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.

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins pulled the worst of their no-shows on Monday afternoon in the 4-0 shutout loss to the Islanders.

It was a lethargic, mediocre start in the first period that devolved into the bottom dropping out on the Black and Gold when they allowed three unanswered goals in the second. Then, to top it all off, they showed zero urgency or push to make a comeback in the final period. 

It was “unacceptable” in the words of the Bruins players from beginning to end with careless, elementary mistakes in the defensive zone and absolutely zero sustained push in the offensive zone despite a deceiving 32 shots on net.

So, where was the urgency for a Bruins team that’s barely ahead of the Maple Leafs and Senators in the Atlantic Division despite having played six more games than each of those two?

Apparently the Bruins were feeling a little cocky after playing a solid five-game stretch where they’d gone 3-1-1 and taken down the Panthers, Blues and Flyers while elevating their level of play. Heart and soul team leader Patrice Bergeron admitted as much on Tuesday morning as the Bruins cancelled practice and turned their attention toward righting the ship Wednesday night in Detroit.

It was frankly a little stunning to hear Bergeron admit that his Bruins team thought they could win just by showing up on Monday afternoon, but that’s exactly what he copped to in something of an apologetic way.

Brad Marchand said Monday postgame that the Bruins “just weren’t ready [to play]” against the Islanders, and it sounded like his linemate agreed with him.

“It’s about realizing that you can’t take teams lightly, or take the foot off the gas pedal for a period, for a game, or whatever. It hurts us every time we do it, so we have to learn and realize that it just cannot happen. Teams are too good and the points are too valuable for us,” said Bergeron. “You never want to do that, but at the same time maybe it was something that happened because it was a terrible start, and to not respond when they scored the goals. Maybe that’s what happened yesterday.

“As much as you don’t want it to happen, maybe we thought it was going to be an easier game than it actually was against them.”

On the one hand, it’s somewhat shocking to hear that admission from a player that’s always played with full work ethic and an effort level that’s never been questioned. But Bergeron was also a minus-3 in the 4-0 loss and was every bit as guilty as everybody else up and down the roster for the team’s most pathetic loss of the season at a time when results are all that matter.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, though, because the lack of urgency on the bench is mirrored by the lack of urgency upstairs in the Bruins management office right now. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe last week that he’s considering a move with the head coach along with a number of other things to spark a team treading water, but it doesn’t feel like a major move is on the horizon with this Bruins team.

Trade talks are still in the formative, discussion stages as GMs like Joe Sakic and John Chayka are overvaluing their players looking for a king’s ransom for guys like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. While Claude Julien should be under the microscope with a team sleepwalking its way through perhaps a third season in a row without the playoffs, it also doesn’t feel like the Bruins are going to pull the trigger on that move until the offseason at the earliest.

This humble hockey writer still insists that this playoff-caliber Bruins team plays at times like a one that needs a swift kick in the backside. Perhaps Julien isn’t up for it after 10 long, successful years of battles with the same core group.   

So, what is there to do then besides make cosmetic moves like shipping underperforming Anton Khudobin down to Providence, or rearrange the deck chairs on a third and fourth line that it’s difficult to tell apart on most days in Boston?

If the Bruins front office wants to truly get to the bottom of their team’s lack of urgency on the ice, perhaps a look in the mirror might be in order. Because that same lack of urgency is playing out with a management group that’s watching their team sink into the Atlantic Division muck right now and seems gun-shy on making a move that could rattle cages.

“Right now where we are in the standings, we’ve got a lot of games to play but we’re still in a playoff spot,” said Julien. “We try and play with the expectations that we have, and that’s to do the best with what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of new faces and we’re trying to build with what we’ve got here moving forward.”

Certainly nobody is talking about trading away their blue chip prospects like Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy, but there are veteran players on Boston’s current roster that aren’t cut out for battling into the postseason with a young team. It’s plain to see when a middling hockey team can’t find the inspiration to go out and take care of business against a bad Islanders group on a sleepy Monday afternoon just a month after they made the same mistake against the same team on home ice.

The Bruins showed in a five-game stretch leading up to the Islanders debacle that they should be held to a higher standard - that of a team that should qualify for the postseason. But one question arose again and again watching the poorest of poor efforts play out on Monday afternoon: why should the Bruins players show any feet-in-the-fire urgency on the ice when it doesn’t feel like there’s much feet-in-the-fire urgency from upper management to improve the flailing hockey club?

Until that organizational dynamic changes, it’s difficult to see things getting much better, or worse, for a Bruins team that looks destined for the mediocre middle once again this season. 
 

Bruins cancel practice to 'regroup' after bad loss to Islanders

Bruins cancel practice to 'regroup' after bad loss to Islanders

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins were supposed to hit the ice for the eighth day in a row on Tuesday following their empty 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday afternoon, but those plans were scrubbed.

The reeling Black and Gold instead cancelled practice, with only Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes and Zane McIntyre taking the ice at Warrior Ice Arena and the rest of the B’s hitting the giant reset button after an embarrassing loss.

“I think it’s one of those [things] where you’ve got to regroup and recharge the batteries, and feel better,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Maybe a little bit of fatigue was part of it [Monday vs. the Isles] and you use a day like today to look forward, look at videos and be better the next day. It happens today and we have another game tomorrow [against Detroit].”

While it is true that the Bruins and Winnipeg Jets have played more games than anybody else in the NHL in this wacky season with a condensed schedule, the B’s leaders weren’t having it as an excuse with both the Maple Leafs and Senators holding an incredible six games in hand on Boston. Blown opportunities against bad opponents are exactly the recipe for missing the playoffs, as they have in each of the past two seasons, and the Bruins are tracking to do that again.

“All of the teams are in the same situation. It’s about managing and finding ways to be at your best every night and in every game. Yes, maybe [the condensed schedule] is part of it, but you can’t just put the blame on that. We’re professionals and we need to show up every game.”

The Bruins didn’t show up against the Islanders on Monday afternoon and basically pulled their second no-show vs. the Isles on home ice this season. There’s no excuse for that given the B’s current situation battling for the postseason. 

Maybe a day off the ice will improve that situation and maybe it’s simply rewarding a team that didn’t earn it on Monday afternoon, but the B’s have to hope it’s much more of the former than the latter.