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Bruins’ worst fears realized as inexperienced defense struggles mightily in loss to Jets 10.08.15 at 11:51 pm ET
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Matt Irwin was a minus-3 Thursday night. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Matt Irwin was a minus-3 Thursday night. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

If you were worried about the Bruins defense being a disaster with Dougie Hamilton gone and Zdeno Chara banged up, your worst fears were realized in Thursday night’s season-opening loss against the Jets.

The game actually didn’t start off too badly at all. The Bruins were on the attack most of the first period and the defense didn’t really give the Jets any good looks on the few occasions they did get into the Bruins’ zone.

But then the second period happened. The Jets’ first goal came off a combination of all three Bruins forwards getting caught up ice and Joe Morrow not putting enough on his pass into the neutral zone, leading to an easy interception for Dustin Byfuglien and an odd-man rush the other way.

The second came off a brutal turnover by Matt Irwin behind the Bruins’ net, as Andrew Ladd picked his pocket clean before setting up former Bruin Blake Wheeler right in front. The third resulted from another tough sequence for Irwin and defensive partner Zach Trotman. Trotman couldn’t get his stick on a pass through the slot that went right by him, and then Irwin compounded that by completely losing track of his man and allowing Drew Stafford an easy finish on the doorstep.

Things didn’t get any better in the third. After the Bruins cut the deficit to 3-2, Irwin got caught pinching in the offensive zone (as you’ve probably gathered by now, the UMass product did not have a good night) and David Krejci, who was the closest to being able to cover for Irwin, could not keep up with Chris Thorburn on the rush the other way. The Jets then made it 5-2 when Torey Krug couldn’t clear out 5-foot-9 Nicolas Petan and watched a centering pass bounce off Petan’s skate and in.

“I think the examples are pretty clear of where we made those mistakes and where it cost us goals,” Claude Julien said after the game. “It was clear right from the get-go there, so it’s going to be easy to show those kinds of things. We’re early in the season, you’ve got to show those kinds of things. We’ve got to work and rectify those things as soon as possible.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Joe Morrow, Matt Irwin, Zach Trotman, Zdeno Chara
Bruins sign defenseman Matt Irwin to 1-year deal 07.10.15 at 10:54 am ET
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The Bruins have signed defenseman Matt Irwin to a one-year deal worth $800,000, the team announced Friday.

The 27-year-old Irwin has spent the last three seasons with the San Jose Sharks and registered eight goals and 11 assists in 53 games last year while playing 17:01 per game. Irwin, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, played two years of college hockey at UMass from 2008-2010.

The strength of Irwin’s game is his offense, as he likes to jump into the rush and has a good shot. He has generally been pretty sheltered in terms of usage and has seen his CorsiRel go from a stellar plus-3.9 in 2012-13 to a not-so-stellar minus-4.0 in 2013-14 before settling in the middle at an even 0.0 in 2014-15, according to

Irwin adds to a logjam of Bruins defensemen who would ideally be suited for a third-pairing role, but he probably won’t be the top-four solution they need unless the defensive side of his game really improves.

Still, he should be able to push for playing time, especially if the Bruins want someone who can bring more puck-moving and offensive skill than Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller.

Bruins prospect Matt Grzelcyk announces he will return to BU for senior year 04.17.15 at 10:14 pm ET
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Bruins prospect Matt Grzelcyk announced that he will return to Boston University for his senior season at the team’s awards banquet Friday night. He had been mulling the possibility of signing with the Bruins and forgoing his senior year.

Grzelcyk, a 5-foot-10 defenseman from Charlestown whom the B’s drafted in the third round in 2012, served as BU’s captain this past season and will reprise the role next year. He finished fourth nationally among defensemen with 38 points (10 goals, 28 asssists) in 41 games and was named a First Team All-American.

As the leader of a defense corps that featured four freshmen, Grzelcyk helped guide BU to a Hockey East regular-season title, a Hockey East tournament title and a Frozen Four appearance. The Terriers’ season ended with a 4-3 loss to Providence in last Saturday’s national championship game.

Another interesting development at BU’s awards banquet was that Hobey Baker Award winner and future No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel was named an alternate captain for next season.

Eichel is probably still more likely to sign with the team that drafts him than return to BU for his sophomore year, but him getting an ‘A’ is still notable. Eichel has said that he hasn’t decided anything as far as going pro vs. returning to BU, and people close to BU have suggested that there is more of a chance of him returning than people might assume.

