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Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen, Brett Connolly jell quickly, create chances in Bruins’ win over Maple Leafs 11.21.15 at 11:50 pm ET
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Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner

A quick look at Saturday night’€™s box score wouldn’€™t reveal anything notable about the Bruins’€™ third line. Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen and Brett Connolly didn’€™t score. None of them played more than Spooner’€™s 14:40. They combined for four shots on goal, which is fine but certainly not something that jumps out at you.

But Saturday night was a notable game for that trio. They played really well together, even if it didn’€™t show up in the box score. They had a lot of puck possession and created some of the Bruins’€™ best scoring chances in a game that didn’€™t have many of them.

And to be honest, that was a little surprising. Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly had spent hardly any time together before Saturday, yet they appeared to have pretty good chemistry. Spooner had played the wing only in spurts before Saturday, yet he looked comfortable there and made things happen from the left side. Kemppainen hadn’€™t exactly been lighting the world on fire on the fourth line, yet he didn’€™t look out of place at all in a top-nine role.

“I think most of the game we played pretty well together,” Spooner said. “We talked a lot before the game and just said, ‘€˜If we don’€™t have much, just try to get the puck in deep.’€™ We did that. And I think off the rush, we had a couple chances too. I thought it went well for sure.”

Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly all entered Saturday as negative possession players in terms of both regular Corsi and relative Corsi. You wouldn’€™t have been able to guess that watching Saturday night’€™s game against Toronto, though. They were the Bruins’€™ top three players in terms of Corsi-for percentage, with all three finishing the night at 69 percent or better.

They combined for one fewer shot attempt than Patrice Bergeron‘€™s line and three more than David Krejci‘€™s line, despite getting significantly less ice time. They also created a couple good chances that didn’€™t even count as shot attempts — a Kemppainen centering pass just missed a charging Spooner early in the first period, and a Spooner feed for a charging Connolly did the same midway through the third.

On the latter chance, Spooner’€™s speed down the wing was clearly a factor, something Claude Julien was happy to point out after the game.

“I think Spoons has really done a good job on the left wing there, adapting to it and using his speed,” Julien said. “A lot more involved in the last two games, and that’€™s what we need out of Ryan. And that’€™s a sign of a young player really who’€™s getting it. He wants to be better, so kudos to him.”

Spooner said after the game that he’€™s still not completely comfortable on the wing — he said he’€™s probably played wing fewer than 20 times in his life — but he also noted that having fewer defensive responsibilities helped, as he admitted that his defense as a center hasn’€™t always been great. Kemppainen helps in that respect, as he is pretty responsible defensively. And Kemppainen clearly benefited from playing with faster, more skilled players.

Whether Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly stay together remains to be seen. Frank Vatrano is expected back soon, perhaps as early as Monday, so expect more line-juggling to make room for him. But even if they don’€™t stay together for now, it’€™s nice for Julien to know that he has this as a bottom-six option that can be effective in the future.

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Brett Connolly making impact whether or not he’s scoring since return 10.28.15 at 1:06 pm ET
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Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

That Brett Connolly has scored goals in all three games since being a healthy scratch is a great sign. Here’€™s another one: He’€™s drawing penalties instead of taking them.

Connolly, whose most memorable plays from his five games with the B’€™s last season were the five minor penalties he took in two games, has drawn two penalties in the last three games. He also hasn’€™t taken a single penalty over his seven games this season. The Bruins want Connolly to perform and stay disciplined. So far, he’€™s done both.

“I think it kind of comes with the territory of playing hard and finishing your checks,” Connolly said Wednesday. “When you’€™re finishing your checks and you’€™re being hard to play against, it’€™s usually the time when guys will take penalties on you and do things that they maybe they wouldn’€™t do if you’€™re not playing hard against them. I think just playing hard, that’€™s when guys will take penalties on you.”

