Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

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Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

MONTREAL The Bruins last saw a very different Montreal Canadiens team that was in a shambles last year.

Who could forget that it was Bostons TD Garden where Habs forward Mike Cammalleri was dealt to the Calgary Flames last year in the middle of a losing effort against the Bruins when Montreal had finally waved the white flag on the season?

Or that the Bruins reeled off four straight wins against the punchy arch-rival Canadiens to end last season?

That kind of big brotherlittle brother relationship leaving off last year gives the Bruins some confidence riding into the Bell Centre for Wednesdays first showdown of the season. But it's also a new year for both storied Original Six teams and Wednesday night's battle will be for first place in the Northeast Division.

It was clearly a year to forget about for Montreal as their English-speaking interim head coach and GM Pierre Gautier were replaced after the season in favor of Marc Bergevin and French-speaking Michel Therrien.

The Bruins have plenty to be confident about while leaping out to a 6-1-1 start that puts them atop the Northeast Division, but the Canadiens are only a point behind the Black and Gold more two weeks into the season. Montreal has also built a 5-1-0 record at the always rollicking Bell Centre this year where they decimated the Buffalo Sabres last weekend, and have only improved with the addition of P.K. Subban now that his holdout is finally over.

Couple that with a healthy Andrei Markov roaming the bliue line for the first time in three years and new gritty acquisitions in Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong, and it should be business as usual Wednesday night for the heated rivals. While he's not the defensive stalwart that Zdeno Chara is in Boston, Markov is Montreal's Chara as the Habs' Captain and the defenseman that plays 25 minutes a game in all situations.

Missing him last year was a significant factor in their free fall to the Eastern Conference basement.

Youve got to remember that they ran into a lot of injuries. When you lose a guy like Markov for the entire year and Max Pacioretty, they had key guys getting injured. They were never able to get their second wind, said Claude Julien, who knows firsthand how good Markov is after coaching him as a young player blossoming into captain-worthy material for the Habs. Once you derail its hard to get back on track. They certainly werent as bad as the standings show. Now that theyre healthy with a new coach and a new GM breathing new life in there, theyve caught fire.

"Its going to be a good game and it will be a battle for first place with them just a point behind us. We also have Tampa on Saturday, so its going to be a tough week. But it all starts with Montreal. Theyre playing with an edge right now. Theres no doubt about it.

Clearly the usual suspects like Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara will be a little more dialed in at a Bell Centre setting thats become incredibly adversarial for them over their careers. But everybody on the Black and Gold roster can get swept up in the historic hate-fest their organization has had with the Canadiens over generations, and thats why it was a perfect choice for NBC Sports Networks Rivalry Night in front of a national audience.

It will also be the introduction to the MontrealBoston rivalry for young players on both sides of the aisle like Dougie Hamilton, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, and those fresh faces will bring their energy to the mix.

I know theyre playing good hockey. Theyre a good, fast-skating team and Carey Price is playing good in net there, said Tuukka Rask. Its going to be a tough matchup. Its a lot of fun. The crowd always gets up for those games, but its good for us too. Theyre always pretty entertaining games and Im sure it will be no exception on Wednesday.

Its a little disappointing that the Bruins and Canadiens only face each other four times this season in a 48-game shortened season when some divisional rivals are playing each other on five occasions. It's not an ideal set-up for the players, spectators and media that thrive on the inspired rivalry.

But the Bs are simply putting their heads down and playing the games on the schedule, and a battle for first place adds a little extra to the pot when it's not even needed.

Were both off to good starts, and theyre playing well especially at home, said Rich Peverley. With the rivalry its obviously a big game, but anytime youre in a shortened season division games are going to be important.

Itll be a fun game. Its always fun to play in a building like that.

Fun is one way to describe the BruinsCanadiens rivalry.

Some other ways would be passionate, electrifying, emotional and heated, and it will be all those adjectives and more when the puck drops between the Bruins and Habs before a sold-out, screaming full house at the Bell Centre.

Rask stops 35 shots in Bruins' 2-1 win over Sabres

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Rask stops 35 shots in Bruins' 2-1 win over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Tuukka Rask made 35 saves to help the Bruins hold off the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 on Saturday

David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron scored to give Boston a 2-0 lead and the Bruins improved to 3-0-1 in their past four.

