Bruins-Leafs preview: Bracing for a new year in the rivalry


Bruins-Leafs preview: Bracing for a new year in the rivalry

TORONTO The Bruins are certainly aware of how bad things looked against the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night, but theyre ready to move on to their next divisional challenge against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Theyre expecting things wont be as messy defensively as they were against the Sabres while also paying the proper respect to a team they swept in six games last season while outscoring them by a 36-10 margin.

Bruins coach Claude Julien knows that kind of domination can stick in the minds of an aggrieved opponent, and it wont feed into the Bruins potentially underestimating their opponent. That shouldnt be a worry either way given the bad taste Boston still has in their mouths after the loss to Buffalo that saw both Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton go down with injuries.

Right now were seeing a team thats competing extremely hard and playing well. Theyre making strides in the right direction, said Claude Julien. One thing we dont do is underestimate your opponent so you never go out there and get surprised by the team youre playing against.

Tyler Seguin led the Bruins with seven goals against the Leafs team that traded the draft pick used for him for Phil Kessel, and had a hat trick at Air Canada Centre that served as the sweetest homecoming he could have possibly imagined. The 21-year-old knows that his team Bruins team will be facing a stiff challenge, particularly with the Leafs picking up tough guy Frazer McLaren on waivers in time for the game.

Its a new year. We know theyre a better team and this year theyre going to be a little grittier, said Seguin. Were definitely going to be prepared for that and were looking to get off to a good start.

Milan Lucic told reporters prior to Saturdays game that McLaren was the only guy that ever got the best of him when he was terrorizing the junior hockey ranks for the Vancouver Giants.

We had a few tussles in juniorthree of them, said Lucic. Hes the only guy thats ever put me on my back in a fight.

The bottom line is that after playing a tough, gritty game against Buffalo on Thursday night, another physical test awaits them Saturday night against a Maple Leafs team thirsty for payback. Dion Phaneuf is at the top of the list after having a rough go of it against Boston as top defensemen pairing last season.

Whether youre playing Boston or New York or any other teamits a new year. Last year is last year, said Phaneuf. We know what happened and were not happy about it. But its a new year. We need to concentrate on playing our system and playing our kind of game.
What the Bruins dont want to happen: watch as Dougie Hamilton, Tyler Seguin and Tuukka Rask all produce at a high level in the game and cause the Toronto fan base to turn on their team in yet another frustrating defeat at the hands of the Black and Gold big brother on the block.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Chris Bourque gets a chance to jump back into the lineup after getting scratched Thursday night against the Sabres, and will lineup with third line teammates Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Perhaps sitting and watching from the ninth floor on Thursday night has helped Bourque take a deep breath after going scoreless in six games with a minus-4 and only three shots on net while averaging 12 minutes of ice time per game. Bourque could really use an offensive burst to ease the self-induced pressure and both Kelly and Peverley are coming off their best games of the season against Buffalo.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: If we win against Toronto it gives us a chance to finish a 4-game stretch this week at 3-1. If we lose we finish with a 2-2 record, and for us thats not good enough. Claude Julien on the importance of finishing up the week strong with a big win against the Leafs on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.

KEY MATCHUP: Dion Phaneuf is a team-worst minus-6 for the Maple Leafs, and it will be his charge to stop Bostons trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin. Phaneuf still has the scorch marks on his body from last years six games against the Black and Gold when he finished with a pair of assists and a minus-10 in six games against the Bruins. Meanwhile Seguin went wild with seven goals and 11 points in six games against the hometown Leafs club that he grew up rooting for.

STAT TO WATCH: minus-18 the career plusminus for Phil Kessel in 18 career games against the Bruins that includes only three goals against Boston. Kessel was a minus-11 against the Bruins just last year alone.

INJURIES: The Bruins are without Shawn Thornton (concussion) and Daniel Paille (upper body injury as a result of a high stick) after both Bs fourth line players didnt make the trip to Toronto. The Maple Leafs are without Joffrey Lupul (broken forearm), Clarke MacArthur (lacerated pinkie) and Mike Brown (shoulder) for Saturday nights game.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is coming off six goals allowed on 31 shots against the Sabres, though nearly all of that damage was from extremely shoddy defense played in front of him. On the season Rask is 4-1-1 and has been consistently outstanding outside of the one hiccup against Buffalo. James Reimer is 3-1 in five games for the Leafs this season, and is likely to get the start given that he has outplayed Ben Scrivens in the early going this season. Even so this is an area the Bruins should have an advantage headed into the game.

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.