A good example of that came Tuesday night, when Connolly finished a hit on Oliver Ekman-Larsson and got the Coyotes defenseman to take an undisciplined interference penalty in retaliation. The Bruins didn’€™t score on the ensuing power play, but they did two games earlier when Connolly drew a high-sticking double-minor. Forty-six seconds after Claude Giroux went to the box for the infraction, Patrice Bergeron scored to tie a game the Bruins would eventually lose.

Playing with Bergeron and Brad Marchand has undoubtedly led to his increased production, as the first-line duo has set up each of his three goals since he returned to the lineup. That he’€™s staying disciplined could prolong his stay in the top six.

“It’€™s better to be drawing them than taking them,” Connolly said. “I’€™ve been on a little bit of a streak here of not taking penalties. I knew that it was going to fade away and go away. I haven’€™t really been the guy to take a lot of penalties in the past. It’€™s been good. I think that I’€™ve just got to continue playing hard and being hard to play against. Hopefully they’€™ll keep taking penalties.”

The “that” to which Connolly refers is the ugly two-game stretch late last season. Full of energy after missing about a month with a broken finger suffered in his second practice, Connolly’€™s penalties put the B’€™s in a bad spot as they tried to secure a playoff spot. The B’€™s lost both of those games, with Connolly’€™s high-sticking penalty against the Panthers leading to a power play goal.

“Maybe I came in, you’€™re so excited to play and you’€™re maybe trying to do a little bit too much,” Connolly said. “It was frustrating for sure, when you’€™re always in the box and then the coach isn’€™t happy with you. It was something I had to adjust to, and I thought I’€™ve been better at it as of late.”

Said Claude Julien: “He comes in, he wants to make an impression going hard. Sometimes you try so hard, you’€™re not always doing the right things. I think now he’€™s more — I keep using the word — he’€™s more comfortable in what we’€™re doing here. He’€™s just going out there and playing his game. I think whenever he skates the way he skates, and with his big body and his strength, he has to have guys drag him down or hold him. That’€™s the reason I think he’€™s drawing penalties.”

It was just a week ago that things weren’t looking great for the scratched Connolly. His return has seen plenty of reasons as to why he shouldn’t expect to be a healthy scratch again soon.

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Why Claude Julien and the Bruins still consider new OT a work in progress 09.25.15 at 12:22 pm ET
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You can safely assume when on-ice officials are explaining what happens to a head coach in the middle of a play, there is still some uncertainty about the rules.

Such is the case with the reformatted overtime in the NHL. On Thursday night, Bruins defenseman Matt Irwin took a hooking penalty 1:25 into the extra period. Instead of the Bruins going down a man, the Rangers went up a man.

The reason?

The NHL is introducing the 3-on-3 overtime this season. To avoid a 3-on-2 situation that would be more like a pre-game warmup rush, the NHL decided to go with a modified power play that would be identical to overtimes of the past. But while that was difficult enough to get used to, what happened next was even a little more peculiar.

The Rangers, getting mixed up with the extra man line changes of the new overtime, took a too many men on the ice when they wound up with the puck and six skaters on the ice. Veteran referee Eric Furlatt went over to Claude Julien to explain that the Bruins would not gain an extra man and go 4-on-4 but rather the Rangers would lose their additional man on the ice.

Then the Bruins would have their own 4-on-3 once Irwin’s penalty expired. Neither team scored and the Bruins would win the preseason game, 4-3, in seven rounds of a shootout. Still, the experience was much more helpful than Tuesday night’s encounter with the Capitals, a game that featured 3-on-3 for all of 12 seconds before David Pastrnak scored.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Chris Kelly on looming line choices: ‘We’ve got a great problem to have’ 04.05.15 at 10:27 am ET
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Chris Kelly is hardly worried about the looming decisions that will have to be made to determine who will play and who won’t come playoff time.

Kelly moved from his left wing spot and centered a line Saturday that had Max Talbot on left wing and newcomer Brett Connolly on the right. This left out Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille. The way Kelly sees it, there are five players trying to make Claude Julien‘s job as difficult as possible with competition in the last week.

