Bruins continue to find ways to stay hot


Bruins continue to find ways to stay hot

GLENDALE, AZ. The Bruins continue to win even when theyre having difficulties executing. Somehow they still get results whenstraying away from the game plan mapped out before taking the ice.

That was the case again Wednesday night in a 2-1 overtime victoryover the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena. The Bruins had a couple ofrusty excuses whilecoming off four days without a game around the Christmasholiday break coupled with the long trip out to Phoenix.

But, once again, as they've proven time and time againthis season while defying conventional hockey wisdom, they pulled out two points when they probably didn't deserve it. They're now 21-2-1 over the last 24 games since Nov. 1, and it doesn't seem fair to the other 29 teams when the Bruins are winning games they openly admit they don't quite deserve.Maybe that's Boston being tough on themselves given their Stanley Cup-high standards these days, or maybe they're just really damned good. Maybe they can just win even when they're at less than their best.

We are winning some games that we probably shouldnt be winning, admitted David Krejci after the triumphant extra session struggles over the Coyotes. But we dont want to get comfortable. We want to bounce back and correct the things we werent doing well the next time we play.

While the overall execution might have been a little murky and messy, the Bs did enough to pull out the eventual win in overtime by never letting things get out of hand.

As they've done throughout their hot streak, the Bruins combined sound defensive principles and elite goaltending to allow just one goal. The Bruins were a little more fuzzy in their neutral zone coverage, but had only one breakdown in their own end when Ray Whitney made everybody else look like a rented hockey player.But that's something he's been doing for 20 years.Only once in 11 games during December have the Bs allowed more than two goals in a game, which has kept them fightingin every single hockey game theyve played. Not just for this month, though. That's been a pattern for the entire season.Add to that the experience earned through winning the Cup, and the Bruins truly believe they will pull out games that are close headed intoa third period fracas.

We know if we get more than one or two goals in a game than we have a really good chance to win, said Krejci, who scored the teams first goal less than a minute into the first period. It was a big win even though it wasnt our best game. We battled hard and found a way to win the game. That was a big two points for us.

It wasnt easy in the first game after the holiday and the ice wasnt very good at all. Its not easy. We try to do everything as we usually do, but its not always your night. But we are pretty good at finding ways to win hockey games, and thats what we did tonight. It looks like weve got something good going here.

The Bruins had defensive breakdowns and allowed more odd-man rushes and partial breakaways than usual against a flying Coyotes bunch. But Zdeno Chara was quick to point it was more execution than effort, and Boston's most consistent area of struggle this season has been neutral zone coverage that wanes over time. There was no absence of emotion in what could have been a sleepy game in the desert. The B's willingness to fight for a "W"was clear when Adam McQuaid pounded Raffi Torres into a bloody pulp during the second period.

But just as the Bruins pulled out games against the Blue Jackets, Kings and Senators in recent weeks where they didnt play their best, they did it once again besting the desert dogs. Its one of the explanation for three Phoenix Coyotes players earning the Three Stars of the Game (along with the voters being raving Phoenix homers,of course)despite dropping the 2-1 overtime decision to the Bruins.Butall of these flimsy winscome with a downside if things aren't eventually corrected. All 82 can't be gems, but bad habits can pretty easily turn into losing streaks if attention isn't paid.

Claude Julien was happy with the two points following the road victory, but it sounded as if the Bruins had some work to do once the practice ice is prepped in Phoenix for a Thursday afternoon session. That was hammered home when Ray Whitney and Shane Doan continuously ripped through the Bs attempts at neutral zone coverage, and the B's defensemanflailed badly in breaking the puck out of their own end. Boston almost didn't make it into the extra session when Phoenix had them hemmed into their own zone with the B's best players on the ice.But the Yotes have their own problems.

The Bruins were aided by a Coyotes bunch that were missing Martin Hanzal, Boyd Gordon, Adrian Aucoin and Mike Smith and couldnt quite finish the dozen scoring opportunities a sloppy Bs unit dropped in their laps. Still when a coach addresses his own squad and uses the phrase Swiss Cheese its usually a time to reassess the situation and address potential holes in the team "cheese".

It was one of those games where they had some great opportunities. I thought we struggled again through the neutral zone. I thought we struggled a bit and they were really going through us like Swiss Cheese, said Claude Julien. We left a lot of areas there for them to skate through. It was our first game back from having three days off, so we werent as sharp as we could have been. We improved as the game went on and got the result that we wanted.

We take pride in our defensive game without the puck. Confidence grows with each game, and we believe 99 percent of the time, we will get great goaltending. However, we know there will be challenges ahead, so we have to guard against overconfidence.

Itll be a challenge to avoid overconfidence when subpar periods and shoddy execution cant stop the Bruins from winning, but thats the name of a game for a hockey club thats become a handful to everyone else in the NHL for two full months. In proper perspective the B's also allowed only 21 shots through an entire overtime game against the Coyotes, so it's not like the 50 shots per game Boston allowed with Chara missing from the lineup.

Where once teams might have been able to take advantage of the Bruins on an off night the Bs now hold the secret sauce to extract two points out of those games too. It almost doesnt seem fair but thats just the way it is these days with the Stanley Cup champion Bruins and their ever-expanding point total at the expense of everybody else.

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins will have plenty of proud history on display for tonight’s home opener when Bobby Orr and Milt Schmidt drop the ceremonial first puck at TD Garden prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils.

