McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense


McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense

Thursday night's game got so weird, so fast that the methodical beating the Pats seemed about to apply turned into a pie-in-the-face mess.

But it was clear on Thursday night that the Patriots offense - which had its moments of doubt and pain earlier in the season even as it put up points at a solid clip - is closer to becoming fully evolved.

Even without Rob Gronkowski, even with Aaron Hernandez coming back from his ankle injury (again), even on a short week, the Patriots ran some schemes against the Jets offensively that stretched New York to its breaking point. And past.

The slapstick nature of points 14 through 28 overshadowed the first 14 points the Patriots scored and the drive preceding on which Hernandez re-entered the Patriots offense with a 28-yard reception. But there were plays that showed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is understanding how all his gadgets work.

"Obviously, the more time we spend together, the more you get to learn about different phases of each receiver's game and then how they all work together collectively," McDaniels said. "Whether it's the plays or the performance we're looking for from them, it's all tied together. Really what we try to narrow it to is, hone in on what we feel are the strengths of those groups of players that are working together. Whether that's throwing the ball between Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd. Whether that's a certain blocking combination on the edge with tight ends. Whatever it might be, we're trying to maximize the strengths of their games at the same time."

Thursday night, Shane Vereen was employed on two plays of note - a third-and-1 toss that looked like it was ripped from a high school playbook and gained 7. Vereen was also the recipient of a pass in the flat that went for 83 yards when the Patriots schemed it up perfectly to get a matchup of Bart Scott on Vereen.

In the course of asking McDaniels about getting comfortable with his weapons, I alluded to Brandon Lloyd and Tom Brady. McDaniels circled back to that tandem as being one that can still improve.

"We need to work on the weak points that maybe we're not doing as well that we need, NEED, to improve on as we go forward," said McDaniels. "I think with Brandon and Tom specifically, there's definitely some real good and then we're always going to try to find some things that we didn't hit positive as we go forward. I know that those two guys have tried extremely hard to try to get that done and hopefully we're gonna see more and more results as we go down the stretch here."

The first time the Patriots and Jets met, Lloyd was a focal point of the game plan and was targeted downfield outside the numbers. Eight throws went his way, he caught 1 for 6 yards.

Thursday, the Patriots featured the running game more and a lot of perimeter attacking based on scheming things and stretching coverage as opposed to beating guys 1-on-1. 

That, McDaniels said, is an outgrowth of the offense expanding.

"There's always things that you need to take and add to (the base offense) as you go based on the defense that you're seeing that week," McDaniels explained. "It may not be a brand new protection but maybe it's a route combination that we've never used from that protection off of a formation that we've used previously. I think those are the little things that we're sensitive to.

"You've heard the term "self scouting" before," McDaniels noted. "A lot of that has to do with looking at yourself and seeing what other teams are seeing and then go forward and either perfect things that are going well or give them something to think about as we go forward."

The Patriots will face two of the NFL's toughest defenses in the next month - the Niners and Texans. It will be interesting to see what New England hatches for them that neither team has seen on film. That will be evidence of what McDaniels is referring to.

"I don't think there's a period of time where you just come to a point in the season where you stop (adding to the offense)," he concluded. "I always think you can make yourself better by complementing some of the things you do well and hopefully that's what will continue to do for the last five weeks of the season."

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

BOSTON -- One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Much like Charlie Brown was never going to actually kick the football before Lucy pulled it away, it feels like the Bruins are never again going to beat the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. They failed again Saturday night, never holding a lead at any point as they dropped their ninth straight home game to the Habs, 4-2.

Bruins-Canadiens games in Boston have become the hockey version of 'Groundhog Day', as the same patterns emerge over and over again: Montreal's speed forces the Bruins into mistakes with the puck; Habs players draw the B’s into taking bad penalties; Carey Price dominates in goal. It's been that way ever since the last Bruin victory over Montreal at the Garden, on Jan. 12, 2012. To put it perspective, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin were still Bruins back then.

Saturday night's loss, though, had a little added twist: The B's second-period woes, such a problem last year, reared its ugly head again.

