Tag Archives: Boston Bruins

New faces in familar places

Doc Emerick once said, “it’s often the third and fourth line guys”. In terms of cultivating a championship caliber team, the latter portion of your lineup often is the most important. That being said, finding the proper components is easier said than done.

In the case of the Boston Bruins, since their 2013 run at the Cup, finding those players has proven to be difficult. Recently that trend initially appears to be changing. In fact they didn’t have to go very far geographically to find them.

Both Frank Vatrano and Tim Schaller went undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts and Providence College respectively. Vatrano signed a deal with the Bruins entering 2015-16 after a strong training camp, but was assigned to the AHL affiliate Providence. From there, he was nearly a goal per game player. The East Longmeadow Massachusetts native possesses the skating ability and heavy snap shot to compete at the NHL level with ease. While short in stature, there is no lack of heart when it comes to “Frank the Tank“. Off season surgery sidelined him for the bulk of the early portion of the 2016-17 season, but since his return, he’s added another scoring threat on the power play. Also, allowing head coach Claude Julien some flexibility with his line mixing in game.

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Merrimack, New Hampshire product Tim Schaller may have raised some eye brows when he chose the Friars rather than committing to his hometown team. In four seasons at Providence, Schaller’s most productive season came in his last as a Friar tallying 23 points. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, it was enough to be signed by Buffalo. In three seasons between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, he was far more effective at the AHL level than the NHL.

Unlike Vatrano, Schaller didn’t impress the brass with his first shot at professional hockey. So, when the Bruins signed the free agent this past off season, not a whole lot was expected of him. Especially when you consider it was only a one year deal. Regardless of the logistics, to the contract one thing is for certain, Schaller has made the best of his second shot at the NHL.

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Since being a relatively obvious choice to crack the opening night lineup, he’s posed as another cog to allow Julien some breathing room with his lineup. You don’t have to ask twice when it comes to Tim as he’ll most likely do what he’s asked of. He’s fought, gone to the dirty areas on the power play, and most notibly shown chemistry with the Bruin’s top offensive weapons.

Boston currently owns the second playoff spot in the Atlantic, with absolutely no cushion separating them from just about everyone else below them in their division. At this point of the season, every team has its laundry list of injuries, as points reach its highest premium. It’s the players like Vatrano and Schaller that need to shine brightest in order to solidify Boston’s appearance in the playoffs.

On the edge of missing the playoffs for an unprecedented third season in a row, it’s all hands on deck for Boston. Collecting 6 out of a possible 8 points on the road in four games, it’ll be a mad scramble to the finish line. With the injuries suffered to key players on the four game road trip, the previously mentioned players may be leaned on more than ever.

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There are Alternatives to Fighting, Just Not in the NHL

Take it all in, you’re witnessing the official divorce between the NHL and fighting. While it may not come as a shock to some, it’s become blatantly obvious to most.

For the Boston Bruins, looking specifically at last nights game in Buffalo, Sabres tough guy William Carrier caught David Backes at a vulnerable angle. As the unwritten hockey law goes at the next stoppage in play, Adam McQuaid seeked out Carrier to instigate a fight.

Once the gloves came off, two officials darted into the fray in a lackluster attempt to separate the two. However, in doing so they allowed Carrier to land multiple solid hits to McQuaid’s head before it was broken up. Which brings up my next critique, what was the point?

If the idea was to protect the players from themselves, why wasn’t Carrier penalized more for his free shots at McQuaid? The result was a power play to Buffalo, which is beyond head scratching. To me, the message that was sent to players was “if you’re locked up with the officials just get an arm free and continue to whale on the defenseless player”.

While the intention may have been justifiable in some sense. I can’t understand why in a similar situation earlier this month in Montreal officials didn’t step between Torey Krug and Brendan Gallagher.

No doubt in both checks would lead to extra curricular activity there was head contact. But with Boston’s match up against Montreal, the officials didn’t interject until both players hit the ground. So wheres any form of consistency? Players are sticking up for themselves because that is how hockey works.

