|01.02.17 at 9:45 pm ET|
Every single time you’ve thought you had a solid read on this Bruins team, they’ve laid an egg against a mediocre-at-best team. Without fail.
The hot-and-cold nature of this team has undoubtedly plagued the first half of the B’s season, and that tradition has now carried on into the 2017 calendar year, as their two-game winning streak came to a halt with Monday’s 3-0 no-show of a loss against the Devils.
The B’s were by now accustomed to the desperate nature that the Devils would come into this game with (the Devils were 10 points out of the last wild card spot and 18 points away from third place in the Metropolitan Division entering play), but Monday’s display was proof that this team just can’t get out of its own way.
Instead of imposing their will against a back-against-the-wall Devils group, the Bruins let the opposition control the tempo (the Devils slowed this game to a crawl) and rarely pushed back with anything of substance, and were in an 0-1 deficit 4:12 into the first period. The one-goal deficit between two early in the third period, and three by the end of the game. They didn’t even have an answer for what the Devils were doing, either, as the Bruins very rarely made Cory Schneider sweat en route to a 22-save effort for his second shutout of the season and first win over the B’s since coming to New Jersey from the Canucks in 2013.
The Bruins appeared to be on a team running on fumes. And it’s a ‘eye test’ critique, I know, but was there any moment in this game where you looked at what the Bruins were doing and said wow they really know they can bury this team? Probably not.
You understand the overall grind of the NHL schedule. It’s an obvious one. and some bad losses to bad teams are going to happen. But after back-to-back wins against the Sabres last week, a road head-to-head with the Devils — a team with just two wins in their last 10 games overall and four of their last five games at the Prudential Center — and with Tuukka Rask in net against the struggling Schneider, this was a game that the Black and Gold should have won. At this time in the year, it’s as simple as that.
The Bruins have already dropped their share of stinkers to bad teams, too.
They’ve lost twice to the Maple Leafs (who, while improving, are still not a team that should blow you out of the water two times in as many games this season), they fallen apart against the Avalanche, Islanders, and most recently (before tonight) the ‘Canes. Factor tonight’s loss to the Devils into these struggles and the Bruins have nabbed just seven of a possible 18 points against that group of middling opponents.
Their ability to leave points on the table has been incredible in the worst possible way. And it’s not good enough now, as the playoff race truly seems to begin around the new year, and it won’t be good enough come April.
|01.02.17 at 4:24 pm ET|
As the league kicked off their 100-year birthday party with yesterday’s Centennial Classic meeting between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Toronto’s BMO Field, three Bruins legends found themselves in the spotlight of an Original Six showdown with an inclusion in the first batch of names in the league’s new 100 Greatest Players list.
Dubbed ‘the First 33′, the list (which for the record does not have a true numbering format of any sort) focused on the stars of the league’s first 50 years of existence, and included old time hockey legend Eddie Shore, Johnny Bucyk, and the ultimate Bruin, Milt Schmidt.
The iconic Shore’s resume was as long as it was straight-up terrifying.
A four-time Hart Trophy winner, two-time Stanley Cup winner, and perennial all-star during his NHL career, Shore was the league’s first elite defenseman, and had an undeniable aura to his name. Whether it was because of his toughness (there’s a legendary story about Shore having to find a doctor on his own to sew his ear back together because no other doctor was willing to do it — they wanted to amputate it) or his perseverance (there’s another story about Shore trekking up to Montreal on his own after missing the team’s train to Canada).
Shore finished his career with 103 goals and 279 points in 540 NHL games and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947.
Schmidt, who turned 98 earlier this season, has an equally impressive resume from his 16-year career in Boston. The leader of the Kraut Line with Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart, Schmidt ranks 12th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list with 575 points in 776 games with the Bruins, and would have tallied even more had he (along with his linemates) not lost three years of his career to his enlistment of the armed services during World War II. A two-time Cup winner with the Bruins, Schmidt would continue to win with the Bruins even after his retirement, as both a coach and general manager, and won another two Cups as the team’s GM, in 1970 and ’72. Schmidt, a Hockey Hall of Famer since 1961, is currently the oldest living former NHL player.
Then there’s The Chief. A staple of Bruins hockey since 1957, Bucyk ranks second on the club’s all-time games played list (his 1,436 games in Boston are second only to Ray Bourque’s 1,518) and points (Bucyk has 1,339 compared to Bourque’s 1,506), and retired as the league’s top scoring left-winger, although that record has since been broken. Bucyk recorded 16 seasons of 20 goals or more during his career, twice won the Lady Byng, was a seven-time all-star, and won Stanley Cups in 1970 and ’72.
Bucyk currently ranks 24th on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.
