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Best defense for Bruins down stretch might be strong offense 04.05.16 at 12:58 pm ET
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Ryan Spooner wants to avoid a run-and-gun game. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Ryan Spooner wants to avoid a run-and-gun game. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Even at less than 100 percent, Kevan Miller’s expected return to the Bruins’ lineup Tuesday will help improve the defense from what it was on Sunday. With Dennis Seidenberg still out, the B’s need whatever they can get to avoid the issues they had when trying to defend the Hawks of the first 40 minutes of their final road game.

So with Colin Miller also entering the lineup, it’s natural to wonder whether the youngster’s return is a step in the right direction for the Bruins defensively.

It isn’t, but then again they weren’t going to much better off with Joe Morrow or Zach Trotman in the lineup instead of him. If the younger Miller can bring his skating and offensive ability, it will be worth what he lacks in his own end.

This is because the banged-up Bruins aren’t positioned to defend particularly well one through six. The offense, however, can be a strength after recently bouncing back from its most dormant 10-game period of the season. It might need to be if the Bruins want to avoid missing the postseason for a second straight year.

“The offense is there right now again,” Claude Julien said Tuesday morning. “We just have to tighten up a little bit defensively, which we’ve gone through a couple of times this year. We’ve gotten loose a little bit and then we’ve tightened it up and when we’ve tightened it up we’ve been able to have success, so if we can tighten it up tonight and continue to take advantage of our opportunities to score, that should help our chances quite a bit.”

Coming off a road trip that saw the B’s score 10 goals and allow 11, they will look for similar offense in the season’s final three games while crossing their fingers on the health and play of the defense improving. That might mean some high-scoring games, which are not the type Claude Julien teams have been known for playing.

“I think we can. I don’t think that we want to,” Ryan Spooner said of winning potential track meets. “If you look at our team, just this team as a whole in the past 10 years, they’ve taken a lot of pride in being a good defensive team first. I think if you ask all the guys in the room, they would rather win a game 2-1 or 3-2 than they would 6-5. At this time of the year, you don’t want to get into those run-and-gun matches.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Claude Julien, Ryan Spooner,
Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles won’t play vs. Devils; Loui Eriksson prepares to play center 03.28.16 at 11:13 am ET
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Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner

WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand all were absent from Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena as the Bruins prepared for Tuesday’s game against the Devils. Neither Spooner nor Liles will travel with the team to New Jersey.

Spooner did not play the third period of Saturday’s game in Toronto due to a lower-body injury that has nagged him for much of the second half of the season. Spooner, who has missed just one game this season, had 40 points in his first 56 games but has seven points in his last 19 games and one point in his last six games.

Liles missed the game altogether as a result of a lower-body injury suffered in last Thursday’s loss to the Panthers. Claude Julien said after Monday’s practice that Liles had skated earlier in the day. Marchand is ill, according to Julien, but will travel to New Jersey.

To this point, the Bruins have not made any recalls. The forward lines in practice looked as such:

Randell-Bergeron-Stempniak
Beleskey-Krejci-Pastnrnak
Vatrano-Eriksson-Hayes
Ferraro-Acciari-Connolly

While Marchand could be expected to return to his usual spot next to Patrice Bergeron, the most notable change in Boston’s lines Monday was Loui Eriksson playing center, something both Julien and Eriksson intimated was a realistic possibility for Tuesday’s game.

“[A call-up] is not the plan as we speak,” Julien said. “You saw Loui at center. Loui’s very capable of doing that and we’ll see where we go from there.”

Eriksson played center for one shift Saturday and said that he played a little center back when he played for the Stars. Eriksson is best known as a versatile left-shot wing who plays both sides and is strong in his own zone. On the season, Eriksson has won eight of the 15 faceoffs he’s taken.

“Obviously faceoffs, you have to be the guy that comes home and plays in the defensive zone,” Eriksson said. “It’s a little bit different. It’s probably going to take a few shifts to get used to, but I’ve played it before and hopefully I can do something good with it.”

Read More: John-Michael Liles, Loui Eriksson, Ryan Spooner,
3rd-place Bruins say they’ve ‘surprised,’ ‘proved people wrong’ 01.27.16 at 2:15 am ET
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Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner

The Bruins’ final game before the All-Star break didn’t go their way, a 6-2 loss to Anaheim that dropped the B’s home record to a lousy 11-13-2.

However, the players in the Boston dressing room seemed content with their lot in life as they packed up for a week’s furlough, a 26-18-5 season mark in tow that was holding them third place in the Atlantic Division with 33 games remaining on the season.

“We’ve surprised a lot of people,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “We’re not surprised in here where we [are]. We had a goal to be in the top three [of our division] before the All-Star break and we’re sitting right there.”

