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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…

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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).

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.”

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