Haggerty: More work to be done before Tuukka Time

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Haggerty: More work to be done before Tuukka Time

BOSTON -- If there was a perfect training camp warm-up for the Bruins goaltenders to a challenging 48-game regular season, then Tuesday nights Black and Gold scrimmage at TD Garden was the exact opposite of that.

The final score was a 7-5 victory for the Providence Bruins in front of an impressively large crowd for a mere preseason scrimmage, and the final goal was a Kyle MacKinnon empty netter that didnt reflect poorly on the Bs puck-stoppers. But prior to that final score Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin allowed a combined 11 goals on 57 shots in a sloppy affair that looked more like a third grade fire drill than a professional hockey game.

Thats not exactly an encouraging dress rehearsal performance considering that Rask and Khudobin will be Bostons final line of defense this season. Instead of poised, confident and quiet, Rask was flopping all over the ice leaving large portions of the cage wide open. His Russian backup was simply whiffing while trying to glove pucks and stop simple shots from the face-off circle.

Considering that both goaltenders played in Europe, this was not supposed to be the way they looked.

Im going to look at the goals again. I think Tuukka Rask was maybe a little more active than he normally is when hes poised, said Claude Julien, who indicated the defense in front of the goalies was just as culpable in the high-scoring affair. But the winning goal just two guys skated in front of him and it hit the side of the leg. It was going wide and then trickled in. So there were a lot of things tonight. Certainly I dont think he got the bounces, but theres certainly a lot of things that he can work with Bob Essensa in the next couple of days to kind of tune him up a little bit better.

The same thing with Khudobin I thought a lot of pucks went through him tonight. He was there, but they were going through. So those are things that are usually...its a lot easier to correct than when youre out of position. I think both guys were in position but slight corrections will certainly make them better.

For his part Rask plainly admitted following the game that he lost mental focus in the third period, and that factored into the four goals he surrendered in the final 20 minutes against an AHL opponent. He seemed to lose a little composure at the beginning of the third period when the defense allowed Max Sauve to waltz right in toward the net and throw a couple of good stick fakes on Rask before dumping the puck in the open net.

Two more goals followed in less than five minutes, and the crowd showered Rask with a mock cheer when he finally did glove a long clearing shot. That unrest from the home crowd didnt go unnoticed by Rask in the otherwise meaningless preseason tilt.

It was good to see that crowd and they cheered us. They cheered for Providence guys too, so it was good to see that, said Rask. They cheered me on that one save in the third period too, didnt they?

At least Rask can keep his sense of humor about himself even if the bottom dropped out in a slipshod scrimmage effort.

The 25-year-old Finnish goalie was clearly the victim of a disorganized defense and some bad bounces on re-directions.

But he also simply wasnt very good.

Any NHL goaltender that gives up six goals on 24 shots and finishes with a .750 save percentage for the evening needs to look in the mirror before placing blame on the defenders in front of him. From tracking the puck through traffic to showing proper urgency in freezing the puck for a bacon-saving whistle, Rask was a little slow on the draw on all fronts. Knowing that the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist await on Saturday night, Rask was the first to admit hes got plenty of work to do.

I think it was sloppy throughout, for all of us. But you'd rather take it now than Saturday against the Rangers, right? said Rask. Ive got to improve on everything.

Just try to keep the focus for 60 minutes. I was slipping there the last period for sure, giving up four or five goals. But for all of us I think it was just a good wake up call for Saturday. I dont want to be too down on ourselves, but weve still got to wake up and raise our battle meter for sure.

But its actually not about the opposition for Rask this season. Its about his potential and how good he can be with a loaded Bruins team around him. He led the NHL in goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931) three years ago before wilting in the postseason, and hes shown flashes of brilliance as Tim Thomas understudy.

But the Bruins signed Rask to a one-year deal with the hopes that the goaltender can prove hes a franchise goalie over the course of a full regular season and Stanley Cup playoff run. Once Rask has taken on a starters full workload and maintained consistency and good health, the Bruins will show him the money and give long term security.

He knows it and the Bruins brain trust certainly knows it as well. But both player and team also know that his play between the pipes will be one of the largest keys of the season for a team thats missing their bunker-bound Conn Smythe-winning goaltender. If Rask is as good as he was in his rookie season the Bruins are a Stanley Cup favorite again this season. If Rask is inconsistent and feeling around for the groove, the Bruins will be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team with a huge weakness once the postseason begins.

I dont necessarily have to prove that Im a No. 1 goaltender, but I want to prove it, said Rask. You always want to prove it no matter what the situation is. If you have a one-year deal or an eight-year deal you still dont want to suck, right? So its just a matter of going out there and proving it.

I dont like to place pressure on myself about things. If I play at my level then Im sure everything will turn out fine.

Well, Rask pretty much sucked on Tuesday night in his first game out of the chute.

But the goaltender also knows none of that will matter as long as he pulls it together between the pipes once the real NHL games commence this weekend. He knows that goaltending is the one Bruins department that, for better or worse, separates the team from middle-of the-pack playoff squad to elite Cup contender.

Nobody said that life without Tim Thomas would be easy, but Rask needs to start proving hes up for that challenge.

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.