Bruins prospect Zane McIntyre wins Mike Richter Award, will take time to make decision on turning pro 04.10.15 at 2:49 pm ET
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Bruins prospect Zane McIntyre won the second annual Mike Richter Award, given to the top goalie in college hockey. McIntyre led the country with 29 wins for North Dakota this season and finished tied for 11th with a .929 save percentage.

McIntyre and North Dakota’s season came to an end Thursday night with a 5-3 loss to Boston University in the national semifinals at TD Garden. McIntyre had an off night by his standards, as it was just the fourth time all season he’s allowed more than three goals in a game. Two of BU’s goals came from above the faceoff circles without much traffic and another came on a bad-angle shot, although there was a lot of traffic in front for that one.

McIntyre, a junior whom the Bruins drafted in the sixth round in 2010, now has to decide whether he wants to return to North Dakota for his senior season or turn pro. And if he turns pro, he needs to decide if he wants to sign with the Bruins or become a free agent. McIntyre could become a free agent if the Bruins don’t sign him within 30 days of him leaving school.

McIntyre said Friday that he has not made any decisions yet and that he will take some time to talk with his coaches, family and the Bruins before doing so.

“There definitely hasn’t been any decision yet,” McIntyre said. “Everything’s really new and really fresh with what happened last night. I don’t think it would be fair to myself, my family, my current teammates to really just make a decision that quickly.

“I think it’s definitely going to take some time to see what happens and really get some perspectives from everybody in my life, whether it’s coaches, fellow teammates and especially my family. I think I’ll know when the time’s right to make a decision one way or another.”

McIntyre is also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award along with BU’s Jack Eichel and Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey. That award, given to the best player in college hockey, will be presented Friday night.

Brett Connolly shows he can play in different spots, is ‘excited’ to finally contribute 04.05.15 at 12:15 am ET
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Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

Forget whether or not Brett Connolly has one of the best shots in the NHL. The most important thing is that the Bruins are a better team now that he’€™s in the lineup.

How much better remains to be seen. He’€™s not a superstar, but he’€™s an upgrade over Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, the Bruins’€™ two healthy scratches Saturday. He’€™s better at creating chances, he shoots more and he’€™s a better possession player.

Where Connolly settles into the lineup also remains to be seen. He has played two games so far since returning from a finger injury that delayed his Bruins debut, and he has played with pretty much everyone. He played on the fourth line with Max Talbot and Chris Kelly for most of Saturday’€™s 2-1 shootout win over Toronto, but he also got moved up a couple times to take some shifts with other lines.

“Obviously coach is trying to feel some things out. It was good,”€ Connolly said. “€œI thought that me, Max and Kells had a pretty good start to the third, kind of got better as the game went on, too. It was good. … I’€™ve played with pretty much everybody on the team so far, just trying to feel it out.”

The fourth line didn’€™t find the score sheet Saturday, but Connolly, Talbot and Kelly did combine for seven shots on goal and they all finished with a Corsi better than 70 percent (Connolly was on the ice for 12 five-on-five shot attempts for and five against).

“We had some pretty good chances,”€ Kelly said. “I think all three of us, our feet were moving and we weren’€™t in our end too often, so it was good. A bounce here, a bounce there, maybe we would’€™ve been able to get one.”

The thinking when the Bruins acquired Connolly on March 2 was that he could be a top-six forward, something the Bruins desperately needed at the time. He still might end up there, but David Krejci returning from injury and Ryan Spooner playing much better means there’€™s a little more competition for those spots.

Naturally, that means there’€™s also more competition for fourth-line spots now. Connolly doesn’€™t fit the mold of the old-school, grinding, checking fourth-liner, but the old school is just that — old. Fourth lines need to have some skill now, and the Bruins finally have the pieces they need to make that transition, one they seemed ready to make in the offseason when they let Shawn Thornton walk.

Saturday night offered a glimpse of what a more skilled fourth line can do, even if you factor in that it came against a terrible Maple Leafs team. For what it’€™s worth, Claude Julien said after the game that there could still be some rotation on the fourth line (and every other line, for that matter).

“I feel we’€™ve got a lot of players that can go in and out right now,”€ Julien said. “But at the same time I’€™m trying to create a little bit of competition here. I don’€™t want anybody comfortable, knowing that they’€™re automatics game in and game out.”