“At the beginning of the year there were a lot of people that probably thought that we wouldn’t be in the playoffs,” echoed forward Ryan Spooner. “You kind of heard that stuff, and that we would be a younger team. But we’ve shown that we can play with the top teams. We’ve proved a lot of people wrong and we just have to keep that up.”

The Bruins have indeed exceeded many preseason prognostications to this point. The team’s 21-10-2 record against the Eastern Conference shines bright, as does its 12-6-1 mark within the division. The latter includes a 4-0 performance against the two teams ahead of Boston in the Atlantic (Florida and Detroit).

That said, despite winning five of their last seven games, players also are willing to admit that their current playoff perch is a tenuous one.

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Read More: Claude Julien, Ryan Spooner, Torey Krug, Tuukka Rask
Ryan Spooner for Chris Stewart the best trade Bruins never made 01.26.16 at 1:00 pm ET
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Ryan Spooner leads the Bruins with 26 assists. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Ryan Spooner leads the Bruins with 26 assists. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Chris Stewart’€™s job seemed simple enough last season: Play and try to put up points until you get traded to the Bruins.

With Boston missing a big, tough right wing following the departure of Jarome Iginla, it became common knowledge that then-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was keen on Stewart, a young former first-round pick of the Avalanche who was playing on a Sabres team that was sure to sell. Stewart expressed an interest in such a scenario unfolding, telling WEEI.com in December of last season that he felt he would be a good fit on the Bruins.

“You try not to buy into stuff, but usually when there’€™s smoke there’€™s fire,” the now-Ducks forward said Tuesday of being linked to the Bruins. “That was probably the most predominant team that I was hearing about all year. I’€™m not too sure what happened [that I didn’€™t get traded to Boston].”

Here’€™s what happened: Despite the Bruins and Sabres discussing Stewart throughout the season, no deal was ever struck and the Bruins eventually moved on to then-Lightning forward Brett Connolly.

The Bruins not acquiring Stewart was certainly not for lack of trying, however. According to ESPN’€™s Pierre LeBrun, Chiarelli offered the Sabres a second-round pick and center Ryan Spooner for Stewart in October of last season, only to have the offer rejected.

In hindsight, that would have gone down as one of the worst deals of Chiarelli’€™s tenure as Bruins general manager. Stewart had a modest campaign (11 goals, 14 assists) with the Sabres and was made a healthy scratch at points of a 61-game stretch, diminishing his value and eventually leading the Sabres to send him to the Wild for a 2017 second-round pick at the trade deadline. Buffalo had to retain half of Stewart’€™s $4.15 million cap hit in order to secure a future second-rounder, far less than what Chiarelli had offered months earlier.

While the Bruins used the second-rounder towards acquiring Connolly, who has struggled with goal-scoring but has as many goals as Stewart (seven) this season at a smaller price tag, the most obvious reason why that trade would have been a disaster is Spooner.

Both last season and this season, Spooner has been far more of an impact player than Stewart, who is five years older than Spooner and had unrestricted free agent status awaiting last season. In 24 games following his Feb. 22 midseason debut, Spooner had eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points. Stewart performed well between Buffalo and Minnesota during that stretch, though his five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 24 games fell short of Spooner’€™s totals.

This season, Spooner’€™s taken a major leap forward, as he has 10 goals and a team-leading 26 assists for 36 points. Even better for the Bruins is the fact that because he’€™s on just his second contract and didn’€™t have enough of an NHL track record to warrant bigger money at the time of signing, he carries a cap hit of $950,000 for the next two seasons, after which the Bruins will still hold his rights as a restricted free agent.

After playing 20 regular-season games and eight playoff games for the Wild, Stewart took a one-year, $1.7 million deal with the Ducks. Playing mostly as a third-liner, Stewart has seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 40 games for Anaheim. Given that the Ducks are his fourth team in as many seasons, he hopes that he can stay with the team for a long time.

At the very least, he has better job security on a team pushing for a playoff spot than he did last season with the Sabres. Because Buffalo was in full-tank mode for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, the latter of whom they eventually got, Stewart knew all along that he had a better chance of finishing the season in Boston — or anywhere else — than in Buffalo.

“The biggest part of it was they were so open about the rebuild, that everyone who was on the last year of their contract knew they were getting traded,” Stewart said. “I don’€™t think I’€™ve ever seen anything like that before. There were probably about a good seven or eight guys who were all in the same boat.”

In the end, the Spooner-and-a-second-for-Stewart deal not happening has been a win for everyone but the Sabres. Stewart has been able to move on with his career, while the Bruins avoided giving away a big piece of their future for a rental.

Read More: Chris Stewart, Ryan Spooner,
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.