“Competition, that’€™s why we all play. Competition is good, and it makes everyone better, I think. We’€™ve got a great problem to have, good players that can play in the lineup, and I think every guy is trying to make it difficult on him to make those tough decisions,” Kelly said. “Ultimately, you want to go out there and play your best hockey and help the team.”

Connolly played in just his second game with the Bruins since returning from a broken finger in his second practice with the Bruins and was relieved to finally contribute. Kelly said he was happy from what he saw from his line during a 2-1 shootout win over the Maple Leafs Saturday.

“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.”

Julien insisted after the game that what he’s trying to do is more about keeping everyone fresh than holding an audition for the fourth line in the final week. Read the rest of this entry »

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Brett Connolly shows he can play in different spots, is ‘excited’ to finally contribute 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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Brett Connolly says he’s ready to play, hopes to make Bruins debut vs. Red Wings 04.01.15 at 1:01 pm ET
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Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

WILMINGTON — After taking contact for the first time since suffering a broken finger last month, Brett Connolly said he is ready to play.

Connolly, who broke his right index finger in his second practice with the B’€™s on March 4 and underwent surgery, participated fully in Wednesday’€™s practice. Exactly four weeks from the date of the injury, Connolly skated on the fourth line (something that would seemingly be temporary as he eases his way back) and took turns on Boston’€™s second power play unit.

Following the practice, Connolly said he hopes to play Thursday night against the Red Wings.

“Obviously you want to get in right away,” he said. “I’€™m looking forward to seeing what’€™s going to happen here. I feel I’€™m ready. Again, [I’€™m] excited. With everything that happened, coming in here and getting hurt, obviously you’€™re very disappointed.

“It’€™s been a hard three weeks, not being around the guys on the road and just little things like that, that for a new guy coming in, it’€™s tough. But the guys have been great to me coming in here. I’€™m as comfortable as I’€™ll ever be and I’€™m excited to get in and help the team win.”

Connolly took part in Tuesday’s warmups, which he would not have been allowed to do if he were on injured reserve. Claude Julien clarified after Wednesday’s practice that the team never placed Connolly on IR, but that doctors have yet to give Julien the OK to play the 22-year-old right wing.

“I’m not going to write him off for [Thursday] but I’m certainly not going to say he’s in for sure.”

If Connolly were to play on Boston’€™s fourth line Thursday, Wednesday’€™s lines suggested he could potentially play with Chris Kelly and Max Talbot. That could certainly change, but Connolly is more focused on when he’€™ll play than with whom he’€™ll play.

“For me, I’€™m just looking to come in here and help the team win,’€ he said. ‘€œWherever they put me, that’€™s where I’€™ll be.”

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Brett Connolly will be in Bruins lineup once he’s ready 03.31.15 at 12:57 pm ET
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Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly is not yet ready to play. Once he is, he will play, Claude Julien said Tuesday.

Connolly, who continues to skate with the Bruins, traveled with the team for Sunday’€™s game against the Hurricanes, marking the first trip he’€™s made with the team. He is getting more confident in his puck-handling and shooting as his surgically repaired right index finger. He hopes to begin taking contact soon, which is the biggest remaining hurdle.

Wednesday will mark four weeks since the injury, which the team said at the time would keep him out six weeks.

“I know they said six weeks, but four-to-six weeks I think is kind of where I’€™m aiming for,” Connolly said Tuesday. “I’€™m really excited, obviously. It’€™s getting better every day. Some days it feels a lot better, so that’€™s encouraging.”

The Bruins are currently playing David Krejci at right wing on Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand‘€™s line. Once Connolly is ready, however, the team could move Krejci back to center and build a line around Krejci and Connolly.

When Connolly broke his finger in his second practice with the B’€™s, he was skating on a line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Julien said it’€™s too soon to say where Connolly will slot into the lineup, but he clarified that it’€™s their intention to get put him in as soon as he’€™s ready.

“I think when the time comes, we’€™ll definitely put him in,” Julien said. “He’€™s a good player. In my mind, there’€™s no doubt we missed him through this stretch. When the time comes I’€™ll make that decision but certainly not open to talking about it right now.”

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