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.

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

BOSTON – It’s easy to forget that Kelly Olynyk went several months without doing anything basketball-related as he was on the mend from shoulder surgery.

His return had its share of ups and downs, but it seems the 7-foot center has found his stride and he’s making opponents pay for it.

For the second time in as many games, Olynyk came up big for the Celtics as Boston continued on its winning ways with a 108-98 win over Charlotte.

Olynyk, who scored a season-high 26 points in Boston’s win at Atlanta on Friday, had an efficient 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting against the Hornets on Monday.

Assertive. Aggressive. Contract year.

It doesn’t matter how you describe what or why Olynyk is ballin’ so hard lately.

The point is he’s doing it a better job of recognizing opportunities to make plays and executing whatever role he’s being asked to play.

“Just feeling good with the second unit,” Olynyk said. “I’m just trying to be aggressive and help the starters out.”

In the past, teams have mixed up their defensive coverages on Olynyk which frequently left him being guarded by a quicker but smaller player, or a big man with limited mobility.

Often Olynyk settled for long range shots and 3’s, regardless of the defender.

But as we’ve seen the last couple of games, he has hurt teams with his scoring around the rim which has in turn opened things up for his teammates or himself.

“We need him to play like that all the time,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “When he’s aggressive, looking for his shot, shooting open shots, even getting in there getting rebounds, offensive put-backs, that only helps us as a unit. And he’s done a great job of that the past couple games. We need that from him.”

And as he gets further removed from his offseason surgery, opportunities for him to be an impactful player for Boston will only grow.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game.

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics win, and Isaiah Thomas has another offensive flurry in the fourth quarter. So what else is new? He led all scorers with 35 points which included 17 in the fourth quarter.

Kemba Walker

He’s still playing at a level that puts him in the All-Star conversation, but it’s not going to happen with the Hornets continuing to struggle. They’ve lost five in a row now despite Walker’s 24 points on Monday.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

Boston is playing more inside-out basketball of late, and that’s opening things up for both Horford and his teammates. Against the Hornets he had 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting along with six rebounds and four assists.

Kelly Olynyk

For the second straight game, Olynyk had a strong, impactful performance for the Celtics utilizing his strengths as a perimeter threat and a 7-footer who can take advantage of smaller defenders around the rim. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Marvin Williams

He was the only other Hornet besides Kemba Walker who really impacted the game significantly. Williams had 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting which included 3-for-6 shooting from 3-point range.

Jae Crowder

The 6-foot-6 Crowder continues to have a sneaky-good season for the Celtics, particularly with his 3-point shooting which ranks among the league leaders. On Monday he had 15 points which included a trio of 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

 

DUDS

Nicolas Batum

Avery Bradley put most of his effort and attention into defending Batum and man, did it ever pay off. Batum grabbed 10 rebounds, but wound up missing nine of his 11 shots from the field to finish with just four points.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL.