and Harvard graduate Jimmy Vesey recorded an assist in his team’s 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins.

“It was great,” Vesey said following the game. “Played here for four years and I came here to watch Bruins games growing up. So, it was pretty special for me to be able to be out there as a professional.”

It was his third point against the Bruins and his 11th point overall this season, which is tied for the most among NHL rookies. In addition, he is tied for second among first-year players in goals and plus-minus. When asked about his early success, Vesey leaned on the word “trust”.

“We’re very deep,” said Vesey. “Coaches have trusted me to put [me] in all the crucial situations: power play and five-on-five. So, you know, they have trusted me and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

Vesey really is making the most of it in the pros, much like he did in college. At Harvard, the North Reading native finished with 144 points in 128 games, including a 58-point season his junior year in which he was named the ECAC Player of the Year. He also won 3 Beanpot tournaments and took home the Hobey Baker Award—given to the best collegiate player—last season. More than the numbers though, Vesey said he grew up at Harvard.

“In four years, I’ve matured a lot as a player and a person so I know what I have to do out there,” said Vesey. “I’m mature, and I definitely think [Harvard] prepared me well.”

Vesey took the unorthodox route of staying in school for four years. He said, more than anything, he really wanted that diploma.

“I think a lot of it was the degree,” said Vesey. “Obviously, one of the best schools out there and not a lot of people have that opportunity. And, everyone always says they’ll finish if they leave early, but it’s actually pretty tough to dedicate the time to do it, and I wanted to make sure I got it out of the way.”

Despite having so many ties to Boston—his father even suited up once for the Bruins—Vesey still believes he made the right choice in picking the Rangers.

“I’m comfortable with my decision,” said Vesey, only a couple months removed from his selection to play for the Rangers over, among other teams, the Bruins. “Everything’s working out and I’m getting a good opportunity. I think we have a really strong team, so I’m very happy with my decision.”

Being from Massachusetts, Vesey said he had over 70 friends and family attend the game. Thankfully, however, he only had to worry about three people when it came to tickets.

“I actually lucked out,” said Vesey, with a look of relief. “I only had to worry about my mom, dad and sister. Everyone else had this date circled and got them in advance.”

5 Things We Learned as Rangers’ penalty killers wreck Bruins

11.05.16 at 9:32 pm ET
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The Bruins went 0-for-3 on the power play and allowed two shorthanded goals in a loss to the Rangers on Saturday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins went 0-for-3 on the power play and allowed two shorthanded goals in a loss to the Rangers on Saturday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

The Boston Bruins power play is so bad — how bad is it? — that the team has now allowed as many shorthanded goals against as they’ve scored power-play goals on the year.

In what’s emerged as a year-long struggle for a man advantage that’s scored on just 3-of-38 chances after tonight’s 0-for-3 mark on the power play, Saturday was undoubtedly the low point of the Bruins’ stumbling power play, as the New York Rangers struck for two shorthanded goals, both on odd-man rushes, in a 3-1 Bruins loss at TD Garden.

In a 1-1 tie with goals from Patrice Bergeron and the Rangers’ Nick Holden, the Blueshirts jumped ahead at the 17:59 mark of the first period when Derek Stepan finished off a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Michael Grabner, and Bergeron as the lone line of defense in front of Rask.

The Rangers then added their second shortie of the night just 2:18 into the second period — on a 3-on-1, again (and somehow) while down a man — scored just moments after Bruins defenseman Torey Krug missed a wide open net with the help of a diving Dan Girardi and Antti Raanta.

Up by two through 40, the Rangers added an insurance marker from Pavel Buchnevich’s first NHL goal, a power-play goal scored 13:37 into the third period, to put the Rangers up by three.

The Bruins countered Buchnevich’s goal with a David Pastrnak shorthanded tip 1:06 later.

But when David Krejci turned the puck over at the redline, the Rangers were once again there, as Grabner stormed in all alone and beat Rask for the Rangers’ fifth and final goal of the night.

Raanta, peppered all night long, finished the night with 35 stops on 37 shots against.

With two losses and with just one more game left between the two Original Six rivals, the Bruins have now lost the season series with the Rangers in six of Claude Julien’s 10 years in Boston.

Rangers throw a Block Party at TD Garden

Head coach John Tortorella may be gone from behind the Ranger bench, but the Blueshirts are still very much a team that prides themselves on their ability to block shots.

After the first period of play, the Bruins had 11 shots on goal, but Rangers nearly matched their offensive pushes with 10 blocked shots. By the end of the second period, they had 14 blocks. The Rangers were especially strong in blocking blasts from the B’s best — or strongest, at the very least — point shots in captain Zdeno Chara and third-pairing puckmover Colin Miller.

Speed, pressure of Rangers still too much for Bruins to handle

As they did in the first head-to-head between these two, the Rangers really forced the Bruins into bad mistakes and ugly-looking retreats with a relentless speed game that they simply could not match. Led by the play of wingers like Jesper, Fast, Chris Kreider, and Grabner, the Rangers routinely forced the Bruins into bad plays and turnovers in the neutral zone and made ’em pay. It was a style eerily similar to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins during their Cup run last spring, which can really only mean good things for the Rangers if it holds up through the year.

Backes returns from five-game absence

By now it’s known what Bruins center David Krejci likes on his right side: a big-bodied, right-shooting winger that can retrieve pucks and score in a variety of ways. It’s what he had during the club’s Stanley Cup window in Nathan Horton, and what he had in a Presidents’ Trophy winning 2013-14 season that featured Jarome Iginla to his right. Saturday came with a return of that kind of presence with David Backes’ return to the B’s lineup. Together for just two games this season, the Krejci-Backes connection still looked to be in its beginning stages of growing as a unit, but the duo did seem to have some chemistry, at least when it came to their rushes into the attacking zone. Consistency will be the biggest key for the Krejci line, and especially for No. 46 to get going, as the Czech pivot has centered five completely different combos of wingers just 11 games in.

Jimmy Hayes scratched from game versus younger brother

Even a game-winning goal in the 10th round of a shootout in the B’s last game, a 4-3 final over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, could not save Jimmy Hayes from a seat in the press box as the team’s healthy scratch up front. Against his younger brother’s team. With friends and family — likely more than usual, too, because of his brother’s attendance as well — in the stands. Oof.

Message sent. Right to the heart of Dorchester.

B’s coach Claude Julien certainly has a point, though, as Hayes is still without .. well, a point. It’s now been 26 consecutive games in which No. 11 has failed to hit the scoresheet — and no, shootout goals do not count — and the Black and Gold are really out of answers.

And it’s only fair that if Matt Beleskey became a healthy scratch after nine games without a point, that Hayes becomes one after 10 games without a point.

The Bruins are back in action on Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

10-for-10: A statistical look at the Bruins’ first 10 games of year

11.05.16 at 2:57 pm ET
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The Bruins are 6-4-0 through their first 10 games of the season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are 6-4-0 through their first 10 games of the season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Ten games into the year, and on a three-game winning streak, the Boston Bruins sit at a respectable 6-4-0.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s still far, far from the worst case scenario for a Black and Gold group that’s yet to have their full lineup — be it because of injury, suspension, or both — in any one of their 10 games this season.

Ahead of a Saturday night showdown at TD Garden between the B’s and visiting New York Rangers, here are 10 stats through the first eighth of the season.

10. Four

The number of goaltenders used by the Bruins this year. Just 10 games into the year, it’s the most since a 2011-12 season that saw Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas, Marty Turco, and Anton Khudobin take turns in the Boston crease. Two of the four — Rask and Khudobin — are part of this year’s four, joined by Providence Bruins platoon Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban.

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