Bruins-Hurricanes preview: B's looking to reverse the tide

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Bruins-Hurricanes preview: B's looking to reverse the tide

RALEIGH, NC The Bruins have been reminded of last years putrid performances against the Carolina Hurricanes over the past few days, so it should go without saying that theyll come out with a purpose at PNC Arena on Monday night.

The Canes outscored them by a 14-5 margin during a four-game regular season sweep last year that can only be described as a royal butt-kicking, no matter how the numbers are broken down. Sure the players that did most of the damage against the Bruins wont be suiting up for Carolina, this time around (Anthony Stewart and Brandon Sutter were both traded and Tuomo Ruutu is gone for the season after hip surgery), but the Hurricanes can still do some damage against the Bruins.

Its a pretty important game for us, said Bruins coach Claude Julien. This is a team that gave us a fair share of trouble last year and they improved their roster. Theyve won their last couple of games, so its going to be a challenge for us. There are certain teams that give other teams trouble. Theyre a four-man attack team and they always have a D up on the rush.

We havent played our best against them, and theyve played some very good games against us. Its one of those things where we want to get that win against them as quick as we can, so we can get the monkey off our back.

Of the returning players, Eric Staal scored three goals in the four games against the Black and Gold and will team with brother Jordan Staal, Alex Semin and Jeff Skinner to form a formidable offensive attack. The Bruins will be looking to protect Anton Khudobin in his first start of the season; he sat for the first nine days of the NHL season waiting for Tuukka Rask to take a breather.

Theres no doubting the Hurricanes played inspired hockey in the second half of last season once Kirk Muller took the coaching reigns and theyll be smack in the middle of a wide-open Southeast Division as both Florida and Washington have stumbled out of the starting box. The challenge for the Bruins will be not looking past them to a home date against the reigning Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at TD Garden.

But Juliens reminders about last years four-game drubbing at the hands of Carolina certainly shouldnt have fallen on deaf ears as they ready for the first end of their first back-to-back games in the compressed NHL schedule.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Tyler Seguin has 11 shots on net in four games and has had a handful of good scoring opportunities, but is looking for his first NHL goal this season after potting 25 in 29 games while in Switzerland. Bruins officials believe that part of Seguins goal-scoring drought is attributed to the readjustment to the smaller rinks in North America, and the aggressive defenses that go right along with it.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Their record against us last year is something were well aware of and were going into the game well-prepared. They come at the net hard, they open up a lot and we havent been at our best against that kind of a team. We just havent been as prudent playing against a team like that. We need to take away their shots from the point and make sure we clear away any traffic from the front of the net.
Claude Julien, speaking about a Carolina Hurricanes club that dominated the Bs in four regular season meetings last year.

KEY MATCHUP: The Carolina Hurricanes are fresh off a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres where Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner both tallied power play goals for a young and hungry 'Canes team. Until the Bs power play gets moving, theyll need to continue to hold down the other teams PP unit as theyve done while going a perfect 14-for-14 on the penalty kill this season. That will be a stiff challenge for killers like Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly, Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk as they look to hold down the Carolina man advantage featuring the Staal Brothers, Semin and Skinner in a potent attack. They only currently rank 23rd in the NHL currently, but it looks like the Canes PP is trending upward.

STAT TO WATCH: .965 the save percentage for Carolina goaltender Cam Ward last season in four very good games between the pipes against the Bruins while going 4-0 against them.

INJURIES: Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) is expected to miss the season and be placed on long term injured reserve. Dennis Seidenberg (lower body injury) returned to the lineup against the Islanders Friday, and said felt fine after skating 18-plus minutes in the win. Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu (hip) -- a noted Bruins killer in the past -- is likely to miss the entire regular season.

GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Anton Khudobin is largely an unknown to Bruins Nation with only last years 44-save masterpiece against the Ottawa Senators at the end of last season to use as a frame of reference. But the 26-year-old Khudobin does hold outstanding numbers overall with a 5-1 record, a .961 save percentage and a 1.32 goals against average in seven career NHL games between the Bruins and the Minnesota Wild. For the Hurricanes, Cam Ward will look to build on an excellent career body of work against the Black and Gold that includes a seven-game playoff series win against them for years ago and a 4-0 record with a .965 save percentage and a 1.25 goals against average in the regular season domination. It could be exactly what Ward needs as hes struggled out of the gate thus far for Carolina.

