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5 Things We Learned as Bruins fire up their power play in win over Sabres 11.07.16 at 9:43 pm ET
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Brad Marchand scored a power-play goal in the B's win over the Sabres on Monday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Brad Marchand scored a power-play goal in the B’s win over the Sabres on Monday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

BOSTON — Let’s just say it: the Boston Bruins power play, as a whole, has been an absolute nightmare this season.

The team actually went into the minus category in the man advantage last game, too, with two shorthanded goals against (the first time that’s happened to the franchise since Feb. 2015). Bruins head coach Claude Julien was so frustrated with the group that Monday’s morning skate came with personnel changes to both units.

But it looked like it’d be much of the same for the Black and Gold through one period, though, as the team stumbled on their lone opportunity of the opening 20. But a complete meltdown of penalties from the Buffalo Sabres in the second period allowed a B’s power play that had gone just 3-for-39 to cook something up against an overwhelmed Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner in a 4-0 final for the Bruins.

“[We] Just worked on it this morning and gave them the due responsibility, as some of the best players on our team that they had to step it up so they did that tonight,” Julien said of his team’s power play focus in the win. “A little practice this morning and obviously some pride tonight in making sure that they were the difference makers instead of ending up on the negative side.”

The Bruins first answered with Marchand’s power-play goal at 5:44 of the period, which saw way too many Buffalo PKers standing around wondering where to go.

Then came the Sabres’ self-inflicted deathblow.

With a high-stick on Zemgus Girgensons and a Jake McCabe tripping (and subsequent unsportsmanlike on the way to the box) just 1:26 after that, the Bruins were left with 2:34 of a 5-on-3 to make something happen. Insert David Krejci’s one-time bomb.

On a terrific dish from Torey Krug, No. 46 hammered home his first goal of the season, and gave the Bruins a 2-for-6 mark on the man advantage through 40 minutes of play.

“After a few games when you don’t score, you start squeezing your stick and every time you have a good scoring chance and you don’t put it in the net, you get a little frustrated,” Krejci admitted of his early-season struggles to find goals. “So, it was nice to get the first one and hopefully I can build a little more confidence and help the team with offense.”

The Bruins later added a third power-play goal midway through the third period thanks to David Pastrnak’s eighth goal of the season, and finished the night with three power-play goals on eight opportunities. It was the team’s first three power-play goal night since Feb. 20, 2016.

The 3-for-8 night bumped the power play up from a woeful 7.9% on the year to 13%, which depending on the finals around the league tonight, could move them from 29th to 23rd.

B’s goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped all 32 shots thrown his way for his second shutout of the season, and the victory was Julien’s 400th behind the Boston bench.

Brad Marchand turns on jets in impressive outing

When Brad Marchand gets going like he did in Monday’s 4-0, it’s not about stopping him. ‘Cause you can’t. It’s about merely limiting the damage No. 63 can inflict on your team. And Monday night at TD Garden may have honestly been Marchand’s best night to date. It did not come with the gaudy numbers that his opening night against the Blue Jackets did, of course, but every time the puck was on Marchand’s stick — and in every zone of the rink — he made something happen.

A player that was once considered just a solid enough complementary piece on Bergeron’s left, the 5-foot-9 Marchand has emerged into one of the game’s most exciting talents. At this point, the gasps from the Garden crowd with each juke and crafty deke say all any of us really could.

The Bruins are still undefeated in games in which Marchand scores at least one goal.

Patrice Bergeron comes up with massive first period shift

Whistled for a hook for the first penalty of the game, Dominic Moore’s sentence to the box put the Bruins down one of their go-to centers behind Patrice Bergeron before the Buffalo power play even began. But as it would turn out, Bergeron was the only center the B’s would need for that kill.

In a two-minute kill that saw the Bruins nearly score on two separate occasions, No. 37 skated as the club’s main PK forward for the entire penalty against and then another 12 seconds.

It was a monstrous shift that didn’t come without some fumes coming off Bergeron’s blades, however, as the Sabres continuously tried to take advantage of a winded Bergeron with pucks constantly funneled in between the circles, but Bergeron — with help from the defense — did not break for what would have been an early and big lead for a road-loving Sabres group.