Read More: Brett Connolly, Joonas Kemppainen, Ryan Spooner,
Ryan Spooner benching a reminder Bruins’ can’t embrace potential as much as they’ve said 11.18.15 at 2:52 pm ET
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Claude Julien's first priority is to win. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Claude Julien‘s first priority is to win. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Bruins have long said that this season is about potential. Yet it seems that they feel their best chance of realistically winning games is to bank on more sure things than embracing that potential. They’re not necessarily wrong in thinking that; they just might need to cool it on that P-word for a while.

When Claude Julien benched Ryan Spooner in the third period of Tuesday’€™s loss to the Sharks, the worst part of it was that the change didn’€™t allow the Bruins to complete their comeback. The second-worst part of it is that it loaned more evidence to the historically incorrect Claude Hates The Kids argument.

If the Bruins had their act together on the back end and could kill penalties, do you really think Julien would have benched Spooner for his bad second period Tuesday? Of course not. Yet this season has seen him limit players like Spooner and David Pastrnak when they’ve struggled because the Bruins, for all the gushy stuff they’ve said about their young players, can’t actually give them the keys because the Bruins aren’t good enough to absorb their mistakes.

Asked after the game why he gave Spooner no even-strength time in the final period, Julien snapped back at the reporter, asking if he had noticed that Joonas Kemppainen had earned the ice time inherited by Spooner’€™s benching. On Wednesday, Julien was more willing to elaborate on his decision to limit Spooner’€™s third-period shifts to just the power play and the final minute with an extra attacker.
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Read More: Claude Julien, Ryan Spooner,
After strong (and statistically mean) start on power play, Ryan Spooner seeking 5-on-5 consistency 10.26.15 at 3:13 pm ET
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Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner

Five points in seven games is a statistical start that Ryan Spooner probably would have taken happily entering the season. Yet Spooner’€™s output to this point has been rather perplexing.

The eye test says that Spooner has been terrific on the power play and not-so-terrific in five-on-five play. The stat sheet hasn’€™t been kind to the young forward, however, as he has only one point on the man advantage despite turning in superb work on the half wall of the Bruins’€™ top-ranked power play (8-for-24). Spooner’€™s other four points (two goals and two assists) have come over two games in 5-on-5 play, where he’€™s experienced more peaks and valleys.

On one hand, Spooner is looking for more consistency as the Bruins try him with different players in even strength. On the other, it’s hard to say Spooner has really had a bad game this season because he’€™s been so good on the power play (and that’s even considering some poor possession numbers; Spooner is dead last on the team in Corsi Relative this season).

“The power play’€™s always been something that I’€™ve been not bad at. My first year in Prov, I played on a unit that was extremely good,” Spooner said. “I think with the unit here, I just try to get the puck up top and let those guys do what they do. I think for me right now, it’€™s trying to find a good balance on the power play and the 5-on-5 and being more consistent.”

Despite just the one assist last Saturday against the Coyotes, his work on the power play has never been in question. With a couple of flashes in even strength over the last four games (a pair of points against the Avalanche and another two Friday against the Islanders), Spooner should feel good about where his game is headed. In two of the three games that the Bruins didn’t score on the power play, Spooner scored in even strength.

After starting the season centering Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly, Spooner had Chris Kelly on his left wing for parts of five games before being dropped to the fourth line to play wing. Though not particularly experienced on the wing (he tried it in training camp last season and briefly in Providence), he had success with Joonas Kemppainen and was teamed with the Finnish forward again in Monday’€™s practice.

When Kelly was Spooner’€™s left wing, the 34-year-old took some of the defensive responsibilities from the still-developing Spooner. With the move to wing, Spooner feels that he’€™ll be able to play to his strengths more as an offensive player.

“I haven’€™t been the best in my own end,” Spooner admitted, “so I think to get moved to the wing, it takes a lot of stress off of me.”

It might also lessen Spooner’€™s workload. Though Spooner and Kemppainen connected for a couple of goals over the final two periods of Friday’€™s win, they did so as fourth-liners. That meant that Spooner, who figures to be Carl Soderberg’€™s replacement, played just 10:24 on Friday, his second-lowest time on ice of the season.

That’€™s not a knock on Claude Julien. The coach has shown through seven games that he’€™ll keep trying different looks with his bottom six until he finds something that works. By the looks of Monday’€™s skate, the B’€™s could go with Kelly between Matt Beleskey and Hayes on the third line and Kemppainen with Spooner and Tyler Randell on the fourth.

Spooner’€™s obvious role is in the top nine, but it can’€™t hurt to try him with Kemppainen again to see if Friday’€™s spark can ignite.

“I think he excelled where he was last game and managed to score and get an assist, so we’€™re looking at what’€™s best for the team, and right now, what [the] best line combinations [are],” Julien said. “We’€™re trying things in practice. It doesn’€™t mean it’€™s going to be like that [in the game]. It could or it may not be. We’€™re just doing our jobs here.”

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