I would have absolutely no problem with that type of behavior from the officials if it was a league wide mandate. Which clearly it’s not. Otherwise, it should be noted that as early as November of 2015-16, fighting was reportedly down 40% league wide. A trend I would imagine has only increased since then.

Line brawls are unnecessary and staged fights are soon to be ancient relics with players like Matt Martin and Shawn Thornton representing the last of their kind. With an added attention to increased scoring, made evident by having some of the best players in the league not even eligible to consume alcohol.

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Regardless of the increase of speed, finesse and scoring one thing remains. The causal hockey fan watches because its level of violence is higher than the other major sports. Similarly to how the casual baseball fan doesn’t like to watch a pitchers duel, they want 450 foot home runs every evening.

On the other hand, concussions and deaths related to trauma suffered while playing in the NHL has become a living nightmare. But when you have two players who aren’t strangers to engaging one another I say if it’s mutual, let them go. It’s only when a player gets jumped that I take issue with fighting. Something that hasn’t been seen in a noticeably long time.

 

‘Wild’ Expectations

Despite their wretched start to the season, the Boston Bruins have rewarded their fan base recently with noticeably strong play. During this time, their penalty kill and power play have improved mightily. Tuukka Rask has returned to his Vezina Trophy caliber self. Zdeno Chara’s plays have silenced even his most formidable critics. Lastly, the bottom portion of the lineup has contributed offensively.

Despite the improvements in various fields, one burden hangs over their heads: their inability to get valuable points against playoff caliber teams.

62 seconds separated the Bruins from taking at least one point away from the Canadiens in Montreal. Obviously Paul Byron squandered those hopes. The loss, albeit a crippling one, did prove one thing: Boston can hang with the best of them.

Minnesota handled Boston easily in their matchup on October 25th, 5-0. Tonight marks Boston’s 6th matchup against a team that made the playoffs last season since their trouncing against the Wild. A small portion to digest, sure. But it makes for an interesting narrative.

In last weeks entry, I noted that Bruins fans need to relish in the smaller victories. Anytime they can beat a playoff caliber team, the moral should improve. Similarly to how the Patriots beat up on other AFC East teams. It’s not until they go outside their division that you see how good or bad they are in specific areas.

Judging purely off the eyeball test alone, Boston is a demonstratively better team than in the beginning of October. Despite this months loses to the Rangers and the Canadiens, Boston has controlled the pace of play in the games in between. It should be noted that this all came against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season.

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October 25th marked what could have been the pinnacle of the Bruins season. Decimated by injuries, they turned to Malcolm Subban. It was his first start since he was held out to dry against St. Louis last season. To say the least, the year didn’t change much in the result department.

Boston will take on the 8-6-1 Wild tonight at 8 in St. Paul Minnesota. Much healthier, much more focused, and more than ready to get two points against a frequent flyer playoff team.

Tonight isn’t just another game on the schedule, it’s a measuring stick for the rest of the season. Minnesota is a team built from the ground up, eerily similar to Boston; stout goaltending, impressive defense, and four lines that run regularly.

In these particular games, a blow out is the furthest thing from expectation.

Tonight, I expect a high level of competition on both sides. These are two teams that desperately need two points to pull ahead in their divisions and conferences.

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With the regular season still in it’s infancy, these valuable points are very much up for grabs. Boston has proved one thing on the season so far, they are more than capable of beating up on the less fortunate teams. Now, it’s time to prove they’re still a perennial playoff contender.

However, they’ll most likely have to do it without Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak, who both missed today’s practice.

 

Despite The Numbers, You Should Be Positive About Boston

Monday night Boston took on a hen pecked Buffalo Sabres team and controlled the pace of play. Taking advantage of the mental errors and cashing in on the power play.

When the dust settled, Boston skated off with not just a 4-0 victory, but a full 60 minute effort under their belt.

Which was refreshing but the real challenge loomed on the horizon.

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Boston flat out competed with Montreal Tuesday night on the road, putting in another hard fought 60 minute effort against their arch rival.