“[The second period was] terrible, and that’s where it really hurt us," said Claude Julien. "I thought we played well (in the first period) . . . But the second period came back to haunt us. We were flat coming out. We didn’t make good outlet passes, and we spent way too much time in our own end, and because of that, it gave them some momentum. And by the end of it, we cheated ourselves a little bit, and pucks ended up in the back of our net . . .

"[When] you give up four goals to Montreal, and you have Price at the other end, it’s pretty hard to beat that team. So we needed to be better . . . [We] shot ourselves in the foot with some real poor mistakes, and we can’t afford to do that against the Montreal Canadiens."

The Bruins were essentially done for after a couple of very typical Boston-Montreal plays went against them in the middle 20 minutes.

The first was a defensive coverage breakdown in the D-zone that allowed both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher to operate with time and space. Five B’s players simply watched as Gallagher smoked a one-timer from the outside of the left circle that eluded Anton Khudobin.

Then, later in the period, John-Michael Liles misread a play where he pinched deep in the offensive zone and couldn’t control the puck. As a result, Alexander Radulov worked a 2-on-1 with Phillip Danault to skilled perfection on a typical Habs transition play.

"I think our second period has got to be better overall," said Patrice Bergeron. "We talked about them having a good forecheck . . . [but] we didn’t make the easy plays too many times. When you do that, it creates turnovers and you spend more time in your zone than you’d like to."

From there, it was just more of the same. Playing with the lead, Montreal was able to neutralize Bergeron and Brad Marchand; Bergeron never got a shot on goal. Price came up big when he had to, shutting down a couple of Ryan Spooner chances.

And Bruin weaknesses were exposed, things Julien and the coaching staff may have to address. It looks like it’s time to move on from the Joe Morrow/Torey Krug defense pairing; it's simply not working. (Krug, in particular, was a minus-3 and made mistakes all over the ice.) They also may need to switch things up with the forwards, as they're getting zippo offensively from their second and third lines.

To their credit, the Bruins never packed it in. They hung in and made plays in the third period to keep the game close, right up to the 6-on-3 advantage they had at the end. But there are no consolation prizes or moral victories in the Boston-Montreal rivalry, especially when the Habs have made it so one-sided.

To be a true rivalry, you need equal rivals. And the Bruins, especially at home, aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

BOSTON -- There’s only so long that a team can hope to thrive, or even survive, in the NHL if they’re constantly chasing the game on the scoreboard, and chasing the puck after digging themselves a hole. The Bruins have been that team in the first couple of weeks during the regular season, and made it five times in five games that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

It’s a pattern that is long past getting old to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who can’t seem to play the front-runner this season despite three comebacks that have allowed for a 3-2-0 record overall this season.

“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but there’s no doubt. I think it’s pretty obvious that with the amount of games we’ve played, five games, we haven’t scored first,” said Julien. “We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

The start to the game wasn’t really the problem on Saturday night as it’s been a couple of times this season. Instead the Bruins enjoyed a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes against the Habs, but couldn’t come through and finish off those plays when it might have meant an early lead.

Instead it lead to what Julien termed a “terrible” second period that was flat, full of mistakes and ended with the B’s trailing Montreal by a couple of goals. The Bruins scratched and clawed their way to making it a one-goal game in the third period, but that was as close as the Black and Gold would get in losing their ninth straight home game to the arch-rival Canadiens.

“It’s kind of been a story about how things are going for us this far, we’ve got to find a way to start playing with a lead. If you don’t capitalize on your chances, you see what happens when you come out [flat] in the second period,” said Torey Krug, who finished a game-worst minus-3 in the loss for the Bruins. “We had another poor second period and you know it’s kind of… you got to make sure that we put our hand on that and it doesn’t become a thing for the team this year. You see that when you don’t capitalize on chances early, that’s what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a positive development that the Bruins have shown the willingness and backbone to fight back into games after early deficits, and they showed that quality once again on Saturday night by scoring a couple of goals in the third period to keep things close. But the Bruins would be best served if they can start lighting the lamp a little earlier in these games, and see how the other half lives by playing with a comfortable lead every once in a while.