Regardless, it’€™s hard to imagine Connolly’€™s spot not being safe. He’€™s probably the top option to move into a top-nine role if someone struggles (Reilly Smith?), but he also makes the fourth line better if he stays there. For his part, Connolly says he’€™ll be happy wherever as long as he’€™s helping the team.

“Very excited to finally be out there and get a couple wins here in my first two games and to be able to contribute a little bit and help the team win,”€ Connolly said. “Again, the team’€™s playing well so far lately. It’€™s been a lot of fun to step in and be a part of it.”

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Bruins sign UMass forward Frank Vatrano 03.12.15 at 11:11 am ET
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The Bruins have signed UMass forward Frank Vatrano, an undrafted free agent who will forego his final two years of college eligibility.

Vatrano, a native of East Longmeadow who turns 21 on Saturday, led the Minutemen with 18 goals in 36 games this season and added 10 assists as well. His biggest strength is his shot, which he doesn’t hesitate to use. His 5.39 shots on goal per game rank first in Hockey East and second nationally. Vatrano is listed at 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds. He’s a left shot and has played both wings at UMass.

UMass’ season ended Sunday night against Notre Dame in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament

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Bruins’ new-look third line with David Pastrnak has impressive showing vs. Kings 01.31.15 at 11:16 pm ET
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David Pastrnak

David Pastrnak

Midway through the second period of Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Kings, David Pastrnak found himself as the first forward back in the defensive zone. This is where an 18-year-old rookie forward could potentially be exposed. No one questions Pastrnak’s offensive ability, but his defensive play is still a work in progress, and that’s the part of his game that could determine how much he plays and how he’s used down the stretch.

In this case, Pastrnak passed his defensive test with flying colors. He recognized that there were no Kings immediately entering the zone that he needed to pick up, so he headed for the corner to help Dennis Seidenberg, who was engaged in a 1-on-1 battle for the puck.

Pastrnak swooped in, smoothly took control of the puck, circled behind his own net and then broke the puck out of the Bruins end with a nice rush up the middle of the ice. It didn’t lead to a scoring chance at the other end because Pastrnak wound up getting caught offsides after passing the puck off, but it was the kind of defensive-zone play that should help him gain more trust from Claude Julien.

“Tonight what I saw from him was that he wasn’t a liability,” Julien said. “When you’€™re stuck in your own end and he’s not getting pucks out or he’s getting out-muscled and stuff like that, and there’s some panic in the game, then you say, ‘OK, well maybe I’ve got to cut my bench down.’

“But tonight I thought he was solid along the walls and not only that, but he was patient — even instead of just chipping it out, he made some plays. So when you see a player do that — and that’s something that at the beginning of the year was a real issue for him when he went to Providence. So I give him so much credit for improving so quickly in that area.”

Pastrnak brings a different dynamic to any line he plays on because no other Bruins right wing has the raw offensive skill that he has. In the case of Kelly and Carl Soderberg’s line, where Pastrnak was for part of Thursday’s game and all of Saturday’s game, the line gains that speed and offensive spark, but it loses the consistently stellar two-way play of Loui Eriksson.

Julien has always been hesitant to break up Soderberg and Eriksson, and for good reason. Entering Saturday, Soderberg had a 53.3 percent Corsi playing with Eriksson this season and just a 45.8 percent Corsi without him (last year it was 55.7 percent with and 50.4 percent without).

Kelly, Soderberg and Pastrnak didn’t really do much in their two-plus periods together Thursday, but they started to hit their stride as Saturday’s game went along, especially in the third period. Pastrnak set up one good look midway through the third when he sidestepped a Matt Greene hit at the offensive blue line before sending a pass to the front that Soderberg couldn’t quite handle.

Then the line scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with 5:27 to go when Soderberg circled out to the point and sent a shot toward the net that Kelly redirected past Jonathan Quick. They had another decent look in the final minutes when Pastrnak held off a defender and sent a low shot to goal that produced a rebound that was cleared away just before Soderberg got to it.

Whether Pastrnak stays with Soderberg and Kelly or moves back up to David Krejci‘s line remains to be seen. If he does stay, we’ll need a bigger sample to see if the trio can possess the puck enough to consistently create scoring chances (Kelly’s Corsi, like Soderberg’s, also drops when he is not with Eriksson).

Regardless, Saturday was a step in the right direction, both for Pastrnak’s two-way play and for the new-look third line as a whole.

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