Out shooting the opposition 43 to 23 and yet again scoring on the power play. In fact, it appeared Boston would, at the very least, take a point out of the match up. This of course was squandered by Paul Byron’s go ahead goal with just over a minute remaining in regulation.

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It was Montreal’s 11th win on the season, the back bone yet again being Carey Price.

As tough of a pill it was to swallow on Tuesday night, there are some distinct takeaways that spell positivity. For starters, Zane McIntyre looked comfortable in net for Boston, in Montreal no less. Shea Webers power play tally was a near impossible shot to stop and the eventual game winner came out of a mad net mouth scramble. I don’t blame the loss on lack of sufficient goal tending.

Secondly, the power play unit showed that the Buffalo game was no fluke. Pastrnak’s half wall bullet to tie the game at two a piece was a beautiful shot that will have the coaching staff talking.

Lastly, the blue line looks solidified. Krug was all over the ice offensively, desperately looking to chip in. Miller was moving the puck well and his unorthodox carrom off the boards resulted in a goal.

While it may appear as a defeatist attitude to look back on a demoralizing loss just to take positives away from it. This is what the Boston Bruins are now. Little victories over the course of the season will hopefully paint the bigger picture.

Standing at 7-6-0 Boston is as mediocre as you can be 13 games into the season. Not yet a force to be reckoned with in the traditional sense, nor are they kicking a can waiting for the draft. You see the problem with being average at best is that you’re more apt to remain that way you are rather than improve. That’s the nature of the beast.

With the eyeball test suggesting that things will improve over the course of the season contrasting with the only stat that matters, wins.

Unfortunately, the only hope they appear to have is improving their lackluster play on home ice. Referencing the last paragraph Monday night may be a sign of things to come.

Looking towards the future with optimism isn’t necessarily my golden trait, but in the last two games the effort has been there. After all, the Bruins were one fluke bounce away from taking two points from Montreal in their building.

Columbus awaits a hungry Bruins team come Thursday night. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond after their devastation Tuesday.

Will we see McIntyre again? Or will Rask be back?

One thing is for sure Jimmy Hayes still has a job, which irks me more than the lost to Montreal. That says a lot.

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Stop With The Player Slandering Already

Ask any 16 year old girl and they’ll tell you how prominent trends are in 2016. Planking, coning and vine are a few from the past. We even had a period where people were attempting at-home cosmetics to increase their lip size in a lackluster effort to look like a celebrity. The reasoning to this day remains a mystery to me.

However, a long lasting relatively ugly trend in New England sports has passed the test of time.

Player shaming, of course has run rampant and no franchise is innocent. Most recently the movements of Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins have caused quite a stir in the north east. Specifically looking at Jamie Collins, who was traded less than a week ago to the Cleveland Browns for a third round draft pick.

Almost instantaneously the feeling among New England Patriots fans was a stage of shock. Which quickly dissipated as mindsets shifted to something along the lines of “Bill is always right!” or “Trust the system! He wasn’t that good anyways! The Patriots are nevah wrong!”

With the rumor of Collins requesting “Von Miller money” emerging from behind the scenes in Foxboro only helped fuel the fire. This, of course was quickly suffocated by the man himself.

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Now, there’s more than enough history to show that in most situations, “Bill does know best.” Up to this point, the proof is definitely in the pudding. But that’s also not to say that the return was potentially a little less than most expected. Especially when you take a look to see where “the hoodie” has hit and missed in the draft. For all intensive purposes, if we could get another Duron Harmon in the third round, you could argue the trade is a wash.

Regardless, there’s plenty of shame to be distributed among the other professional sports teams in Boston.

For Boston’s beloved baseball team names such as Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jacoby Ellsbury and John Lester, have all been dealt for one reason or another.

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After some digging, an article from August 1st 2008 surfaced, highlighting Manny’s departure from Boston. Needless to say, Ramirez did anything but hold back with his opinions of how players are treated in the city of Boston once their time is up.

In regards to Nomar, it’s no surprise that the general thought process in the years that followed was the noticeable lack of production at the shortstop position. Overshadowing the trade was the remarkable run Boston would make as they captured their first title in 86 years.