Evander Kane scored his first goal of the season for Buffalo. Robin Lehner returned after missing one game with a hip injury and made 32 saves.

The Sabres combined for nine goals in their previous two wins but the NHL's lowest-scoring team reverted to form from the first 21 games, when star center Jack Eichel was out of the lineup with a high-ankle sprain.

Krejci got the Bruins on the scoreboard with 5:50 left in the first when he deflected Brandon Carlo's slap shot from the point off the right post and into the net.

The Sabres appeared to tie the game late in the second period but replays determined Brian Gionta kicked the puck into the net.

Bergeron made it 2-0 at 7:10 of the second at 7:44 of the third when he knocked on the rebound of his own missed shot. Bergeron initially hit the puck with his forearm on the left edge of the crease and skated around the net to chase down the puck and slip a backhand past Lehner.

The Sabres answered two minutes later, scoring on Rask for the first time in 109:12 this season. Sam Reinhart's feed off the rear wall set up Kane for a wrist shot from the slot that bounced in off Krejci. Reinhart has five points in his last four games.

NOTES: Bruins F Matt Beleskey was escorted to the dressing room in the final minute of the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return. ... Sabres D Josh Gorges did not play after injuring his foot blocking a shot in Thursday's win over the New York Rangers. With Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) and Zach Bogosian (MCL sprain) also out, the Sabres were down three of their top four defenseman and recalled 19-year-old Brendan Guhle from the minors to make his NHL debut. Guhle hustled back to thwart a breakaway by Krejci late in the third period. ... F Anton Blidh became the seventh Bruin to make his NHL debut this season after being recalled from the minors on Friday. ... The Bruins scratched F Jimmy Hayes. D Zdeno Chara, the Bruins' captain, missed his sixth straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Rask got a shutout in Boston's 4-0 win over Buffalo on Nov. 7.

UP NEXT

Bruins: Host Florida on Monday.

Sabres: At Washington on Monday.

 

© 2016 by STATS and The Associated Press.

Hagg Bag: Bruins right about where we expected

Hagg Bag: Bruins right about where we expected

After more than a quarter of the season, the strengths and weaknesses are beginning to take shape for the Bruins. So, that means the potential needs for the Black and Gold are also taking shape with a collection of players that have been right about where people expected them to be in the standings, though, in some ways, they're the opposite of how most expected team to perform. 

The Bruins are 24th in the NHL with 2.3 goals per game and have scored two goals or less in 17 of their 24 games this season, but their defense is fourth in the NHL averaging just 2.2 goals allowed per game. 

While the Bruins are right in the mix to finish anywhere from sixth to tenth in the Eastern Conference at this point, that kind of mix of offense/defense is one that could be playoff-worthy provided Tuukka Rask continues performing at an elite level and they don’t suffer any catastrophic injuries.

In other words, the Bruins might be okay while having pretty much zero room for error as a team hoping to wrangle one of those few playoff spots in April. With that as the current situation, it’s the perfect time to answer a few questions in a Hagg Bag mailbag. As always, these are real questions from real followers to my Twitter account using the #HaggBag hashtag, emails to my jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com account and messages to my CSN Facebook page. 

Now, on to the bag:

Joe, 

December /2016 is here and soon to be gone. What’s next for the Bruins? Wait till they are severely out of the picture? Wait for [Cam] Neely and [Don] Sweeney to be let go? Charlie [Jacobs] must see and know that the state of his Bruins team is entirely due to the lack of not being active to make the team better by HIS management team? Claude in no way should be the scapegoat. It's a very sad time for Bruins Nation. I believe that there are players in the system that will help out in the near future, but really what is the team’s strategy?

Bob Boisclair (message on Facebook)

JH: Far be it for me to be the team messenger for the Bruins, Bob. I have not understood the bigger picture mentality behind many of the moves the B’s have made over the past couple of years and think that some of them amount to short-sighted stunts designed to temporarily push the team back into the playoffs. That being said, the Bruins are currently in a playoff spot and they’ve been better in some respects than people thought. 

