Bruins-Penguins meet in marquee matchup

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Bruins-Penguins meet in marquee matchup

PITTSBURGH It seems like it just might end up this way this season, doesnt it?

With the Bruins brimming with confidence and poise after winning a Stanley Cup, and with the Penguins regaining the face of the NHL in Sidney Crosby, the Bs and Pens sit atop the Eastern Conference two months into the regular season.

It was Crosbys concussion and Evgeni Malkins knee issues that opened the door in the East for the Bruins to run roughshod over the rest of the field en route to the Cup Finals last season. Now Pittsburgh stands as the only team between Boston and the top spot in the East, and it's not difficult to see that playing out again in the postseason.

Clearly its still early in the season with nearly 60 games still left to play, but everyone should be allowed to get a little giddy when the top two teams in the conference square off for bragging rights. That will be on the line for both squads at CONSOL Energy Center Monday night, and a game like that should bring out every lastounce ofthe best both hockey clubs have to offer.

The players in the Bs dressing room are certainlyaware.

Its going to be a great challenge for us. The Penguins are playing extremely well. They have their best player back Sidney Crosby, said Chris Kelly. He seems like he hasnt missed a beat. It will be an exciting game for us.

The Penguins have three points on the Bruins heading into Monday, but the Bs also hold three games in hand against the conference leaders. The two could play seesaw all season among the top spots now that the Bruins have battled their way back to exalted NHL status, but theres a great importance to this epic Eastern Conference tilt.

The Bruins no longer measure themselves against a tomato can Toronto team they routinely dominate. Teams like Montreal and Buffalo aremerely pretenders until they prove they can withstand Boston's physicality and toughness.Pittsburgh is the bar right now, and Boston presents matchup problems to the Penguins with their depth, discipline, toughness and work ethic.But Pittsburgh is alsoone of the few teams that can match the Bs strength down the middle with Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal anchoring the Pens top three forward lines. That means Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Chris Kelly better come prepared with a willingness to put their game faces on and get a little grime under their fingernails.

When youve got Staal playing on that third line it says a lot about their depth, said Claude Julien. Theyre a pretty good team. Their coach has done a good job of balancing those lines to separate Crosby and Malkin because it certainly makes it tougher on other teams when they cant just shut down the one line.

Theyve got some good balance and skill level. Theyre the same team as ours where theyve had different guys step up to do the job for them. Im looking forward to it and Im exciting for Monday night. It should be a real interesting game.

The Penguins are well-coached by Dan Bylsmas staff as indicatedby the B's coach,and they boast skilled puck-moving defensemen and a goaltender with lottery pick pedigree in Marc-Andre Fleury. In other words theyre a formidable match for the Black and Gold now that Sid the Kid is picking up right where he left off last season.

The Bruins have been the unquestioned favorite in thevasty majority ofgames this season as the Stanley Cup champs. But they arrive in Pitt with something to prove to the one team that could become their arch-nemesis this spring, and has been in the past.

The Monday night game allows both teams a chance to make a statement and bloody the first nose, so to speak, in whats been an incredibly compelling rivalry over the last few seasons. Things ramped up following Matt Cookes blindside cheap shot on Marc Savard two years ago, and theres no reason to think the animus has dissipated in any way, shape or form.

That should be just what the Bruins need where they might normally be allowingtheir attention spans towander after astrong five week showingof hockey prowess.

Itll be an interesting game. Theyre a team thats playing extremely well and Sidney is back in the lineup, said Julien. We know the challenge it represents. Its a good thing for us where were at with our team. Itll give us one of the best possible challenges we could have right now.

Thats what we need right now. Its a good test. Everything has been going pretty smoothly and in order for us to stay focused we need a good test like that.

Something will have to give between the two well-rounded hockey clubs. The Bruins have won three in a row and 13 out of their last 14 games with many of them in the kind of dominant fashion that scream out "elite team." The Penguins have won two in a row and have lost only one game in regulation on home ice in 11 attempts this season for an 8-1-2 record at the "new Igloo."

We've got the right mind set going into every game right now. I feel like we're playing the same way every game and we're being super consistent, said Joe Corvo. If we don't find consistency at some point in the game, then it gets corrected.

I think the Penguins are obviously a good test. They're in first place, so it'll be an exciting game.

The Penguins played amazingly good hockey over the first six weeks without their franchise center, and now theyve watched Crosby put up 12 points and play 19 minutes a night in his first seven games back. Thats storybook stuff for Pittsburgh, and Sids return gives the Penguins their own special brand of confidence headed into the Black and Goldshowdown.

The Pens wont be wide-eyed and intimidated like the Leafs continue to be when facing down the champs, but thats what makes it a marquee mid-season game.

We know what we have here in this dressing room, said David Krejci. We just want to get up there on Monday, get a win and then get first in the conference."

First place in the conference wont come to the Bruins with a win on Monday, but it wont shock anybody if the path to this years Stanley Cup goes right through Pittsburgh.

That roadway opens up tomorrow night for both teams, and it should be a heck of a battle.

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.