Similar to the Red Sox, the Boston Bruins have made major splashes of their own, for all the wrong reasons. Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Phil Kessel were highly sought after draft picks. One by one were traded away, and before the door could hit them on the way out, the media already began their attacks. Tyler Seguin was labeled as an unfocused party boy after the controversial trade to the Dallas Stars. Phil Kessel was branded as a locker room problem. Dougie Hamilton reportedly wanted Boston to sign his brother.

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To put things into perspective, Phil Kessel just won a Cup in Pittsburgh and was the driving force behind the run. Tyler Seguin has teamed up with Jamie Benn in Dallas and the two of them recorded seven assists in last nights game. Dougie Hamilton has remained in neutral since being traded, but nonetheless, he possesses more potential than Joe Morrow.

Heading to the parquet floor, we have the Celtics.  A notoriously famous sports franchise that has reconstructed itself to fight yet again for a championship. What the most impressive thing about it all is how they’ve demolished the old foundation and re-surged so quickly.

Buried beneath the collective efforts of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was Rajon Rondo. Appearing to have eyes on the back of his head at times, Rondo has an unnatural ability to feed his teammates the ball. Instrumental in the teams 17th banner in 2008 and returning to the finals in 2010.

Where things began to get tricky was after the “big three” left town and Rondo was tasked with carrying the load. He and coach Brad Stevens did everything but get along. Rondo lusted to push the pace, while Stevens wanted to slow the game down and focus on establishing solid team defense.

In the end, Rondo lost the case and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Dubbed “addition by subtraction” by the media, while it perhaps appeared to be at the time, people lost sight of the big picture. Rondo acted as the back bone to the big three without the recognition. In the end, the treatment he received from the fans that once adored him, was egregious.

Being a Boston sports fan, peoples perceptions get foggy and forget how lucky we are regardless of the sport. The teams are a family and when you begin to tear the layers away, it at times has detrimental consequences. So, before you praise your GM for trading away that once popular player, consider all they’ve done for you before you start slandering them.

 

Ice Cold Bruin’

Boston is known for a lot.

Wicked awesome accents, a sick sports market and as of late, an extremely frustrating hockey team.

After making priority number being their troubles on the blue line, Boston decided re-upping Kevan Miller and John Michael Liles was sufficient enough. Now, up to this point they were wrong since Miller and Adam McQuaid weren’t available to begin the season. Yet did they fool anyone with metaphorically sticking gum over a leaky pipe? Brandon Carlo has stepped in and played above average along side Chara where Torey Krug has left something to be desired so far this season.

A marvelous opening night performance against the Blue Jackets by Brad Marchand has proved, offensively, the Bruins are top heavy. Which, has placed them 6th in their division.

Since his return from injury, Patrice Bergeron has been largely spotless, including a game winning goal in his return to action. David Pastrnak has had the wheels churning since opening night, but has struggled to find consistency in his game offensively. As previously stated, Brad Marchand has carried the bulk of the load as far as total team offense goes while David Backes is fitting seamlessly into the teams style.

Oh, by the way Backes has undergone a minor “procedure” on his elbow and is expected to miss two games at the very least.

Tuukka Rask vowed to come back better than ever after a long off season of rest. Just to turn around four games into the season and sit due to general “soreness”. So backup Anton Khudobin took to the ice against Montreal, in a losing effort he would suffer an “upper body injury” requiring three weeks of shelf time.

In the absence of the primary two goaltenders, both Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre have been called up from Providence. Tuesday night offered the first look at Subban since being chased out of the net by St. Louis last season. History has an odd way of repeating itself as Subban was relieved of his duty for McIntyre after letting up 3 goals on 16 shots.

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It would appear as if Boston is struggling to find its identity this far into the early portion of the season. Physically they haven’t lost a step, regularly engaging in altercations and fisticuffs. Yet, their Achilles heel has bled over from last season. Not only can they not seem to play with a lead at any portion of a game, they physically can’t score.