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

No defense for blue-line shortcomings

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No defense for blue-line shortcomings

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

The Bruins had a master plan to upgrade the defense last summer. It quickly morphed into a dumpster fire.

After ultimately deciding they were unwilling to pay Dougie Hamilton an outlandish sum of money -- and coming to the conclusion that the young D-man simply didn’t want to play for Boston anymore -- they dealt him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. It was pennies-on-the-dollar value for a young, top-pairing defenseman, and a fear-based move given the threat of offer sheets that possibly loomed if Hamilton made it past July 1 without a new contract extension.

(They also torpedoed a better draft-pick package offer from their ex-general manager, Peter Chiarelli, by demanding Edmonton's young stud D-man Darnell Nurse, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The Bruins made the decision to move Hamilton after he and his camp ignored Boston’s multiple contract overtures. It was also apparent to those running the team that players like Hamilton and Reilly Smith weren’t meshing well with the rest of the Bruins core. 

(There's no second-guessing from this humble hockey writer about the jettisoning of Smith, despite his solid 25-goal season with the Florida Panthers: he was a soft player in that last year with Boston. The part of that move that should be regretted was immediately signing Jimmy Hayes to a three-year contract extension after closing the Smith-for-Hayes deal. But, again, that's neither here nor there.)

The problem for the Bruins after trading Hamilton was in the follow-through.

First they followed Chiarelli's troubling pattern of overpaying mid-level talent by handing Adam McQuaid a four-year, $11 million extension. Then they were unsuccessful in their attempts to move up in the first round of last summer’s draft and take either of the two collegians, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, who projected as eventual No. 1 defensemen. They offered Hamilton and first-round draft choices; they also tried to use Martin Jones as a chip.

But whether new GM Don Sweeney thought he had a deal in place or not, things fell apart at the 11th hour. The Bruins did have three first-round picks, but they were in the middle of the round. In that position, they were unable to get an immediate difference-maker on defense.

The inability to land that young D-man (and potential heir apparent to Zdeno Chara) at last summer’s draft, or at the NHL trade deadline in February, ended up being a fatal blow. There was too much stress on a patchwork defense corps, and it was a major factor in the Bruins missing the playoffs. And even if they'd made it, the B's would have been nothing more than first-round cannon fodder.

The Band-Aid trade for 35-year-old John-Michael Liles was a nominal improvement at the deadline, but it spoke to just how badly they needed puck-moving reinforcements to assist a clearly overworked Torey Krug.

“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up (in the first round)," said Bruins president Cam Neely at his end-of-the-season press conference. "The scouting staff did a good job of identifying [players], and obviously, if you look back at the draft . . . you kind of had to be (in one of the top spots) to get one of those [defensemen] that were highly coveted. [Sweeney] just couldn’t do it last offseason. [He also] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork (for a future trade) . . . Hopefully [he'll] be able to get something done in the offseason.

"But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon . . . [We] know what our back end is all about. We need to . . . really improve that area of our team . . . [It's] something that I know [Sweeney's] going to be very focused on.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The Bruins finished the season with the aging, declining Chara, now 39, as their No. 1 defenseman, and the 5-foot-8 Krug as their No. 2 while posting a career-high 21:37 of ice time per game. The diminutive Krug perhaps paid the price for that wear and tear with right shoulder surgery last month that could sideline him until late October, which raises red flags about whether he should again play those kinds of heavy-duty minutes given his offensive value.

Beyond those two, the Bruins’ defensive prospects aren’t bright. The body of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is breaking down, and the B's would love to be out from under the final two years (at $4 million per) of his contract. Both McQuaid and Kevan Miller are limited, stay-at-home defensemen better cast as bottom-pair guys. Youngsters Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow weren’t able to lock down roles last season for a multitude of reasons. Miller is the only one who appears to have potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman; Trotman and Morrow seem poised to be passed by other young D-men (Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the organizational ranks sooner rather than later.

Botton line: It simply doesn’t feel like the Bruins have the answer to their defense woes, at least in the short term, within their system.