The 67 other players on the list will be revealed during the league’s All-Star weekend in Los Angeles at the end of the month.
|01.02.17 at 3:23 pm ET|
The Bruins will happily take the positives of their 2016 calendar year finish into 2017. But they’re not going to simply forgot some of the lessons that could have been learned through the struggles.
Something they’ll look to carry into their first game of 2017, a Monday night road meeting with the slumping Devils.
Through the first 39 games of this season, with the club sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division by way of their 20-15-4 record, the Bruins are a great team when they defend a lead (they’re 15-o-1 when leading after two periods of play), but have often struggled to score first and successful chase their way back into a successful comeback.
And after having to work like hell to break even in two games earlier last week in which the Bruins dealt themselves multi-goal deficits — the Bruins fell behind 0-3 to the Blue Jackets last Tuesday in a 4-3 loss, and 0-2 to the Sabres on Thursday in a 4-2 win — the Bruins found the start they needed behind three unanswered goals (from forwards on three different lines no less) to begin Saturday’s win over the Sabres.
It’s the starts that have proven pivotal for the club.
“When you start the game the right way, you don’t put yourself in a bad spot,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who scored for the third time in five games, said. “We showed some character lately getting back in games, but it’s not good enough when you play for 40 minutes. When you start the right way, it makes a huge difference.”
Squared up with a Devils team that’s won just two of their last 10 games and without a morning skate, the assumption would be that Tuukka Rask gets the start in net for the Bruins. The 29-year-old Rask has 19 wins and a .929 save percentage in 29 games this season, stopped 26-of-27 in his last start, has five wins and a .946 save percentage in nine starts against New Jersey. If it’s not Rask, it’ll be Anton Khudobin in the crease. Khudobin has one win and an .885 save percentage in eight games this year.
The Devils counter Rask with Cory Schneider.
It’s been a down year and a half for the Marblehead, Mass., native, with 10 wins and a .904 save percentage in 27 games this year, and at least four goals allowed in six of his last eight games played. The 30-year-old Schneider has not beat the Bruins since coming to the Devils from Vancouver in 2013, with an 0-4-2 record against Boston in spite of a .922 save percentage.
This is the second of three head-to-heads between the B’s and Devils this year.
The Bruins winning the first meeting behind a 2-1 final on Oct. 20 at TD Garden.
Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – Frank Vatrano
Tim Schaller – Austin Czarnik – Riley Nash
Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes
Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid
Kevan Miller – Zdeno Chara
|01.01.17 at 1:36 pm ET|
The season series finale between the Bruins and Sabres had familiar themes. The Bruins beat the Sabres for the fourth time in as many tries for their first season swept against their rival of 40-plus seasons, and it was the third game in which Sabres winger Evander Kane and Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller appeared to take issue with one another.
But for the third game in as many contests, the duo were unable — or perhaps unwilling — to drop the gloves in a second period spat.
Instead, both were assessed minors while Kane was given an additional 10-minute misconduct in Saturday’s 3-1 win for the Black and Gold.
It’s worth noting that the two were both on the ice against one another late in the third period, with the Sabres in pursuit of a game-tying goal, but nothing came of it, as the Sabres were (understandably) more focused on their comeback attempt given their dire need for points, while Miller was playing on the other side of the rink as Kane.
Still, after the game, Miller sprinkled in a thought on Kane’s false bravado.
“I think he was excited to fight when the referees came in and not before,” Miller said.
Sunday morning, Kane took to Twitter to send a jab back towards Miller.
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) January 1, 2017
After a Sunday practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Miller responded.
“I’ve been informed about [the tweet],” Miller, who does not have a Twitter account of his own and doesn’t sound like somebody that plans on making one, confirmed. “You guys can kinda pick and choose for that. You saw the game, right? I said my piece after the game. He wanted to fight when the refs and came in, and now he’s using Twitter, which is whatever you wanna call it — seems he has to say that when we don’t play them again.”
“He knew I wanted to [fight], there’s no ifs ands or buts about it,” Miller said of yesterday’s game and incident with Kane. “Everybody on his team knew I wanted to, and I’m pretty sure everybody on his team knows how I feel about him.”
And even though the bout between Kane-Miller will likely have to wait 10 months at the earliest, the 29-year-old Miller doesn’t sound like somebody that will forgive and forget when it comes down to the next head-to-head between the two.
“I have a long memory.”
|12.31.16 at 7:26 pm ET|
For the third game in a row, this one a 3-1 win over the rival Sabres in a New Year’s Eve matinee, the Bruins were denied a fight.
This time it did not involve Adam McQuaid getting his arms pinned down for some punches to the face. Instead it was Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller and Sabres winger Evander Kane who were not allowed at one another before the referees got involved, and put any hope of a fight to rest with a 10-minute misconduct handed down to Kane.
The TD Garden crowd, a 17,565-person mob that’s never come across a hockey fight they didn’t want to watch, voiced their displeasure.
But the obvious question: Why is this happening again and again?