Allowing Columbus, Toronto, Winnipeg, New Jersey, Montreal and Minnesota to get on the board first, this just makes each and every victory/defeat increasingly difficult.

It’s not necessarily that Boston is playing bad or uninspired hockey, because from what I have seen, that’s quite the opposite. However, the game plan needs to change and the rhetoric needs reassessment from managements perspective. Don’t tell the fan base that this isn’t a rebuild if you fail to make the playoffs for an unheard of third season in a row. Also, save your breath when saying you’ve done all you can to put the best product possible on the ice. Lastly, don’t keep the same coach to kick a can all season and shove the wrong messages down players throats. No matter how many times you try and shove a square into a circle, it’s not going to happen.

Yet I digress, clearly none of what has been told to the public applies.

Now, considerable interest was placed on Cam Fowler who is currently employed by the cap constricted Anaheim Ducks. The 24 year old defensemen has made noticeable strides towards becoming a strictly defensive player.

Now, is Fowler the immediate solution? No, by no means is he Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson. By all means he’s a noticeable upgrade from Kevan Miller and John Michael Liles. Furthermore he allows Julien the option to keep Chara on the bench, saving those 39 year old legs for better use.

Boston’s slow start last season spelled disaster for the latter portion as they failed to recover lost ground. With the addition of the injury bug plaguing the locker room, the trend seems to have returned.

Regardless of previous triumphs and failures, this season seems somewhat different. In the sense that unlike in years past, a new wave of youthfully inspired players have made and or gained considerable attention in the lineup. The future seems bright, but that’s the lamest cliché in the book.

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Take-aways from the early stages of the season:

 

Paying Their Dues

Priority number one for the Boston Bruins heading into the summer was finding a way to make sure Brad Marchand remained in Boston long term. Monday they accomplished just that.

After a spectacular 2015-16 season, in which Marchand found the back of the net 37 times and amassed 61 points in the process, it was speculated that Sweeney would have to write a sizable check in order to ensure ‘Marchy’ stayed in Beantown. That wasn’t necessarily the case.

While his 6.1 million dollar cap hit over 8 seasons is more money than I could ever dream of acquiring, it’s not ludicrous either. Especially with the new payday, he’s still not in the sphere of the top 50 highest paid players in the league. In the near future, I wouldn’t bet on that to change either.

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What’s noteworthy about not only his recent performances, but the contract itself is that Marchand is finally being recognized as the player fans in Boston know him for. Ever since his coming out party, in the form of the 2011 Stanley Cup run, Brad has been labeled primarily as an agitator or a pest. By all means he remains just that, but his style of play has evolved to a greater extent.

You don’t represent team Canada at any level, let alone the World Cup of Hockey, by accident. Underlining my point is the fact that he, teammate Patrice Bergeron and who many people believe is the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby have been on a line together all tournament, and produced at a startling rate.

Bottom line is that Cam Neely and Don Sweeney have swung and missed on so many young players in terms of contract negotiation that the Marchand situation feels like a victory. Regardless of whether or not he ever reaches the 37 goal plateau ever again. That being said, he is a mid to upper 20 goal scorer in his career up to this point.

Boston is going to need Marchand to tickle 30 goals a season. That is until players such as Frank Vatrano, Zachary Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk have the necessary time to develop as full time NHL-ers.

Furthermore, that shouldn’t be an issue since the 28 year old is under contract until he is 37.

Future captain Patrice Bergeron should be happy to know that his long time line mate will be under contract until after he retires. From a fan standpoint, you should be happy as well. Considering the only reason David Backes came to Boston was because Marchand and Bergeron convinced him to do so.

After being dragged through the mud after the tire fires that were Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Alex Khokhalachev’s contract negotiations, it’s organizationally sound to see management get this done in Boston.

Make no mistake, impending free agents will see this deal and think positively about Boston. With 13 million available and with no major free agents in need of a deal, they will approach the trade deadline and free agency with big pockets and even bigger aspirations on getting this team back to the Cup Final.

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-Joe Russo (@JoeyRusso12)