Haggerty: Bruins are keying on early start to short season

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Haggerty: Bruins are keying on early start to short season

The early theme to the Boston Bruins season is already well underway.

After limping out of the gate with a 3-7 record last season as visions of Stanley Cup glory still dancing in their heads and maybe a few lingering headaches from a summer of triumphant toasts and beer-soaked celebrations it took two months of determined, energetic hockey just to insert them back into the playoff race.

With a shortened 48-game regular season on tap this time around, the Bruins cant afford a slow start with only 3 months of hockey determining their playoff worthiness.

You really cant afford to have even one bad month, said Johnny Boychuk. That could take you right out of things.

Bruins center Chris Kelly compared it to the NFL where every game will have meaning, and the normal dead period or two during an 82-game regular season will be kaput.

If you told us we had to play every day from now until June guys would be ready to play and happy to be back, said Kelly. It will be key to get off to a good start, continue playing well and get better with each game.

Instead it will be divisional grudge matches and conference showdowns right out of the chute to determine who is worthy and who will be outside the playoff scene in a year where their owners badly need the Stanley Cup postseason box office revenue.

The first game against the Rangers is going to feel a little like an exhibition game, said Lucic. It will be a new experience for all of us. But I think we always do a good job of keeping each other accountable.

The way I look at it, its not going to happen unless we make it happen. Last season it didnt start happening for us until we decided to go out and make it happen, and thats when we went on that incredible two-month run. The first 10 games we almost just expected it to happen just because were the champs.

That incredible two-month run included a 12-0-1 mark during the entire month of November, and going 23-3-1 in a period from Nov. 1 Jan. 5 that ended up being last years pinnacle moments for the Black and Gold.

So the expectation is that the Bruins are keenly aware of their own recent team history. Bs head coach Claude Julien will surely stress the importance of a strong start to the season, and team leaders like Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly, Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron

Weve played the same way for the last five years with Claude. He expects a lot out of us and we expect a lot out of him, said Lucic. I dont want to say we take it for granted, but I think we did take it for granted at the start of last season. That was obvious in the way that we started the season.

So its up to us to come out the right way, practice the right way and have a good start to the season. It brought back great memories when the Kings lifted the Cup, but it also light that fire in you again. You want to taste that again.

It will be a challenge, of course. Guys like Lucic and Tyler Seguin become friends with New England Patriots players like Dane Fletcher, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski over the last couple of years, and got the inside scoop on last years abbreviated NFL training camp from a players perspective. The bottom line: nagging hamstring and groin injuries could be a big issue affecting Bostons jump out of the gate if the players start doing too much, too quickly.

Talking to a bunch of the Patriots guys in their short training camp, a lot of them got hurt with pulled muscles. I was talking to offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer about it and he hurt his back last season, said Lucic. You need to pay really close attention to stretching before, stretching afterward, getting a massage, cold baths and all of that type of stuff. We need to focus on all of that and nutrition is going to be a big part as well.

With the Bruins there will be some built-in advantages allowing them to get off the mark quickly: with continuity and high participation in the European leagues as two of the key factors.

While other teams like the Calgary Flames are ushering in a new coaching staff along with key new players, and the New York Rangers are introducing a shiny new piece in Rick Nash, the Bruins are virtually the same. Its the same coaching staff with the same systems coaching 11 of the same 12 forward and five out of six defensemen along with both goaltenders. Tim Thomas is the biggest subtraction from the team mix, and the Bruins have had eight months to get used to that adjustment while Tuukka Rask readies for his big shot.

That doesnt even mention that the nucleus was good enough to a win a Stanley Cup two years ago and should be poised to do it again this season.

Couple all of those factors with the simple fact that the Black and Gold had 12 Bruins skaters playing overseas the most of any team in the NHL and training camp shouldnt be too much trouble for many key players like Chara, Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg among others.

The simple fact that so many Bruins keyed in on a strong start to the coming season rather than bursting into giddy celebration the NHL is back lets everybody know that the players are already into business mode. The first item on the Bs to do list is bursting out of the gate and making a loud, unmistakable statement to the other Eastern Conference teams theyll be battling with.

Then things should just get better from there before they once again take a quick breath in May prior to the playoffs.

But it's first things first for the Black and Gold, and that means crushing the months of January and February.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.