Third line shows signs of life, plus more, in winning effort

Bruins head coach Claude Julien has been adamant that the Bruins need contributions from everybody in their lineup if they’re to make it out of this brutal five-games-in-seven-nights stretch. But when he says that, he’s really looking at a third line that entered play with just two total points (one of which came with that player, Austin Czarnik, playing on a different line entirely) to their name in 2016-17 . Dependable bottom-sixer Riley Nash got off the schnide with a point — a shorthanded assist on a David Pastrnak goal — in Saturday’s loss, and tonight it was Beleskey that followed his lead with a power-play assist for his first point of the year.

Nash would also add a goal of his own in the second period for his first with the Bruins.

Czarnik jumped on the board in the third, too, with the primary assist on the Pastrnak goal.

Two power-play assists from the wingers and a goal from the center.

That’s more than enough when you talk about production from a third line.

Now comes consistency.

Bruins-Sabres rivalry shows glimpses of what once was

Tonight was the first of just four head-to-heads between the Bruins and Sabres. They don’t meet again ’til Dec. 3, and their season series is actually done before the calendar hits 2017. No, really.

That’s a definite downer. OK, so the Bruins-Sabres rivalry is not what it once was when the teams met the 2010 playoffs or when Milan Lucic trucked Ryan Miller, but it’s a shame to see what used to be must-watch TV turned into just another matchup. Of course, the Sabres’ recent tank-jobs and the B’s status in the league’s purgatory of mediocrity over the last few years has played a part in the fall of a rivalry, but I can’t help but feel that the decrease in overall matchups has played a part in crushing the straight-up hatred these two had for one another just three years ago.

But there was hatred tonight.

First came a Derek Grant collision into Rask that drew the ire of everyone involved. It carried on into the third period, too, as Beleskey finally had enough of Grant’s antics before he decided to drop the gloves and get a few shots in before Grant won the battle via a takedown.

I’ll happily take one less meeting with the Minnesota Wild or Arizona Coyotes if it means one more game against the Sabres. It’s time to Make Rivals Hate Again.

The Bruins are in action tomorrow night when they visit the Montreal Canadiens.

John-Michael Liles remembers teammate, friend Marek Svatos 11.07.16 at 5:28 pm ET
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John-Michael Liles skated with the Colorado Avalanche from 2003 to 2011. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

John-Michael Liles skated with the Colorado Avalanche from 2003 to 2011. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

A veteran of over 800 NHL games, Boston Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles has proven capable of handling almost every single thing life in the pros can throw one’s way.

On Saturday, however, the 35-year-old Liles skated with a heavy heart.

It was not because of a bad game, a rough morning skate, or any of the serious-but-actually-meaningless stresses placed on the back of a professional athlete’s day to day life.

But rather a phone call from his wife, in tears, following a morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena, that informed Liles of the passing of his former teammate with the Colorado Avalanche, Marek Svatos, who was found dead in his Lone Tree, Colo. home at 34.

“[Saturday] was a tough day for me,” an emotional Liles, a teammate of Svatos from 2003-04 to 2010, admitted. “We were really close. We came in together as rookies. He was just a great guy.”

Both late-round draft picks by the Avs (Liles was drafted 159th overall in 2000 while Svatos was selected with the 227th overall pick a year later), an unlikely friendship between the Indiana-born Liles and Slovak Svatos developed as the two grew up together in Colorado sweaters.

“We had a really good tight-knit group in Colorado and having spoken with a lot of the guys we played with, it’s been tough,” Liles, who still calls Colorado his home in the offseason, said. “We have a great group back there in the summers that have either played college hockey at Denver, Colorado College, or have played there [for the Avalanche], so most of the time you get to spend a good amount of time with these guys and come close and your families become close.”

Two days after finding out about his death, Liles, who let out a bittersweet laugh when asked if there was a specific Svatos story that stuck out to him during their time together, struggled to talk about his former teammate in the past tense.

“It was just a tough pill to swallow,” Liles noted. “He was such a great guy and had a very dry sense of humor, just really a guy you enjoyed being around and I spent a lot of time with him over the five or six years we spent together and to hear that news was heartbreaking.

“I was pretty numb for a good part of the day.”

A reminder of life’s fragility, Svatos’ passing has given Liles an extra squeeze in his embraces.

“I definitely hugged my wife a little tighter and gave my daughter a big kiss,” Liles said.

“You just hope his wife and little ones are doing OK.”

Svatos, who recorded 172 points in 344 NHL games, is survived by his wife and two children.

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.”

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