“I don’t [know why],” Julien said. “We haven’t had a memo saying, ‘We’re doing this,’ or, ‘We’re doing that,’ and that’s probably something for someone else to answer. Maybe they’re trying to avoid scuffles.”
Saturday was not at bad as Thursday, no, but it still didn’t leave any member of the Bruins with a particularly great taste in their mouth given what’s happened in their recent bids to drop the gloves.
|12.31.16 at 4:55 pm ET|
The Bruins’ fears regarding David Backes’ health after a headshot from Sabres forward William Carrier in Thursday’s win were confirmed Saturday afternoon.
Taken out of the game on the hit, absent from Friday’s practice for further evaluation, and out for today’s game against the Sabres, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has announced that the 32-year-old Backes will be sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.
With Backes away from the team because of the concussion, Bruins coach Claude Julien said that he last talked to the veteran leader on the plane ride back from Buffalo late Thursday, but also provided a brief look into Backes’ current recovery situation when asked about him.
“He’s been told to stay home,” said Julien. “He’s been told to stay away from TVs and even texting him — he shouldn’t be receiving or texting — all I know is that he’s seen the doctors and I’m not quite sure whether he’s getting on the right track now or whether he’s still the same as he was two days ago.”
Surprisingly enough given his rough-and-tough style, this concussion goes down as just the second documented concussion of Backes’ decade-long NHL career and his first since with Boston since signing a five-year, $30 million contract last summer.
Including today’s game, Backes has missed six games this season (though the first five were due to an elbow procedure) and the Bruins have stepped up to the challenge in his absence, with wins in four of those six contests.
Backes has recorded nine goals and 19 points in 33 games this season, and leads the team with 98 hits.
|12.31.16 at 3:40 pm ET|
The Bruins have been awfully good at pushing back in 2016. Not by design, but rather out of necessity for survival in a jam-packed Atlantic Division. But perhaps it was fitting that on the final day of 2016, where we’ll eagerly push 2016 into the past later tonight, that the Bruins flipped the script and were the ones that pushed, with three straight goals to begin the game in a matinee win over the Sabres.
In the season series finale between the B’s and hated Sabres, it was Bruins winger Frank Vatrano that scored the game’s first goal, tallied just 88 seconds into the game. The Bruins were then given a chance to extend that lead to two when Anton Blidh drew a hooking penalty on Sabres defenseman Cody Franson midway through the period.
With chances galore, the closing hurrah of that 5-on-4 advantage came on a brilliant tic-tac-toe sequence that ended with Tim Schaller alone in front of Robin Lehner, but just denied by the extended pad of the lanky Sabres netminder.
It was just another close-but-not-close-enough refrain of a song sung from start to finish of this Bruins season. Same could have been said for what immediately followed, too. Whistled for a slash by Brad Marchand, the 4-on-5 shorthanded kill for the Black and Gold became a 3-on-5 on the Bruins when Schaller was whistled for a hook 53 seconds after the initial slash.
Pinned in their end — and just moments after they nearly struck for a goal that would have given the club a 2-0 lead — the Bruins looked prime to give up the game-tying goal and back their own break with bad luck once more.
But the Bruins instead kept the Sabres off the shot board entirely during the penalty kill, and carried a 1-0 lead through 20 while holding a desperate Sabres attack to just five shots on goal (two of which came when the Sabres were shorthanded).
It was the break that the Bruins used to their benefit in the middle frame, too, as tempers flared and the Bruins countered with goals, the first from Patrice Bergeron (a power-play goal) at 7:04, and then the next from Schaller, just 2:25 later. The tallies obviously upped the pressure on a stressed Sabres group, and caused some Sabres, namely the club’s second-most talented wing (Evander Kane) to go absolutely beserk in search of an answer and take a 10-minute misconduct for a spat with Kevan Miller.
In a game that had the perfect excuse for silliness — especially post-Kane misconduct and given everything else that’s circled this near four-decade old rivalry this season — the Bruins instead focused on playing well in a situation that’s become a bit of rarity (and came with the disastrous result of a collapse and overtime loss to the Hurricanes in their last try).
And given how often they’ve been left to fight from behind in recent weeks, it’s easy to forget how dominant Claude Julien teams tend to be — both this year and historically speaking — when either leading after 40 minutes of play or holding a two-goal edge.
Entering Saturday’s third period with a 15-0-1 record when leading after two periods this year, and with a 202-15-10 record since in any game in which they’ve led by at least two goals since the start of the 2011 season, the Bruins bumped those figures up another win with a sound third period, headlined by prolonged stretches without a shot on goal for the Sabres (they went almost six full minutes without a shot on goal) and eight stops from Tuukka Rask, who made 26 saves in total in the win.
The lesson learned: it’s awfully fun to play with a lead. And a lot less stressful.