They need a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career, or being groomed into that prime, who can ideally allow the Bruins coaching staff to start easing up on Chara's ice time. Chara is a No. 1 in name only these days, and would be much better served as a middle-pairing D-man playing closer to 20 minutes a night and removed from the power play, where he no longer features his booming slap shot very much.

It’s an fact that nearly every team that’s won the Stanley Cup since the 2004-05 lockout has had a prime No. 1 defenseman in the 25-33 age range, with the exceptions of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Names like Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty figured prominently in those championships, playing 30 minutes a night during the brutal two-month run to the Cup.

The Bruins don’t have that type of guy right now, and they aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Cup until they get one.

So how do you get one?

Sweeney and his management team are already deeply involved in that process, and that’s where names like Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen and Matthew Dumba will figure prominently in trade discussions this summer. But those types of players are costly, both in terms what will be needed to be surrendered to acquire them -- trade partners will undoubtedly ask for such talent as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner -- and in what they'll be seeking in new contracts, since those demands are what's pushing them into the trade market to begin with.

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that Sweeney and Co. will close the deal for any of these defensemen, given how hard it is to acquire young talent in trades in the NHL. There's also no guarantee the Bruins will target the right guy in a blockbuster trade, seeing how their scouting staff has whiffed on players like Hayes, Zac Rinaldo and Brett Connolly in recent years.  

The Bruins can hope their amateur scouting and development group can unearth a gem. After all, the Blackhawks probably didn’t know they had a future Conn Smythe winner in Keith when they selected him 54th overall in the 2002 draft. The Penguins got a diamond in Kris Letang with the 62nd overall pick in 2005 NHL. The Bruins, too, struck gold when they acquired Johnny Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal for energy forward Matt Hendricks. Within a few years, Boychuk developed into a top-pairing stud on a Stanley Cup championship team. 

So perhaps one of the young prospects currently in the Bruins system is the ultimate answer as an eventual replacement for Chara.

But that’s something tough to count on, especially since -- even if it happens -- it's unlikely to happen in time to provide help next season. Sweeney and Neely need to pull off something in the epic-acquisition category this summer, whether it’s a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and/or something worked out with a team like Winnipeg for a stud like Trouba.

Both their jobs, and the immediate health and well-being of a Bruins organization currently in distress, may very well depend on it. 

Thursday, May 5: Slash and burn over Ovechkin and Crosby

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Thursday, May 5: Slash and burn over Ovechkin and Crosby

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while lamenting what it appears the choices will be for US President in the fall.

*Don Cherry and Ron MacLean have at it with the Alex Ovechkin slash to the wrist of Sidney Crosby and Crosby’s theatrics that ensued afterward.  

*Matt Murray is proving to be a difference-maker for the Pittsburgh Penguins between the pipes, and could be a nightmare for the Washington Capitals.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rob Rossi says that all of the little things that Sidney Crosby is doing are adding up for the Penguins in all of the best ways possible.

*In the shameless plug department, here’s episode No. 15 of the Great American Hockey Show podcast. Jimmy Murphy and yours truly break down the plight of the Bruins with Mike Giardi, and then talk Bruins, sports talk radio and his tumultuous couple of years covering the B’s with the one and only Mike Felger.

*Ken Hitchcock might be one of the oldest coaches in the NHL, but he still hasn’t reached a level of satisfaction with a Blues team in the thick of things right now.

*Here are 10 big reasons to tune into this year’s World Championships, with Auston Matthews registering as the biggest reason for most hockey fans.

*NHL writer Jon Lane has Bob Hartley hoping to seek some new opportunities after getting fired by the Calgary Flames.

*Tampa Bay Lightning VP Dave Andreychuk sits in on Sirius XM Satellite Radio to talk about the Lightning/New York Islanders playoff series.

*Plenty of turns on the coaching and GM carousel that the My NHL Trade Rumors blog has you covered for today.

*Former B’s netminder Chad Johnson is coming off his NHL season with the Buffalo Sabres, and he has a few secrets for his success.  

*For something completely different: some harrowing video from the Fort Mac forest fires up in Alberta that is truly a scary situation. Those looking to help out can send money to the Canadian Red Cross, who are supporting all of the people that have lost so much in one of the most beautiful parts of Western Canada.