So, don’t count me among those that are especially down on the Bruins right now when considering the line of prospects starting to make an impact (Brandon Carlo) and the next couple of waves that are expected to be just as good (Charlie McAvoy, Zach Senyshyn, Anders Bjork). 

That’s not to say this team isn’t flawed or that it’s exactly what the Bruins fans want to see. I’m not sure that’s the case at all after watching the god-awful game played against Carolina on Thursday night that looked tired, disinterested and totally disconnected from providing entertaining hockey for fans that pay big bucks to get in the building. I’ll chalk that one up to the hectic, compacted schedule thanks to the World Cup of Hockey and the bye week taking place later on in the season. 

But the bottom line is that the Bruins have been making money over the past couple of seasons even as they’ve been missing the playoff cut, according to the Forbes article out earlier this week. I’m not sure we’ll see significant organizational changes until that particular dynamic changes for the worse, but you never know what can happen if the Bruins miss the playoffsthree years in a row. 

By this point, the new Bruins management has had a couple of years to right the ship and they should have collected enough talent to secure a playoff spot this season. That includes having a coach that can help avoid another collapse by a team that looks like there’s enough there to at least qualify for the postseason. I don’t exactly see Claude Julien as a scapegoat as much as I see him as somebody that’s been in Boston for a long time now and sometimes the same voice gets old after that length of time. He’s been great and he’s doing a good job this season thus far introducing a lot of young talent, but there’s still a great deal of season left to be played. 

 

Hi Joe, 

As always, I enjoy your work on the Bruins for CSNNE.com.

Matt Kalman had a recent article about how the Bruins should try to execute an extension with David Pastrnak now, and threw out a 5 year 25 million dollar figure.  Let's say it's in that neighborhood give or take 1 million AAV on either side.  The Bruins long term will have 5 forwards north of 5 to 6 million (Pastrnak, Krejci, Marchand, Bergeron and Backes).  With a goaltender making 7 million and Krug making 5.25, they will have limited flexibility in terms of bringing a higher salaried defenseman via trade or free agency (Shattenkirk or Alzner come to mind).  

My question for you is this.  Do you think the Bruins keep all of their high salaried forwards for the next couple of years while finding a mid-range salaried defenseman to build a bridge to McAvoy, Zboril, and Lauzon (I don't include Carlo as he's already a Top 4 D)?  Or do the B's move a salary (Krejci is always mentioned, but Krug may have more value) and then try to buy some more time for the young "D" to develop by signing or trading for a 2nd pairing guy this offseason.  I think the Bruins can hold onto most everyone for the next couple of years because they will have several contributors on entry level contracts (Carlo, Czarnik, Vatrano, Acciari, Heinen, McAvoy, Zboril etc.), and the salary cap usually bumps up about 2 million each year. 

The ultimate argument for moving salary and getting an established defenseman now is to take advantage of what people call the "Bergeron window".  Last time I heard that argument from a certain writer, we traded Tyler Seguin to maximize the "Chara window" so it doesn't always work.  I'd rather build organically myself, but ownership and ticket holders paying a high premium may not be so patient.  

Thanks for the time Joe.

- Kevin (Holliston MA)     

JH: Hey Kevin. It made much more sense to pay attention to the “Chara window” coming off an appearance in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. I don’t buy into the “Bergeron window” now because the Bruins are nowhere near being Stanley Cup winners at this point. It’s simply about getting into the playoffs for a group that’s now stuck right in the NHL middle class with a lot of other teams and will come within a few points, for better or worse, of cracking the top eight in the East. 

I don’t think Kevin Shattenkirk ends up in Boston. If I had to guess he won’t be traded this season from St. Louis and he’ll sign with the New York Rangers in the summer on a mega-deal thanks to the giant contract handed out to Brent Burns. The Bruins are better off staying away from that kind of money for Shattenkirk anyway, even though he’d be a good fit for them. 

Given that I think McAvoy may be ready as soon as next season for the NHL, there may not be as much need for a bridge D-man as one would think. The only way they’d really need one, in my opinion, is if they planned on trading away Chara prior to the end of his contract running out at the end of next season. If that happens then they’d need a left shot top-four guy to play some heavy minutes, but the emergence of Carlo, along with McAvoy on deck, might just be enough to get them through the next couple of years. Let’s watch how 20-year-old Carlo develops the rest of the season while gauging the need for that “bridge defenseman.”