Orr is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first NHL game, and the amazing Schmidt is there for the 80th anniversary of his rookie NHL season, and it will be up to the current crop of B’s players afterward to play up to the standards of those two Hall of Fame legends. That was a difficult challenge for the Black and Gold last season as they struggled to a 17-18-6 record on home ice and experienced some of their worst regular-season efforts in front of the paying home customers.

When placed side-by-side with a road record (25-13-3), where only the Sharks and Capitals had more victories on the road last season, it was clear the B’s had some strange motivational issues at the Garden. Whether it was leadership, maturity or the coach to blame for their home malaise, the Bruins are looking to reverse that trend this season after an encouraging 2-1 start on the first three-game road trip of the season.

In fact, Brad Marchand didn’t even want to entertain thoughts about last year’s home ice funk.

“Last year has nothing to do with this year. We’ve got a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces, and we’re looking to have a big start at home and have a big year. We want to try and start that tonight,” said Brad Marchand. “We don’t have to get anxious and too excited. We play a good road game and if we play the same way at home as we do on the road then hopefully we’ll be okay.”

The home ice anxiousness was clear on many occasions for the Bruins whether it was getting blown out at the Winter Classic, getting smoked in Milan Lucic’s return to the Garden with the LA Kings or epically blowing the final game of the season vs. Ottawa with the playoffs on the line. It will be interesting to see what a big personality and hardened, vocal leader David Backes can bring to combat some of the home ice skittishness of last season. 

One other thing the Bruins will be looking to change: allowing the other team to score the first goal, as they’ve done in all three games to start this season. It could perhaps be excused with the B’s playing the polite visitor at the emotional home openers for  the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs last week, but now it’s their turn to jack up the emotional level and make TD Garden a much more difficult place to play than it was for the majority of last season. 


Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

BRIGHTON, Mass. – David Krejci hasn’t exactly been his usual self in the opening three games of the season for the Bruins and there are understandable, underlying reasons for that. 

One of them is that the 30-year-old playmaking center is coming off major offseason hip surgery and that’s made him look less than his silky-smooth best with the puck in the season’s first three games.

The good news is Krejci doesn’t believe any lingering hip problems have been a big factor at all, and instead his comfort level is increasing each time he takes the ice.

“I feel better and better every day. This is a tough injury, but I’m in good shape and in really good hands. The doctors have done a really good job with me every day, and it’s been really good,” said Krejci, who has one assist in the opening three games with just three shots on net while fighting to hang onto the puck. “It’s been fun to be out there with the guys, and I’m just trying to get better every day.”

A more reasonable explanation for Krejci’s sluggish start was the last-second injury to Patrice Bergeron prior to the start of the season and the major alteration to his forward line as a result of No. 37’s absence. David Backes was pulled from the right wing spot on the Krejci line to fill in for Bergeron over the season’s first three games and he came away with two goals and three points in three games centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

But the B’s second line was almost non-existent with smaller, skilled wingers on either side of Krejci that weren’t able to generate anything productive with No. 46. The B’s obviously have massive production from the top line in Bergeron’s absence and have found a respectable fourth line that can get the job done for Claude Julien. Even the third line has found some footing after the B’s bench boss replaced rookie Austin Czarnik with veteran Riley Nash and instead went with a bigger, tougher power line with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes on the wings.

Now, Backes goes back to his rightful spot on the wing with Krejci and 21-year-old rookie Danton Heinen looks to replace a scuffling Ryan Spooner at left wing for tonight’s home opener vs. the New Jersey Devils. Backes is ready to bring some needed balance to the forward lines after the B’s top line really carried them over the first three games of the season and produced a team-high four goals for David Pastrnak.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Backes also knows that he’s exactly the kind of strong, determined net-front presence with goal-scoring ability that Krejci has always produced with over the course of his 10-year NHL career.

“I won’t be involved in the immediate face-off, but [I will be involved] in helping him on the 50/50 draws to win the puck back. Just talk all over the ice like we have been with Heinen on the wing he’s got two veteran guys with him, and we need to make him feel comfortable to be a very productive member [of the line],” said Backes. “We’ll get back to cooking a little bit with how we were looking before I was forced to play center.

“I think it puts the other teams in a predicament with that they’re going to try to defend if we have a couple-pronged attack. It’s a kind of pick-your-poison kind of deal. A checking line can typically do a good job of neutralizing a line, but when you have multiple options and multiple guns pointed at them it’s a little bit more of a predicament for them. When we’re healthy, we’re going to have that.”

So, the hope is that having a power forward, play-finisher like Backes is going to allow him time and space to create plays that have a little more hope of being turned into scoring chances at the offensive end of the ice.

“When injuries happen you’ve got to balance the team and that’s what happened. But I’m happy [Backes] is back on our line,” said Krejci, who has always been at his best while utilizing big, strong wingers on his line whether it was Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton over the years. “Hopefully we can get the chemistry early on as a line, and help the team to win.

“[Backes] is a right-handed shot, so that’s nice to have.  I had two lefties there [in Spooner and Heinen] and sometimes it’s tough to get a good pass on the backhand. He’s been playing well the first two games, so hopefully I can keep up and we can get some chemistry to help the team win.”

So, it remains to be seen how long it will take Krejci to find his offensive mojo while centering a line combo of Heinen-Krejci-Backes that didn’t get much of a look in the preseason, but the sooner, the better for a Bruins team that needs to start firing on all offensive cylinders while still working through their defensive challenges.