As for David Pastrnak, there’s no rush to sign him. It will get done in due time. He likes it in Boston and he’s going to get paid. It’s just a matter of when the two sides sit down and hammer it out. This is part of the reason the Bruins didn’t make a push to sign Jacob Trouba to an offer sheet last summer: because they knew that would make it open season on Pastrnak for NHL poachers with big money offer sheets ready to snatch him away. The danger level for a restricted free agent, even one as talented as Pastrnak, flying the coop from Boston isn’t strong at all unless the Bruins buckle under the threat of an offer sheet, and then trade a player away before they have to as they did with Dougie Hamilton. 

Hey Haggs, Any idea how Vatrano's recovery is going? Still ahead of schedule? ETA for his return?

--Dan Rooney (@_pepperooney)

JH: Last I had heard was that Vatrano was about two weeks ahead of schedule and could start becoming a viable option for a return to the B’s lineup about mid-December. It remains to be seen if the Bruins would put Vatrano on a rehab assignment after missing the entire season and training camp as a 22-year-old without a ton of pro experience. It’s also a question as to how long it would take Vatrano to get up to full speed like he was last season when he scored 44 goals between the NHL and the AHL and a question of just how good he’s going to get at the NHL level. The talent is there, but Vatrano finished with just eight goals and 11 points in 39 games in Boston last season while trying to establish himself. The Bruins had high hopes for him headed into this season, but he still needs to show it before he becomes a big solution for a struggling Boston offense. 

 
When does management (and you) realize that Krug, McQuaid, and "The Millers" are the biggest problems the team has? All minus players game after game.

--Doug Inflorida (via CSN Facebook page)

JH: The Bruins are fourth in the NHL in defense, so I’d say the offense is the biggest problem that the team has. Torey Krug struggled to start the season coming off major shoulder surgery, but he’s really stepped up with Chara and John-Michael Liles out. He’s also now fourth on the Bruins in points as he heats up offensively, so I’d say you should gladly take the very good with Krug along with the occasional turnover or bad defensive play.

Look, you’ll get no argument out of me on Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. You can afford to have one of those players in your top-six defensemen group, but I don’t think you can consistently win in today’s NHL if both of those D-men are playing significant minutes for your team. The jury is out on Colin Miller, who has a great deal of talent and a lot to learn still at 24. 

But the Bruins have allowed a grand total of nine goals in the five games without Chara and all of those defenseman have stepped up across the board. So, credit where it’s due. On the whole the Bruins back end has played better than I expected them to this season, and they, along with the B’s coaching staff that guaranteed they would, deserve some accolades for that. 

If anything, the Bruins need to add another top-six left wing, rather than a defenseman, if we’re talking priorities for roster upgrades. 

 

Hey Haggs. Going to the game tonight. With all the injuries and lack of scoring, can you find the silver lining or should I find the nearest bar to my section Description: 😉

--Jonathan Hebert (via CSN Facebook page)

JH: I’d go to the bar in your section, watch the game on TV while slugging down a Guinness and then make a judgment based on the way the Bruins look in the first period. When it comes to their performances on home ice the past couple of years, the Bruins just don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt right now. 

 

When Vegas doesn't pluck Jimmy Hayes from the B's will they just cut him?

--Donye West (@dontuna)

JH: I’d say he would be Providence-bound long before he gets cut. The Bruins aren’t going to eat that kind of money simply over a massively underachieving player. Jimmy Hayes isn’t a bad kid by any means, but he’s running out of chances with the Bruins if he doesn’t bring more to the table than straight zeroes across the board on the stat sheet. He’s already received more of a chance than some other guys would get. Does anybody remember that Matt Irwin’s career was done with the Bruins after two bad games? You could ice a mini-NHL team in Providence with Hayes, Matt Bartkowski, Peter Mueller and Zac Rinaldo all potentially playing for them at the same time. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it would mean the NHL parent has a few bad contracts on the books.